drought, landscape, Mallee, water

climate change + photography

September 17, 2018

When I was on the Balranald photocamp for the Mallee Routes project exploring the Yanga woolshed and homestead I noticed the  dryness of  the country was around  the Murrumbidgee River that was caused by lack of autumn and winter rainfall, the protracted drought and climate change. As  I drove through  the Yanga National Park  to the red gum forest at Woolpress Bend  I noticed that the decline in  rainfall  meant  that none of the little creeks (eg., Uara Creek) were flowing in and around the national park; the wetlands were dry and  the  trees in the floodplains were dying.I noticed that there were hardly any old mature  River Red Gum trees–they’d been   logged to fuel river boats, for fencing and other uses. This changed the structure of the forests along the Murrumbidgee River.

The evidence suggests that human-caused  climate change is exacerbating drought conditions in parts of Australia, especially in the southeast (and southwest) part of  Australia. My assumption is that as climate change is already here,  so  we need to brace for  its impact,  and  to start learning how to adapt to a warmer world in south eastern Australia.

trees, Yanga Creek, NSW

The lower Murrumbidgee River was historically unknown for  the richness of the floodplains due to the natural flow regimes from  the melting  snow in the Great Dividing Range in  the spring. This flow regime has been modified  by river regulation  that includes building of dams and weirs, diversion of river flow by extraction, alteration of  flows on floodplains with levees and structures to allow water storage.   Continue Reading…

architecture, landscape, Mallee, roadtrip

Returning to the silo project

August 11, 2018

The   conceptually based  and low key Silo project   is taking  me a while to refine and to realize in spite of its simplicity.  It has been refined to  a minimal project  that  consists of  photographing 15 silos on the Mallee Highway from Talem Bend to Piangil  using one camera (an 8×10 Cambo  monorail),   one lens (a Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 300mm f/5.6), one type of film (Ilford FP4 Plus) and one tripod (a Linhof Heavy Duty).The photographs,  like those of the conceptual artists in the  1960s and early 70s (e.g., Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations),   will be  paired with words in the form of titles and published in book form.   There is nothing complicated about this kind of project.

Despite this conceptual simplicity and clarity  it is taking me quite a  while  to realize the idea behind  the  project.   It  started in 2016  on  some road trips,  but, to my surprise,  I have discovered that getting it  up and running has proved to be  difficult.    I initially thought that I would photograph in colour as well as black and white but that approach ended in confusion.  I  then encountered  various problems  using the camera,  the coverage limitations of  the  initial lens I was using (a Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 210mm f/5.6),  and  difficulties developing the 8×10 sheet film without my own darkroom.

silo, Mallee Highway, Victoria

I also  thought   that I could  work on the Silo project whilst simultaneously working on the   Mallee Routes one,   given that I was  frequently travelling up and down the Mallee Highway to go toad from  the various Mallee Routes photo camps.  However,  I found that though I carried the 8×10 Cambo with with me whilst  on the Mallee Routes road trips,    I would never  get around to using it to work on the silo project.  I was too caught up in the Mallee Routes project. I eventually came to  realise  that these were two separate projects that required quite different approaches to photography.   Continue Reading…

camel trek, Flinders Ranges, landscape, ruins

degraded-landscape: Flinders Ranges

July 7, 2018

On my  first night camping on the camel trek in the northern Flinders Ranges I experienced   a culture shock due to  the degraded-landscape around me.  Our camp at  Bend Well (a water point) was  west of Arkaroola and just outside  the edge of the northern tip of the Gammon Ranges and I was stunned at just  how degraded the ecology of this  landscape of this part of the northern Flinders was. It wasn’t the dryness of the landscape that shocked me. This is a semi-arid landscape given the minimal rainfall (roughly around 150mm) that is highly variable and  the hot, dry desert climate with cool to cold winters, and the periods of drought.

