Scrambled Eggs has been an annual photographic exhibition in Adelaide for the last six years, and the 2015 exhibition of iPhoneography or more correctly, mobile phone photography, is back in the form of Skrambled Eggs 6 at the De La Liff Gallery in Rundle Place in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall until January 15.
The ethos of the Skrambled Eggs collective is that you don’t need the latest, expensive professional gear to make photographs, since it’s all about working with what equipment that you have with you at the time. It’s an ethos that I wholeheartedly concur with. It shift’s the emphasis from gear acquisition syndrome to the imagery and what it means for us.
The work on show in the Skrambled Eggs 6 exhibition is what happens when you put a trained, professional eye of the members of the photographic industry in Adelaide behind the camera of a mobile phone. The cameraphone is deemed to be a viable creative option, and the show highlights that photos produced by a modern camera-phone with a designer’s eye is quite different to the world of a mass of low-quality, self-serving images that was used by the early critics of mobile phone photography to trash it as kitsch, decry it as the cult of the amateur and dismiss the imagery as not photography, properly so called.
Firstly, Skrambled Eggs 6 is not a curated exhibition. It is a collection of two dozen, mostly industry-based photographers, who have a number of images each in their own allocated space . I looks as if they were given free reign by the organisers with respect to the work. What unites the diversity of images and approaches (abstract, experimental, street, landscape, urbanscape etc ) is the view that the camera does not make the photographer. It’s not what gear you’ve got, it’s the way you use it. The emphasis is on the trained professional eye.
‘Professional’ is left undefined, but it conventionally refers to a profession and to the qualities that are attributed to this profession. Usually professions are identified by their organizational structure (in this case the SA branch of AIPP) that ensures that certain standards of quality and expertise are upheld. Judging from the exhibition the inference is that a photographic profession is a loosely defined collection of individuals who earn money by taking and selling images.
The work of Kate Burns (Atkins) shows the emphasis of the trained professional (designer’s) eye. The large black and white toned images made while driving through North America on a recent trip in the US have an emotional edge that references, and contributes to, the Australian Romantic tradition’s representation of mystery and darkness and our attraction to, and fear of, dark places. The work is distinctly local, and its contestatory embrace of internationalism breaks with the provincialist bind that both continues to define Adelaide and South Australia and identifies Romanticism with the sublime of nature as wilderness. The representation of a sense of desolation and foreboding with respect to the US in Burn’s images also have traces of the world-wide shift from modern to contemporary art.
This work shifts Australian Romanticism away from a melancholic yearning or a nostalgia for communion with nature to on that acts as a critique of contemporary US society from an Australian perspective.
Mobile phone photography has definitely come of age, and its current intersection with social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr) has taken photography into new territory. Mobile phone photography is essentially a networked camera in that mobile phones are the central device that has a networked output and audience for the work. The web is becoming more visual and the easiest stories to consume, create or share aren’t text based. They’re photo based.
The social form of photography is where we are now, and no doubt the image quality will continue to improve as well as the interconnectivity with the newer mobile phone models. Apple’s marketing for the iPhone for instance, really pushes the capabilities of its camera and the good quality of pictures it produces. In the rapidly approaching, mobile-first world mobile devices are the new glossy magazines; text-ridden sites are boring, black and white newspapers.
The increased accessibility of mobile phone cameras has both given photographers to make an explicit connection between memories, emotion and mobile photography, and they have allowed more people to capture everyday moments in our daily lives which would otherwise go unnoticed. There are now apps, courses, schools, awards, how-to-books, competitions, exhibitions, self-published books, a mobile category in photo festivals, dozens of mobile photography blogs and best of lists. There is the all pervasive Instagram, and an Australian based curated mobile phone network dedicated to quality photographs with a clear sense of vision and purpose. Mobile phone photography is currently seen as the funky, hip side of photography, there is money and careers to be made, and mobile photography, is viewed as a liberating form of expression for the creative photographer.
