An exhibition by David Flanagan, 2019 Dark Matter Resident 

A mix of landscape, still-life and portrait subjects printed on to a variety of objects – from broken tools, op shop finds, organic matter and private heirlooms – explore a compassionate sentimentality for things discarded and forgotten. In Found, David Flanagan reflects on the life cycles of objects, and, through experimental printing methods, gives new meaning to a material culture of the overlooked. 


Vignettes of family transform anonymous objects into personal keepsakes. We find the eyes of Flanagan’s wife, Carisse, and their daughters, Olive and Rose, printed on a set of silver souvenir teaspoons and their portraits on leaves. Scenes of early twentieth century funerary sculpture from the Riverside cemetery in Queanbeyan, commemorating a now-forgotten mourning, are transferred onto the undersides of a broken iron and a trowel to give  mundane tools a renewed significance. Indistinct landscapes, with ghostly apparitions of electricity pylons and power station chimneys, decorate shells collected during Flanagan’s early years in Papua New Guinea to merge  childhood recollections of a jungle idyll with the industrial scenes so characteristic of Flanagan’s oeuvre. And an exterior of a porthole shows a darkening sea, inviting the viewer not so much to look in but to look on. These, and the other works in Found, reveal how Flanagan transforms readymade materials into personal mementoes and subverts the accepted categories of subject and object. The title of the exhibition therefore reflects both the ways in which Flanagan encountered these objects, as well as discovery of their new meanings.    


There is a timelessness to Flanagan’s latest body of work. As a virtuoso photographic printer, Flanagan appreciates the historical and methodical process of the darkroom, and the old-world look and feel of silver gelatin  printing. Although these works have all been produced during Flanagan’s most recent Dark Matter residency at PhotoAccess, their almost sepia-like appearance is redolent of an earlier time. This aesthetic quality emerged through Flanagan’s darkroom experiments, whereby he coated various natural, recycled and discarded objects with liquid silver, exposing them beneath an enlarger and trialling different bonding agents. What began as a frustrating and lengthy, almost alchemical, exercise slowly turned into success as Flanagan discovered the appropriate procedures and exposures for the surfaces on which he was printing. Moreover, the process gave Flanagan, a self-confessed perfectionist, an opportunity to embrace imperfection. His works on glass – a series of still lifes with flowers in vases, printed onto glass plates cut from a broken aquarium – retain the uneven brushstrokes from the application of silver; while the surface of the porthole show cracks in the emulsion where the bonding agent didn’t fully take. It is these small elements which also make this exhibition in part a paean to experimentation, slowing down and paying attention. 


Through an inversion of a perceived world order – in which industrial scenes are placed on natural materials found in the environment, and landscape scenes are placed on recycled or discarded industrial objects – Flanagan quietly critiques the hyper consumerism of neo-liberal capitalism. The surprising discovery of these images on found objects also references Flanagan’s interest in Surrealism, and the ways this movement used photography to manipulate the context and function of images to activate the subconscious. The exhibition therefore returns to the question of what an object is, and can be, in contemporary photographic practice.    


Just as Flanagan’s re-use of objects implies a rejection of the current economic system, the manifestation of this exhibition as a physical presentation rather than an online experience rejects the logic that art can automatically be transferred to digital platforms. It is telling that Flanagan resisted the curation of Foundinto an online exhibition when COVID closed the gallery’s doors, believing that the human experience of viewing the materiality of these works is essential to their overall coherence. 


In Found, we are invited to reflect on the life cycle of nature and the biography of objects we find within our worlds. Leaves fall off trees, objects shift from possessions to rubbish, and all are remade within this space.  



Lily Withycombe

Lily Withycombe is a curator at the National Museum of Australia. She has broad interests in social history, material culture and museology, and a diverse back-catalogue of exhibitions spanning Torres Strait masksto Rome: City and Empire and the 40th anniversary of the Mardi Gras. Lily is a passionate advocate for the arts in Canberra, and a board member of the Megalo Print Studio.

Watch to opening speeches below, click to play.

List of Works

  1. David Flanagan, Still life triptych # 1-3, 2019, Silver emulsion on glass (fish tank) POA

  2. David Flanagan, Tree # 1, 2020, Silver emulsion on gum leaf NFS

  3. David Flanagan, Landscape # 4 & 5, 2019, Silver emulsion on auger shell NFS

  4. David Flanagan, Trees # 2 , 2020, Silver emulsion on gum leaf NFS

  5. David Flanagan, Landscape # 3, 2019, Silver emulsion on cowrie shell NFS

  6. David Flanagan, Still life # 5, 2019, Silver emulsion on glass (fish tank) POA

  7. David Flanagan, Souvenir, 2020, Silver emulsion on souvenir spoons NFS

  8. David Flanagan, Trees # 4, 2019, Silver emulsion on welded steel POA

  9. David Flanagan, Bonsai # 1, 2019, Silver emulsion on stone POA

  10. David Flanagan, Mary Ann Rusten 1812-1875, 2020, Silver emulsion on trowl POA

  11. David Flanagan, Sunflower, 2020, Silver emulsion on burnt timber POA

  12. David Flanagan, Rebecca Emma Collett 1847-1922, 2020, Silver emulsion on iron POA

  13. David Flanagan, Bonsai # 2, 2019, Silver emulsion on stone POA

  14. David Flanagan, Still life # 4, 2019, Silver emulsion on glass (fish tank) NFS

  15. David Flanagan, Landscape # 1, 2019, Silver emulsion on nautilus shell NFS

  16. David Flanagan, Trees # 3, 2020, Silver emulsion on gum leaf NFS

  17. David Flanagan, Still life # 6, 2019, Silver emulsion on glass (fish tank) POA

  18. David Flanagan, Landscape # 2, 2019, Silver emulsion on pearl shell NFS

  19. David Flanagan, Landscapes # 6-10, 2020, Silver emulsion on resting hill roof tiles POA

  20. David Flanagan, Seascape, 2020, Silver emulsion on porthole mirror NFS

  21. David Flanagan, Olive and Rose, 2020, Silver emulsion on gum leaf NFS