The Age 5 April 1997


The Age 5 April 1997
(excerpt from)

Water Music

By David McCooey

The Language of Oysters
By Robert Adamson and Juno Gemes
Craftsman House, $49.95

THE Language of Oysters is beautifully produced, with a fine quality maintained for the photographic prints. Without being simply documentary, Robert Adamson's poems and Juno Gemes's photographs figure and reconfigure the incorrigible plurality of life in and around the Hawkesbury River: the mudflats, the fish, the large sky, the bird life, the mangroves and memories that seem to move like a river through the landscape.

The photographs and poems complement each other wonderfully. By turns, the work is lyrical, humorous, even brutal. It is arranged in broadly thematic terms, and while land and waterscapes predominate, humans are not eclipsed; they take they place without embarrassment at work and at leisure by and in the Hawkesbury.

Gemes's photography is not showy, though that is not to say technique doesn't interest her. As others have noticed, photography's pleasant paradox is that despite its extreme realism the pull of metaphor is always somehow felt. This is apparent in Gemes' many portraits of people working in the Hawkesbury and the stillness of some of her landscapes.

Most of the poems have been published elsewhere, though a handful are new. They sit together perfectly, despite their various provenances. Many of Adamson's best poems are those occasioned by the Hawkesbury. They move through the various manifestations and moods of the river, from metaphysical to domestic and autobiographical reflections. The interest with such reflections, as in the river's reflections, is how protean they can be. The river encourages association, or, as Adamson writes in Sail Away: "Our day was composed of resemblances."

Lyric poetry feeds off metaphor and, for Adamson, the Hawkesbury is one big metaphor. At times, great hordes of metphor demand to he reined in, to be given shape. In Clear Water Reckoning, words are "the bait / I hunch over my desk and start to row". In Meshing Bends in the Light, the life of the photograph is continuous with the life of the river: "The westerly howls through the darkroom." But later, too, "words dissolve", the river becomes an image of death as well as life. and it is Gemes's and Adamson's talent that they can present this without mawkishness or sentimentality.