John Ogden is perhaps better known for his work as a Director of Photography than for his stills photography, but his unsung status may be about to change. Michael Leunig has described his photography as "a valuable and compelling reference point by which we may, as a culture, understand ourselves and by which, as a nation, we may not be so alienated from the truth of who we really are". Nick Dent from Black and White magazine described Ogden's seminal book "Australienation" being "as intimate as a personal diary and profound as a state-of-the-nation address" and that "turning the pages becomes like reading a poem".
Although Ogden first picked up a camera in the 1960's, it was not until he began to wander Asia's hippie trails in 1972 that he got his first 35mm SLR.
He began to work as a photojournalist, selling his photos to a variety of counter-culture magazines such as Tracks and The Nation Review. While photographing the conflict in Laos during the last days of the Vietnam war, Ogden had a chance meeting with legendary Australian war cameraman Neil Davis. After seeing the frontline footage that Davis shot for the Australian news, Ogden turned his attention to film making.
Since then he has gained a reputation as one of Australia's leading cinematographers, working in all film genres: drama, documentary, TVC and MTV production (including work for Prince and INXS). Ogden likens the group effort and eventual compromises of film making to playing a team sport. On the other hand, he sees photography as an individual pursuit akin to going surfing. By quirk of fate, a period of recuperation following a surfing accident, prompted a creative burst that saw him turn back to his stills roots and publish "Australienation".
In his book, Ogden chooses not to shy away from political and controversial comment. His photographs, while purist and documentary in approach, are quietly subversive. At first glance Ogden's photography can be delightful or hilarious, even freakish and disturbing. But look further into his work and there is a simple and universal human joy, that allows one to feel optimistic about society and human existence.
More recently, Ogden has exhibited his touring show Slightly Dangerous to accompany the book of the same title. Here is some of what Tim Page, one of the world’s best known war photographers, has to say
in his foreword to the book:
“This is a life well travelled of a baby boomer who surfs an existential path across six decades, waxing the best of nostalgia against the odds that are self mitigated by the excesses of those times. It is a heritage of the hippest, most gonzo ‘down-under’ attitudes, rendered by images we all wish we had snapped. As if Hunter S. Thompson and Richard Neville shuffled photo cards with Robert Frank’ian images throughout the deck.”
John Ogden's early photographs have been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Western Australia and toured the country in Roadshow 'West To East - Exhibition 6'. They have also been collected by the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Artbank, the National Library, the State Library of NSW, Curtin University, Jackson Brown and many other private collections. Ogden was a finalist in City of Sydney Art and About 2005 Photography Prize. His photographs were exhibited with art works by Nelson Mandela at The Touch of Mandela Gallery in 2004. In 2008 he was honoured with a major show at the Kluge-Ruhe gallery in Virginia, USA. Amongst a long list, Ogden has also had exhibitions in: the Australian Embassy, Washington, in 2006; the Kolgnphoto Fair, Germany, in 2002; and the Byron Mapp Gallery in 2000.
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