In advance of their exhibition at The SUBSTATION at PHOTO 2021, artist Amos Gebhardt discusses how their practice offers find new ways of looking and remembering, and calls into question assumed truths about spaces and histories... and how Madonna's Sex book was a waste of pocket money.

What started your relationship with photography and why did you want to be an artist?

When I was a kid, my father’s partner brought home a VHS camera. It wasn’t a gift for me or anything, but I couldn’t put it down. I began filming and filming. I photographed everything, the dog, the garden, my sisters’ brawls, little plays about other places. I realise now when I look back at that footage, there’s a story there. A story of a kid trying to make sense of their changing world through the lens of that camera. I quite unconsciously had made an observational documentary about the wreckage of a divorce. I never woke up and decided I wanted to be an artist. The impulse to reflect back impressions of the world has lived in me as long as I can remember. No doubt it lives within us all. I’ve been lucky enough to make it central in my life through the medium of still and moving photography. I am drawn to the way light and composition can have a deep impact on our emotions.

What is your motivation for making art? How has your practice changed over time?

I make impressions of things people might have forgotten to see or have been trained not to notice. I try to find alternative pathways into discarded places, to find new ways of looking and remembering. I began my career as a filmmaker, working with scripts, dominated by dialogue and the single screen of cinema. I have opened up my practice to still photography and multi-screen installation as a way to upend narrative convention and experiment with more impressionistic representations of human or non-human subjectivity.

Behind the scenes from Evanescence (to be shown at PHOTO 2021). Photo: Tim Mummery.

How do ideas relating to 'The Truth’ factor into your practice?

I don’t think The Truth exists. For me there is no Truth. We have frameworks to interpret reality which differ not just from culture to culture, but body to body. What might be my truth, might contradict yours. In my work, I hope to bring into focus frameworks at play that try to normalise one truth at the expense of another. I hope to activate narratives and personal truths unseen or unheard by dominant culture. To call into question assumed truths about spaces and histories. I also like to explore the possibility of non-human subjectivities, to try to unhook the photographic gaze from an anthropocentrism and offer up alternative ways of seeing and experiencing the world where humans are not the central point of view.

How does your lived experience influence your work?

I think being queer with diasporic jewish and european heritage, I’ve always been interested in the outside, in spaces of resistance, of fluidity, of impermanence. Being born into this complex country of Australia with links back to the holocaust, I’ve come to interrogate the sedimented & brutal layers of history in places we stand on. The embodied experiences of these intersections reverberate through my work.

Amos Gebhardt, [Spooky Action (at a distance)], The SUBSTATION. Photo by Emma Stevenson.

Amos Gebhardt, Spooky Action (at a distance), The SUBSTATION. Photo by Sarah Walker.

What books are you currently reading?

I just read Tressie McMillan Cottom’s book Thick, and Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta and am about to pick up Underland by Robert McFarlane. I’m on a bit of a non-fiction phase.

What is your favourite website / social media account?

This is going to sound super nerdy but this festival is all about the truth. The insta account that always gives me a little flutter of excitement whenever it appears on my feed is dailybirdpix. Birds are more uplifting to look at than humans rn.

What music are you listening to?

I cannot get enough of Bongeziwe Mabandla, and Lizzo’s Truth Hurts is on pretty high rotation at my house ATM.

How are you spending your time with the current social distancing restrictions? Has this motivated you in a way that you might not have expected? Are you working on something new?

The big new thing I’m working on is a Ravenburger jigsaw that I just bought through gumtree of a unicorn alighting in what looks like some form of heaven. Jigsaws are my go to when the going gets tough, the tackier the better. Their high voltage campiness is succour ATM. Also Ryan Heffington’s sweat classes for the same reason. I’m also finishing up my latest body of work which will premiere at Samstag Museum of Art later this year. It is a series of photographs and a moving image installation entitled Small acts of resistance where I look at non-conventional modes of care and survival across a number of human and non-human communities.

How do you hope our creative community will overcome this unique challenge?

I hope the new normal becomes a radical overhaul of what was. I hope communities can look to more local horizons with racial and climate justice being paramount.

Do you have any daily rituals?

Drinking tea. My first cup of tea literally gets me out of bed each day. I love mixing leaves.

What advice would you give to your 15 year old self?

Don’t bother spending your pocket money on the Madonna Sex book, it will fall apart within months.

Founding Partners
  • Bowness Family Foundation
  • Naomi Milgrom Foundation
Major Government Partners
  • City of Melbourne Arts Grants Program
  • Creative Victoria
Major Partners
  • Maddocks

PHOTO Australia respectfully acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we work and live, and the rich and diverse Indigenous cultures across what is now called Australia. For over 60,000 years, Indigenous arts and culture have thrived on this sacred land, and we honour Elders and cultural leaders past and present. This was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

01–24 March