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Adelaide Noir: still life in the city

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Alex Frayne is an elusive – almost reclusive – artist whose enormous following has been justified by the production of Adelaide Noir, an anthology of works depicting the “inscape” of the city he rarely leaves, for fear of homesickness.

“People get embarrassed about saying they love Adelaide, but when I’m not here I get homesick,” says Frayne. “I miss the cuisine – I miss sausage rolls and a certain flavoured milk.

“I like the aesthetic here, especially the western suburbs. It’s uncluttered and artistic. People with an appreciation for art can see that the homeowners there have an honest expression of 20th-century art.”

The Human Race 2010(ii)

‘The Human Race’ by Alex Frayne, 2011.

Frayne’s work has been compared to that of Jeffrey Smart, Howard Arkley and Alex Colville, but he’s not a painter; he’s a photographer who calls himself a filmmaker.

“I have parallel careers in film and art. I come from a film pedigree, but I’m doing stills now. No-one wants Australian films anymore.”

Since graduating in the 1990s from Flinders University, where he majored in filmmaking, Frayne has made a feature film (Modern Love) and two short films (The Longing and Doctor by Day), but now he is focussed on photographic art, shooting around 8000 frames per month, feeding out his favourites to enthusiastic followers via Facebook.

“Every still I do is like a film,” he says. “Every still has a story, a narrative, like a poem compared to a novel.”

dream or nightmare, 2012

‘Dream or Nightmare’, by Alex Frayne, 2012

Frayne works alone, mainly at night. Taking long drives in and around the city and out into the countryside, stopping frequently to capture what most people blink at without a second thought. But what does he see in the public places, abandoned spaces and vagrant faces that he needs to record or express?

“Gerard Manley Hopkins (19th-century English poet) coined the word ‘inscape’, which means the inherent beauty in pretty much everything,” explains Frayne.

“When you see it, the feeling you get is called instress, the giddy excitement you feel when you see the beauty in something … As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame … beauty is in the eye of the beholder; either you see it or you don’t.

only the lonely, 2012

‘Only the Lonely’ by Alex Frayne, 2012.

“Whether it’s a portrait or a landscape, what you aim for is a transaction of emotion between the subject and the photographer.”

But is photography taken seriously as an art form? Do people choose to hang photographs in place of paintings in their homes?

“There are too many people in the eastern suburbs who are still informed about art by what their parents bought when they were young,” says Frayne. “This is merely about education.

room 56, 2012

‘Room 56’ by Alex Frayne, 2012.

“In the last three years, photography has caught on in a domestic context with the improvement in technology. It is now the zeitgeist art form and the cutting edge of now.

“The quest is not to convince people that photography is art, the quest is to pull them kicking and screaming in to the 21st century.”

Frayne has an agent in New York, but in Australia he manages his own sales and marketing.

“I have Facebook followers in the thousands,” he says. “I use Facebook as a digital gallery because it’s open 24/7, 365 days a year, and the world has six billion people in it. Facebook will never replace conventional art distribution, but one enhances the other.

Adelaide Noir makes it real because in cyberworld everything is fleeting and ephemeral, but a book is there forever.”

Adelaide Noir front only.indd

Adelaide Noir, published by Wakefield Press ($39.95), was released last week. More information is available here.

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