This feature is part of an infrequent series of posts of images made with large format cameras. The previous post in the series was Feature #3 of a wetland in the Hindmarsh River in Victor Harbor.
I made the picture below with an 8×10 Cambo monorail in the early morning. It is of the wetlands of the River Murray near the Overland Corner Reserve in the Riverland region of South Australia. I was exploring the area around the Overland Corner tracing the overland route used by the drovers (ie., overlanders) to take stock from New South Wales to Adelaide between 1830 and the early 1840s. This route followed a much older Aboriginal pathway. At the time I was trying to gain a sense of the history of the River Murray in the Riverland region.
I camped overnight in the reserve close to the River Murray and made a number of pictures the following morning. The pictures were for a collaborative project on the River Murray that eventually fell through when the organizer and the lead artist just walked away from the project without saying anything.
There was no water in the wetlands even though the River Murray was just to the right of the picture. The ground was very dry and many of the trees in the “wetland” were dead. The wetlands along the river were dying from lack of water due to there being no flooding in recent years. So much water was being taken out by upstream irrigators that there was nothing left for environmental flows. The decade old Murray-Darling Plan to increase the environmental flows by 450 gigalitres has failed, but the irrigators have increased their allocations. Surprise, surprise.
In the light of the recent attacks to, and hacks of, two of my WordPress websites –ie., Thoughtfactory and Mallee Routes — I have been looking at Square Space for the Walking Adelaide project. The project has basically outgrown Posthaven’s simple blog format that I have been using up to now. Outgrown in the sense that the Walking Adelaide project needs galleries, a blog and text in the form of some critical writing about the city, modernity and photography.
The Posthaven blog replaced an early poodlewalks blog on a free WordPress blog –that I used when I was living in Adelaide’s CBD That old WordPress blog was deleted when poodlewalks was upgraded into its own website, after we’d shifted to living in Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. The poodlewalks in Adelaide’s CBD stopped and they only took place in the Fleurieu Peninsula. Turning to Posthaven plugged the gap.
Rather than building another WordPress website to develop the Walking Adelaide project I am considering Square Space. Considering in the sense of playing around with a demo template to see whether it would be suitable for the project. The upside of Square Space is that they have the responsibility for blocking the hacks, rather than me. The downside is that they charge $16 per month for the template and hosting when I already hosting my own websites.
Whilst walking for 7 days on the various trails at Wilsons Promontory National Park in Victoria with the Retire Active SA Bushwalkers group I tried to link walking with photography. It had been 20 years since this group had been to Wilsons Promontory, so it was a big occasion for them. About 65-70 people went and they walked in the 4 different grades of walking in terms distance and difficulty. I was in the C grade to allow myself time to do photography whilst bush walking.
It had been about 10 years since I’d been to Wilsons Promontory and I didn’t remember that much as I was a day tourist then, rather than a bushwalker /photographer We stayed in a farm cottage just outside the park’s entrance and made day trips into the park. I remember going to Tidal River and Squeaky Beach and photographing the rocks along the side of the road up to Mt Oberon.
The inspiration is Eleanor Dark’s bushwalking in the Blue Mountains as well as Manning Clark walking almost every line in his A History of Australia. So is the historian Tom Griffiths, a keen bush walker, who like Clark, is keenly aware that the past is alive and shifting in the present. Their quest for historical understanding helps to inform a contemporary photography.
It is difficult to successfully combine walking and photography with a bushwalking group because their emphasis is on walking, rather than a creative walking art project. So the photography is necessarily limited to digital snaps whilst walking or making photos (digital and film) before and after the daily walks. My photographic emphasis was on the latter.
From there I drove a little way up Gap Rd into the Ranges, stopped, then looked back from the eastern edge of the Ranges across the Murray Plains. This was once Mallee country.
This scoped picture looks to be a possibility for some b+w photos using the 5×7 Cambo monorail. This was the camera I was using to photograph with in the 1980s when I lived in Adelaide. Then I entered the Mt Lofty Ranges via Mt Pleasant and Palmer from Adelaide I didn’t really explore the eastern side of the Ranges, or the relationship between the Ranges and the Murraylands or plains. The key problem that I will face in exploring this possibility is the strong winds — the sou’ easterlies and the sou’ westerlies — that make large format photography difficult, if nigh on impossible.
The question raised in the interview is: Why is an eco-photography as distinct from landscape photography not widely recognized in photographic culture? Where are photography’s postcards from the Anthropocene that emerge from its encounters with the Anthropocene-in-the-making? The question is asked because there is a recognized eco-philosophy, even if remains marginal in academia; one that in Australia which has its roots in Val and Richard Routley’s The Fight for the Forest (1973) — the book that launched the struggle to protect Australia’s old growth native forests. This environmental philosophy becomes an eco-philosophy that is critical of the nature/culture dualism; explores the revaluing our relationship to nature in the context of an ecological crisis caused by climate heating in the era of the Anthropocene; and recognizes the Whanganui River in NZ as a living being and one that has been granted legal personhood.
So why is there not a recognized ecologically oriented-photography as opposed to landscape photography; an eco-photography that interrogates, expands, understands and influences our relationship with nature in transformation? An eco-photography that has affinities with an eco-philosophy’s recognition of the limitations of economics and its concern to heal a wounded world and is willing to rethink the landscape in the Anthropocene rather than default to a default reading of landscape.
We no longer live in the Holocene or the culture of the nineteenth century when relations between humans and nature seemed clear: nature was separate to humans and it was natural, beautiful, untouched. In the 21st century humans can no longer be defined as separate to the world around us. It is also recognized that a wilderness landscape photography of an uncontaminated and entirely pure nature in Australia was blind to the aboriginal occupation of the land for 50-60,000 thousand years prior to the British colonization in the late 18th century. With the wide recognition that one of the consequences of economic development has been widespread environmental damage to the country and the native old growth forests and the emergence of an Anthropocene or planetary aesthetics, then why no eco-photography?
In his interview Tatnall says that his approach to photographing nature has its roots in his early desire to see more green on the map meaning more national parks that protected the land. He adds that this desire to preserve nature through national parks was strengthened by the campaign to save Lake Pedder in Tasmania in the 1970s and the threats to the native forests in East Gippsland in Victoria in the 1980s.
He adds that the protection of Australia’s unique landscape is important, and that his motivation for his photography is being able to say something about our fragile environment by making a photograph that has an impact and meaning. This “saying something about” is based on an understanding of place that comes from spending time in that place — in Tatnall’s words “going into nature is to be in nature and if I make a photograph, it’s a bonus.”
This implies an awareness that nature has become enmeshed within our understandings of what it is to be human, and it sounds like an eco-photography, rather than a landscape photography. I would suggest that such a distinction is plausible, reasonable and necessary in the light of the body of work produced by Joyce Campbell. An eco-photography that is aware the signature of the Anthropocene appears in the geological strata: in the ice cores of the rapidly melting Arctic, the agricultural sediments accumulating in the Yellow Sea, the shifting of atmospheric gases in Antarctica and the bushfires in Australia and California.