This approach can be seen in the contemporary work by Jason Vandepeer in his Hook, Line & Sinker – All stitched up series. This which is a criticism of the prioritising of the values of the market (abstraction, exchange, consumerism) and its image economy or regime of representation:
The hegemony of the market means that we are thrown back on our agency as consumers who inhabit the unstable fictions of consumer capitalism and seek a delusional s0lace in the market. The market informs us that we are unwell and broken human beings and that it is only by filling our homes and ourselves up with the needles junk of consumption can we ever hope to become well.
Gold digger (After Hours) depicts the consumerist symbolism through use of gold and it introduces notions of being at the top, valuable, a tradable commodity, while after hours implies deception in the facade of daily life of consumerist culture. Being the facade is an emptiness embedded in the fantasies of consumer culture. This emptiness is the modern abyss.In the dark dreams of consumer culture our fulfilment or salvation is tethered to the possibility of finding a space exterior to commodity capitalism market as the end of history.
What does the Skrambled Eggs 6 exhibition tells us in the context of mobile phone photography becoming a major part of our everyday lives in Adelaide, an integral part of the workflow of a professional’s personal work, and camera photography being seen as cool, hip and funky?
Brent Leideritz, who is commercial portrait photographer and graphic designer during the day, and an established visual arts photographer at night, address the culture conservatism and provincialism of Adelaide, with his hear no evil, see evil series. The image entitled Shizaru refers to the proverb of the Three Wise Monkeys: Mizaru, Kikazaru and Iwazaru, which refers to not seeing, hearing or, indeed, speaking, any particularly evil things. In this proverb we turn a blind eye to tricky situations: don’t get involved; you might end up being corrupted, too. Distance yourself from questionable behaviours: you might end up behaving questionably, too. Keep quiet. Keep away. Let them get on with it. It’s too difficult. We might compromise ourselves and our job. It worries us.
This addresses the recent fear of the female nude and the covering up of nipples in the recent SAIPP exhibitions. The broader context is the opposition to sexual imagery on Facebook and the prevention of Bill Henson‘s Biennale exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2015 by the cultural conservatives. The latter thought this exhibition was going to exhibit naked photos of teenage children, when the work was actually to be of “landscapes and doorways” only. The sexual politics of the cultural conservatives is to exploit both the public’s fear and paranoia of paedophiles and the parent’s sense of panic and desire to protect their children from sexual predators.
This exploitation is done in order to cover up the cultural conservative’s equation of sexuality with pornography and their hostility to the naked female body. Henson is seen by the public morality campaigners of the religious right as a pornographer and his photographic imagery as obscene. To defend Henson in the context of the cultural wars is to be see to embrace political correctness. The ‘culture wars’ attitudes and conflicts, that have been intrinsic to US politics for many decades, are also deeply embedded characteristics of Australian political life in the 21st century.
Shizaru is the seldom-quoted fourth monkey of the ancient proverb and Shizaru never does anything evil in the first place. Shizaru embodies the simple principles of doing no evil. There is no evil in showing a women’s nipples in photos of female nudes in an art context. The cultural conservatives ignore how meaning is shaped by the social and cultural context in which the photo appears–ie., in an art gallery or on a porn site.
In looking at the work of these 3 photographers we come to realise that photographs don’t freeze a moment in time. Instead they set in motion a series of sensations, responses and feelings in the viewers. This is why we say that a photograph has the capacity to move us: The image demands something of the viewer, rather than the other way around. What it the image demands, of course, is a response. Certainly this is an emotional response, but an emotional response is also an affective response, which means that the punch carried by a photograph is as physical as it is metaphorical or visual.
Gilles Deleuze argued that a work of art – here a photograph – is not an inert or still document, but rather a “block of sensations”. It is not a finished object produced by an autonomous artist or beheld in its entirety by an autonomous viewer; rather, it is a combination of precepts (initial perceptions) and affects (physical intensities) that passes through all subjects at the point of visual perception. We have a relational encounter with an image; an encounter that is constant state of mobility.
The photographers in the exhibition who have accessible websites include: Don Brice, Sara Huffen, Ben Lieu, Chris Oaten, Alice Healy, DJPaine, Gee Greenslade, Adam Durst, Mark Zed, Mike Lim, Paul Tait, Vanessa Size, Michel Petiole, Dan Purvis, Heidi Lineham, Mandi Whitten.