We were camped on Umberatana Station south of the dingo or dog fence that runs roughly east-west across South Australia. To the south of the fence, dingoes (wild dogs) have been destroyed   It is north of the dog fence sheep that grazing is unviable due to dingo predation. The main grazing pressure south of the dog fence is from sheep, a few cattle and unknown number of rabbits and kangaroos.

trough, Bend Well, Umberatana Station

What really shocked me  was the condition of the land—the ecological devastation–that had been caused  by the long history  over stocking  by the pastoralists, drought   and the plagues of rabbits since the mid-nineteenth century with little signs of contemporary landcare.  I couldn’t help but notice the loss of vegetation and the subsequent destruction of the soil surface. This is certainly a human altered landscape that had been changed by the pastoral industry.

I appreciate that these pioneer settlers  underpinned the general prosperity of South Australia  in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries since the various attempts at mining in the Flinders Ranges usually  fizzled out quite quickly.   The pastoralists also  opened up the interior of the continent. Continue Reading…

architecture, landscape, Melbourne

walking in Sunshine, Melbourne

June 13, 2018

Prior to going on the camel trek to the northern Flinders  Ranges  I was in Melbourne for a photoshoot about  old industrial Melbourne  for an upcoming SALA exhibition at Atkins Photo Lab with Stuart Murdoch. We spent  a part  of Sunday  afternoon walking along Kororoit Creek in Sunshine  in Melbourne’s west.  It was a pleasant afternoon walking  for a couple of hours along  the creek from Stuart’s place,  even though I was suffering from a painful  back that I’d  damaged just prior to leaving Adelaide for Melbourne.

The creek  features in Stuart’s Sunshine project–which is about place, lived experience and memory.  Some of his photos made along the  Kororoit  Creek Trail  had been  included a recent exhibition he had in 2018.   It was interesting walking with a fellow photographer in their own territory.

Kororoit Creek, Sunshine

Though   Sunshine is generally regarded as one of the forgotten suburbs of Melbourne’s west, I find it to be a fascinating place, both photographically and sociologically.  It is a low-density residential suburb  that is close to Melboune’s  CBD by rail; the Vietnamese  migrants are  rapidly changing this suburb  from its old industrial and white  working class base; it still  has plenty of industrial sites;  it is earmarked for redevelopment;  and there are some well cared for public commons. It is a photographically rich suburb to walk around in. Stuart’s Sunshine project is a making sense of this place that is his home.   Continue Reading…

Adelaide, architecture, critical writing

on photographic criticism in Australia

May 24, 2018

One of the more noticeable characteristics of the contemporary photographic culture in  Australia is the dearth of independent critical-writing or public criticism  that endeavours to convince the wider public of the worth of art photography through the process of  explicating, encouraging, elevating, supporting, critiquing.  There is next to nothing icy way of photo criticism in Adelaide:—the Broadsheet Journal has closed down, whilst The Adelaide Review,   Artlink  and Tulpa basically overlook/ignore photographic exhibitions   The consequence of this lack of  cultural building blocks is  that art photographers working on long term projects live in a critical vacuum, despite the shift  online to a networked  digital world.

Many traditional photographers would not be concerned about this vacuum in photography’s critical discourse as they have no real love for art criticism,  but it is a depressing situation that we find ourselves in.   Criticism is a crucial part of making and enabling  a photographic culture,  and  photography has been at the centre of critical debates and themes throughout late twentieth and 21st century art photography’s and it  has  had a crucial   impact on contemporary art in this period.

Royal Adelaide Hospital

This lack of a critical impulse and discourse about contemporary  photography is reinforced by  the lack of value around the arts in mainstream media and among the public more generally. The entire journalism industry has been  going through a major phase of disruption,  and arts coverage has been  the first  to go in the mainstream media.  It has been decimated over the last decade, which makes the newspapers irrelevant.

The primary  reason  for this is that the arts are  no longer a priority for  the mainstream media that is still dependent on advertising and sales revenue.  The shift to  digital means that the emphasis   is now  all  about what rates online in terms of the most clicks from readers.  Since the reviews of exhibitions are not being read,  other than by  those immediately connected to them,  so  the media publishers stop publishing art reviews.   As his well known, the advertising model is broken and  people do not want to subscribe to  the mainstream media.  Arts coverage in the mainstream media is directly commensurate with the advertising dollars it brings in re  the page’s profitability.   This means that arts coverage is in its own silo – it survives off the strength of art-related advertisers only.   Continue Reading…