New beginnings
for a gallery and
photographer alike

‘On Golden Days’ is the first exhibition at new Brunswick gallery Hillvale Photo

New beginnings for a gallery
and photographer alike

‘On Golden Days’ is the first exhibition at
new Brunswick gallery Hillvale Photo

New beginnings for a gallery
and photographer alike

‘On Golden Days’ is the first exhibition at
new Brunswick gallery Hillvale Photo

Calling on James J. Robinson’s queer, Filipino identity the exhibition uses an exclusively Asian cast to retell history through photos and video work. Photo: James J. Robinson

By Sam Varian
Wednesday, May 11, 2022

ON the streets of Brunswick, on a Saturday night no less, you can find many delights. Pubs, bars and restaurants provide the usual fare of food and atmosphere, but sometimes you can find something quite different: a table of lavish cakes, an oboist, a saxophonist and two Afghan hounds.

They were the ingredients for a buzzing atmosphere at Hillvale Photo on Saturday, April 30. Tucked away in Edward Street, James J. Robinson launched his first solo exhibition, titled ‘On Golden Days’, as part of the 2022 International Festival of Photography.

Robinson’s exhibition examines the glorification of the past and its tendency to erase the lived experiences of marginalised peoples. Calling on his queer, Filipino identity the exhibition uses an exclusively Asian cast to retell history through photos and video work. Robinson says he hopes the work can be healing for marginalised communities.

“Collective mid-century nostalgia isn’t something we can access … I want the exhibition space to feel nurturing and inviting for these communities,” he says. “For other people, I’d love the show to make them question how nostalgia operates and the dangers of fetishizing the past.”.

That past is presented with distinct Hollywood glamour across the works and on the night of the opening. Many of the night’s celebratory frills – including the two Afghan hounds – can be seen in the work’s photos and video.

Robinson has emerged as a successful Australian export in commercial and fashion photography, producing works for the likes of Puma, Burberry and Guess. However, his solo exhibition isn’t his first exploration of social and cultural issues.

 “I’ve always interweaved politics into my fashion work, but my protest burning my blazer at my high school last year was probably the most major work I’ve done until now both personally and with an audience,” he says.

In November of last year, Robinson broke into his high school, St Kevin’s in Toorak, to burn his blazer in protest of the school’s alleged toxic culture. The photos he shared on social media went viral, Robinson dedicating them “to current students and victims of St Kevin’s, and schools like it, who feel like their identity is slowly being chipped away by a hyper-masculine culture”.

For Robinson, the pandemic emerged while he lived in New York, and it served as a circuit breaker that made him consider the purpose of his work in photography.

“After so long hustling in the commercial world over there to pay my exorbitant rent, slowing down helped me reflect on the way my work was being used to sell people things they don’t need. How can I create work that challenges oppression and systems yet also be used to uphold capitalist values?” he says.

This approach will be taken into his upcoming film creations too. “Without going into too much detail, my feature film is very much a subversion of religion as an institution, and a separation of the core spirituality of a religion and its systems of oppression,” he says.

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By Sam Varian
Wednesday, May 11, 2022

ON the streets of Brunswick, on a Saturday night no less, you can find many delights. Pubs, bars and restaurants provide the usual fare of food and atmosphere, but sometimes you can find something quite different: a table of lavish cakes, an oboist, a saxophonist and two Afghan hounds.

They were the ingredients for a buzzing atmosphere at Hillvale Photo on Saturday, April 30. Tucked away in Edward Street, James J. Robinson launched his first solo exhibition, titled ‘On Golden Days’, as part of the 2022 International Festival of Photography.

Robinson’s exhibition examines the glorification of the past and its tendency to erase the lived experiences of marginalised peoples. Calling on his queer, Filipino identity the exhibition uses an exclusively Asian cast to retell history through photos and video work. Robinson says he hopes the work can be healing for marginalised communities.

“Collective mid-century nostalgia isn’t something we can access … I want the exhibition space to feel nurturing and inviting for these communities,” he says. “For other people, I’d love the show to make them question how nostalgia operates and the dangers of fetishizing the past.”.

That past is presented with distinct Hollywood glamour across the works and on the night of the opening. Many of the night’s celebratory frills – including the two Afghan hounds – can be seen in the work’s photos and video.

Robinson has emerged as a successful Australian export in commercial and fashion photography, producing works for the likes of Puma, Burberry and Guess. However, his solo exhibition isn’t his first exploration of social and cultural issues.

 “I’ve always interweaved politics into my fashion work, but my protest burning my blazer at my high school last year was probably the most major work I’ve done until now both personally and with an audience,” he says.

In November of last year, Robinson broke into his high school, St Kevin’s in Toorak, to burn his blazer in protest of the school’s alleged toxic culture. The photos he shared on social media went viral, Robinson dedicating them “to current students and victims of St Kevin’s, and schools like it, who feel like their identity is slowly being chipped away by a hyper-masculine culture”.

For Robinson, the pandemic emerged while he lived in New York, and it served as a circuit breaker that made him consider the purpose of his work in photography.

