David Tatnall has started an online gallery at View Camera Australia for analogue photos made with both medium and large format cameras. The first exhibition: —August 2021–is now up. It was based around recent work — made within the year to August 2021. I sent 3 images for submission to August 2021, and one of them entitled ‘sea sky earth’, was included in the exhibition. It was made with an old 5×7 Cambo SC 3 monorail in the late autumn/early winter of 2021. It was early in the morning on an over cast day.
The image below is an outtake –that is, one of the 3 images sent for consideration. It is of a local wetland in Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It was also made with a Cambo 5×7 SC3 monorail as a part of an ongoing series of photographing my local area. This is the traditional country of the Ngarrindjeri people.
There are some great images in the exhibition, and it showcases both the strength of large format photography and the diversity of analogue photography in Australia. The audience response to the online August 2021 exhibition has been extremely positive. As a result of the positive audience response David Tatnall plans to do another online exhibition in October. It is a good idea.
Hopefully these images will help to uplift the mood of the people in Sydney and Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for some time; and those people in Brisbane and Adelaide have been in and out of lockdown; and those in Canberra who have recently gone into lockdown. People are anxious and under stress with the rolling lockdowns, which are designed to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 by severely limiting people’s movement.
GST: Now that we have a broad understanding of your project in relation to Melbourne photography I thought that we might zoom in on some particular photos. Could you select 2-3 photos that are an important/significant to you in this project, and then talk about how you came to see, how you approached making it and why it is significance for your project. The kind of photo that I have in mind is one that represents a hurrah moment—ie., I’ve stopped stumbling around, its coming together and this photo points the way, or gives me confidence to continue working on the project in isolation.
SM: The way I now work means those hurray moments are few and far between. Picture choices in the early days were based on pictorial strengths and merits alone. Dipping back into my archive has proved fruitful and it helps me to look forward to attempt to capture changes before they occur. The subject matter that I pursue has not really changed in 30+ years of working with cameras, only the spaces themselves. Now in the 21st century revisiting these sites is important as they are markers of Melbourne’s development along with my own as a visual creative.
The photo of St Albans (circa 1990) has had a significant impact on my work:
I literally stopped the cab I was driving and pulled my kit out of the boot. I did this on occasion, on weekend day shifts in particular. While this image echoed aspects of Robert Adams’ work, it was for me a uniquely Melbourne suburban picture. By the way the site has radically altered in some way but is still the same in others.
Grass fires in suburban Melbourne, and I’m sure in other large cities too, are a common thing. Especially in parts of the city close to the edge as was St. Albans in those days. So this picture has always held a prominent position in my mind. For all the elements captured, and the signs and signifiers it carried. The burnt grass, the powerlines the vehicular tracks, all these signs/man made marks demonstrated a use of the space and land that was and remains contemporary. It continually draws me back in even after nearly 30 years of looking at it as a contact image. I still on occasion drive past it, the changes are significant, but the space is still empty, and now near a major Arterial road, the M8 ring road.
The history of the representations of landscape in Australia was complex, if not contradictory, given that landscape is a contested term, meaning very different things to different people. The modernists, for instance, held that landscape was an anachronistic genre, part of a old, privileged gum tree tradition ‘overthrown’ by Modernism. Landscape as a term should be abandoned it was held. Currently, landscape is often viewed in the art institution to be of little or no relevance in our overwhelmingly urban, more or less progressive, global culture.
On the other hand, the view that the visual representations of landscape (the bush) were deemed to be old fashioned and irrelevant only lasted until various modernists — such as Nolan, Boyd, Williams — turned to representing the landscape after stepping outside the capital cities into what they called the Outback or the dead centre. Then the visual representations of landscape became okay and their representations were not ideological ie., it was not embedded in ideology. Landscape is the framed view whose paradox islandscape is that it is both what is other to the human subject: land, place, nature; and yet, it is also the space for projection, and can become, therefore, a sublimated self-portrait or a field of dreams.
This contradictory history of modernism has dissolved in three ways. Firstly, is the idea of topographics as a ‘man-altered landscape’ that emerged after the influential New Topographics exhibition in 1975 at George Eastman House. Secondly, we can understand the representation of ‘landscape’ as the means by which artists engage with issues of place, with questions about our location in the world – a location which is always, as Merleau-Ponty made clear, originally grounded in our immediate bodily location.
I have decided to do the odd interview with photographers whose work I find interesting and who are interested in engaging in a conversation about their work. ‘Interviews’ will only be an occasional feature of the Thoughtfactory blog. This, the first in the series, is with Stuart Murdoch.
Thanks for offering to do the interview on your industrial Melbourne photos Stuart. The interview will be posted on the Thoughtfactory blog and it maybe cross posted to the blog of View Camera Australia. My observation of what is happening in photo-land is that most photographers in Australia traditionally talk about a particular print, or about their technique, or their equipment, despite, or in spite of, the art world being conceptually orientated since conceptual art in the 1960s. This traditional photo land approach strikes me as an unhelpful way to make sense of your industrial photos of Melbourne series, which has been ongoing for a decade or more. A more fruitful approach is to shift the emphasis to understanding your series of photos as a project.
Can you describe what this project is (ie., the idea behind the project), what you are trying to do with making this project and how has it evolved over time. If it has evolved over time, how has this changed the way you have have approached photographing industrial Melbourne. Can you describe what photographic and or literary or cultural influences have informed your photography, and how have these shaped the way that have understood both the project and they way you approached the photography.
Stuart Murdoch (SM) Thanks for the invitation Gary, and what a great set of questions to kick off with.
Initially I never set out to photograph the industrial in Melbourne. Like many students starting out I aspired to making work that was considered valuable and usually pictorially conservative subject matter. At University I discovered Robert Adams, and The New Topographic Exhibition in 1977 1. I never looked back and continue working in this way to this day. I have seen enough of each of the photographer’s work, leading up to and after the exhibition, to gain an understanding and appreciation of ideas being put forward by William Jenkins2.
Robert Adams especially has for me been particularly inspiring. I have quite a few of his monographs and other books. His early essays, helped clarify in my own mind something I’d seen around me, since my early days of photography in the late 1980’s, but was unable to articulate, until, as he suggests in one of his essays, I found a map and compass and sent out to find my own way. Adams’ ideas about hope are central to how I approach my photography.
The idea that the urban was worthy of photographing was revelatory. But I wanted more than a dispassionate view that Jenkins espoused to frame the approach to the New Topographics. The question I asked myself was it; or is it ever, possible to photograph one’s own place with “dispassionate neutrality”? 3 I would argue that it is not. Though the New Topographic Photographers like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, may have approached or attempted to approach their work from a neutral and distant style, my own work is more ardent.
The picture below was made in the local remnant bushland during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 in the late afternoon. It was made with a Linhof Technika IV using Kodak Portra 160 ASA film.
From memory, during the national lockdown we were able to move up to 5km from our place of residence. This bushland was within that range. I visited it often, in the early morning and afternoon on the poodlewalks. I even made a video using my old iPhone 6.