Transitional Compositions

A major solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, showcases the work of Bill Henson, a renowned Australian photographer whose practice is characterised by powerful images investigating the human condition. A collection of 23 pictures highlight the themes that are both foundational and recurrent in the oeuvre, including sublime landscapes and portraiture, alongside classical figurines captured in museum settings. The display is part of the NGV Festival of Photography which opens in March, featuring a suite of contemporary series to commemorate the medium.

Henson is celebrated for his evocative and engaging pieces which sensitively explore the complexities of humanity. Inviting contemplation through open-ended narratives, the works often capture an intriguing sense of the temporary and the liminal. Whilst his portraiture presents subjects as introspective, focusing on the intricacies of dreams and thoughts, the practitioner often approaches landscape during the transitional moment of twilight. Depictions of gallery sculptures involve the artist juxtaposing graceful marble statues against the transfixed faces of those observing them.

The pieces, no matter their central subject or theme, are internationally recognised for creating a powerful sense of the unknown and the ambiguous through the use of a velvet-like blackness in the shadows. The contrast of light and dark selectively obscures and reveals the form of the human body, sculptures and the landscape. This unique and striking use of chiaroscuro is how the artist subtly yet significantly brings into question the established knowledge, and the challenges, of the contemporary society.

The director of the NGV, Tony Ellwood, states: “Henson’s photographs have a palpable sense of the cinematic and together they form a powerful and enigmatic visual statement. The NGV mounted Bill Henson’s first solo exhibition in 1975 when he was only 19. Over 40 years later, audiences will be captivated by the beauty of the images once more.”

Bill Henson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 10 March – 27 August. For more information, visit the NGV website:


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1.  Bill Henson, Untitled 1990/2000 (1999-2000). Courtesy of NGV and the artist.