“After so long hustling in the commercial world over there to pay my exorbitant rent, slowing down helped me reflect on the way my work was being used to sell people things they don’t need. How can I create work that challenges oppression and systems yet also be used to uphold capitalist values?” he says.

This approach will be taken into his upcoming film creations too. “Without going into too much detail, my feature film is very much a subversion of religion as an institution, and a separation of the core spirituality of a religion and its systems of oppression,” he says.

Top: James Robinson (orange shirt) at the opening of his exhibition on April 30. Photo: Sarah Pannell
Above: The Hillvale Photo team; Jason Hamilton is standing, second from the right.

Photo lab keeps a tradition alive

These pandemic-induced new horizons are shared by the exhibition’s home, Hillvale Photo, a photo development lab and gallery space that recently relocated from a hole-in-the-wall in Black Street to a purpose-built warehouse in Edward Street.

Jason Hamilton, one of the lab’s co-founders, says the move brings their team under one roof.

“We wanted a space to bring everything together because it was so fragmented, half of our crew is at Black Street, half at Albert Street,” he says.

The last year was a difficult transition, Hamilton says, as he and fellow co-founder Andy Johnson renovated the warehouse space themselves while the lab continued to operate.

“We did the floor, for example, cut it ourselves, ground it, sealed it and everything … we’ve always had that idea of putting as much of ourselves into it,” Hamilton says.

But Hamilton makes it clear that Hillvale’s continued success during the move is because “the team is everything … we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the team we have”.

Hamilton and Johnson started the business in 2013 after a photo lab in Swan Hill, Hamilton’s hometown, was selling its analogue processing equipment. From there they set up and got to work in Johnson’s family home.

It’s a similar story for their transition to Edward Street, where more efficient machines acquired from the now closed Michael’s camera store, in Melbourne’s CBD, were the impetus for more space.

The “professional grade, dip-and-dunk processing equipment” is large, Hamilton says. “You need to build proper dark rooms for it”.

He excitedly shows the new machines, which have been spray painted a bright taxi yellow.

For Hillvale, a show like Robinson’s is the perfect launch of the new gallery space.

“He knows how to put on a show … so it’s a great one to have for our first one, a bit more extravagant,” Hamilton says.

Though, beyond the Hollywood glamour and excitement of the launch, Robinson wants to have a deeper effect on the topic of erasure. The project was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, while profits from the works will go to Pay the Rent, a First Nations advocacy organisation.

“We are channelling money from a government funding body into a grassroots organisation,” Robinson says. “All through a project that brings together voices of Asian diaspora and encourages people to reflect on oppressive systems. That’s the real root of the way the exhibition can tackle national memory and erasure, not only in the work itself.”

‘On Golden Days’ is open daily at Hillvale Gallery, Brunswick until May 22 and is run as part of the Photo 2022, International Festival of Photography.

Photo lab keeps a tradition alive

These pandemic-induced new horizons are shared by the exhibition’s home, Hillvale Photo, a photo development lab and gallery space that recently relocated from a hole-in-the-wall in Black Street to a purpose-built warehouse in Edward Street.

Jason Hamilton, one of the lab’s co-founders, says the move brings their team under one roof.

“We wanted a space to bring everything together because it was so fragmented, half of our crew is at Black Street, half at Albert Street,” he says.

The last year was a difficult transition, Hamilton says, as he and fellow co-founder Andy Johnson renovated the warehouse space themselves while the lab continued to operate.

“We did the floor, for example, cut it ourselves, ground it, sealed it and everything … we’ve always had that idea of putting as much of ourselves into it,” Hamilton says.

But Hamilton makes it clear that Hillvale’s continued success during the move is because “the team is everything … we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the team we have”.

Hamilton and Johnson started the business in 2013 after a photo lab in Swan Hill, Hamilton’s hometown, was selling its analogue processing equipment. From there they set up and got to work in Johnson’s family home.

It’s a similar story for their transition to Edward Street, where more efficient machines acquired from the now closed Michael’s camera store, in Melbourne’s CBD, were the impetus for more space.

The “professional grade, dip-and-dunk processing equipment” is large, Hamilton says. “You need to build proper dark rooms for it”.

He excitedly shows the new machines, which have been spray painted a bright taxi yellow.

For Hillvale, a show like Robinson’s is the perfect launch of the new gallery space.

“He knows how to put on a show … so it’s a great one to have for our first one, a bit more extravagant,” Hamilton says.

Though, beyond the Hollywood glamour and excitement of the launch, Robinson wants to have a deeper effect on the topic of erasure. The project was funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, while profits from the works will go to Pay the Rent, a First Nations advocacy organisation.

“We are channelling money from a government funding body into a grassroots organisation,” Robinson says. “All through a project that brings together voices of Asian diaspora and encourages people to reflect on oppressive systems. That’s the real root of the way the exhibition can tackle national memory and erasure, not only in the work itself.”

‘On Golden Days’ is open daily at Hillvale Gallery, Brunswick until May 22 and is run as part of the Photo 2022, International Festival of Photography.

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