critical writing, Mallee, water

towards a critical climate aesthetics

May 11, 2019

This post on a critical climate aesthetics builds on this one at the Encounter Studio’s photoblog in the light of what has been currently happening in the lower Darling River region. There is some background here about why the Darling River has run dry. The general consensus is that state and federal governments have allowed way too much water to be taken from the system by irrigated agriculture, such as Big Cotton in Queensland and northern NSW.

The idea of a critical climate aesthetics underpins my contribution to the Unknown Futures section of the upcoming Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December 2019.

lower Darling River

Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The argument is that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth; and that there is no foreseeable return to the Holocene Epoch.

This argument would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors in the sense that the Anthropocene references an epoch in which humans are the dominant drivers of geologic change on the globe today.  It wasn’t just drought that has caused the Darling River to dry up. The catastrophe was partly the result of human activity. This suggests that the Kantian sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.

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landscape, roadtrip, topographics

the production of space

April 16, 2019

One way to think about history in relationship to the landscape, such as the Mallee landscape, is to adopt a geographical perspective, as geography is concerned with space and it has been informed by the idea of the production of space. This latter refers to how space has been made or produced in order to satisfy and expand human needs and possibilities. The key is to make or to produce space, rather than just to conceive it.

Dukes Highway, South Australia

But it is more than this, Trevor Paglen describes this idea in the following way:

In a nutshell, the production of space says that humans create the world around them and that humans are, in turn, created by the world around them. In other words, the human condition is characterized by a feedback loop between human activity and our material surroundings. In this view, space is not a container for human activities to take place within, but is actively “produced” through human activity. The spaces humans produce, in turn, set powerful constraints upon subsequent activity.

The production of space takes us beyond seeing nature in terms of the  impact of human habitation: ie., nature as ‘tamed’, ‘interpreted’ and ‘framed’, and as something deeply impregnated with metaphorical and poetic meaning.

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architecture, camel trek, Flinders Ranges, history

history + photography

April 2, 2019

I have increasingly been turning towards the layers of history in my project orientated photography of the present. The presence of history in the present is a complex relationship, and in exploring it I have come face to face with the historical, foundational narratives in Australia.

These colonial setter narratives contribute to the creation of national myth of heroic solo-endeavour and human tragedy within a ‘harsh’, intractable and unforgiving environment in which only the bravest and boldest could survive.

pastoral ruins, Northern Flinders

For instance, the western historiography of heroic exploration in colonial Australia is generally understood within the grand narrative of struggling heroically against adversity’ in the search for more land for further settler expansion and settlement.  

This is a fundamental part of colonial occupation and imperial expansion premised on the elimination of the aboriginal people and the wholesale appropriation of their land. The primary motive for elimination is access to territory. Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element.

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New Zealand, publishing, urban, Wellington

Reconnections: Walking Wellington

March 7, 2019

I have spent the last couple of months working on the Reconnections: Walking Wellington  project. This  is  based on my walking  Wellington around the time of Photobooks/NZ  in 2018  and on my previous visits.  These visits were designed  for me to walk Wellington.

It has  initially been constructed in the form of  a Tumblr blog.  The blog is here and the project starts from the bottom of p. 4.   The impetus for the project was    Photoforum NZ’s recent open call for submissions  for their online gallery  (images of the project only),  and then their call for  submissions the form of a pdf  for their publications programme (text plus images).

The blog was the easiest way for me to construct the project fragment by fragment,  and it is also provides an  accessible way for people to see the project in its embryonic form. The picture below  is an outtake from the project:

Massey Uni, Wellington

There is another outtake here.  Another  outake  is here.

If these submissions are not successful– I am assuming  that they wont be,  given both the nature of publishing in Australia and New Zealand and the strength and creativity of photography in New Zealand —then I  have the basic draft  for a new photobook. This time around I will submit the pdf to various book publishers. If I am not successful,  then, and only then,    will  I consider publishing  it on my own.  I do need to explore the submissions route and experience the normal  series of rejections.   Continue Reading…

digital, digital image, film

the digital image

January 27, 2019

A common argument in photographic theory is that the triumph of the digital image as the contemporary form of photography forces a reevaluation of the traditional assumption of correspondence between the image and some form of reality of which it is said to be an imprint.   The argument is that digital  images that begin their life as binary data and are  driven  by algorithms  cannot be comprehended through the conventional  trinity of representation, the index and the punctum.  A major shift has taken place with the emergence of the networked image.

As a photographer I understand  the digital image to be an evolution from analogue photography: to all intents and purposes a digital image made with a digital camera  is  little different to the one that is made with an analogue camera.  I situate myself in the world in the act of photographing,  and  then I use these  working tools to construct visual representations. The  Sony a7R111 digital camera is an automated,   computational and pre-programmed tool compared to  the entirely manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera that was made in the 1970s.   The trajectory  in digital photography is towards the expensive professional high end. This  means  increased  automation,   a pre-programmed apparatus,  and more and more AI being built into the post processing software in order to  counter the competition from the increasingly sophisticated cameras in  smart phones.

Here is a digital image made with a digital Sony-a7 R111 camera:

quartz, am

Here is the analogue photograph   made with  the all manual  Leica M 4-P analogue camera.  The negative  has been scanned into a digital file and then processed in Lightroom.

The differences between the two technologies within this  logic of representation are minimal  when they are viewed on a computer screen after being edited with Lightroom software.  The object —ie., the quartz  and creek in the two images –is known to us as a representation of the object.  Photography is a process that mediates the world with the agency of light to produce legible images.  

From my perspective as a working photographer the main difference between the two technologies is evolutionary. The digital technology is more convenient to use  and  it offers greater flexibility  for  hand held photograph in low light situations–eg., at dawn.   As a photographer I continue to work within the trinity of representation, the index and the punctum, with both digital and analogue cameras.   However,   I do  realise that the image on the computer screen  made with a digital camera resembles the look of a traditional photograph  because the computational processes are currently designed by the manufacturers  to make these data packages look familiar to those working within the photograhic tradition.

Continue Reading…