The picture below of silos at Wallaroo on the north-west of York Peninsula in South Australia was made whilst on my first photocamp with Gilbert Roe in 2016. I had realised that day trips into the Mallee would not work for the Mallee Routes project since I photograph in the early morning or late afternoon light. So for the road trips to work I needed to camp in a specific location and work from there for several days. I need to get to know the area, the subject matter and the lighting conditions.
Wallaroo was a test run to check out our old camping equipment that we hadn’t used since the 1990s. I needed to see what still worked, what needed to be replaced to make a photo camp successful, and to judge whether or not I was still up for camping. Much to my surprise, the camp at Wallaroo worked a treat, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
My various experiences at the subsequent photo camps at Ouyen, Hopetoun, Loxton and Hopetoun have resulted in the acquisition of a new tent, a new stove and a portable fridge. The battery and the solar panels to keep the fridge running at the photo camp whilst I am out exploring the local region during the day are the next necessary items to acquire. Then camping on a phototrip is no longer a hardship.
The Walleroo photo camp was the third time that I had done an 8×10 road trip with the Cambo monorail. Previous trips were to Kangaroo Island and to the Coorong where I stayed in rented accommodation. The Wallaroo photocamp trip was to see if camping and using this kind of old, heavy and cumbersome equipment was practical and worthwhile for the proposed conceptual silo road trip project. The picture above of the silos at Walleroo was made from the foreshore of the Spencer Gulf; the one below was made from the street behind the silos. Would this test run show me whether a conceptually orientated, location work was as feasible as I thought?
I encountered a couple of problems photographing these silos. Though the front standard rise on the Cambo can cover the height of the silos with the tripod on the ground, the 300mm Schneider Kreunach-Symmar 5.6 lens that I was using could not cover the extreme front standard rise that was required. I also experienced bellows yaw on the Cambo (on both the 8×10 and the 5×7) when the front standard was pushed to its limits. These are the limitations of working with my old and basic large format equipment and they are over above the problems I experienced in scanning the 8×10 negatives on an Epson V700 flat bed scanner.
There is no way that I can overcome these camera problems so as to photograph the silos along the Mallee Highway by standing on the roof of the Subaru Outback. My only option is to raise the camera by using the geared centre post of the heavy duty Linhof tripod, buy a small step ladder to stand on, and hope that there is not too much wind during the photoshoot.
The above problems have put the conceptually orientated Mallee Highway silo project on the back burner. This was conceived as as simple and modest project of serial imagery: I would photograph the various silos along the Mallee Highway as I travelled up and down it. Instead of the artless, lo-fi, DIY aesthetic of the conceptual art in the 1960/1970s — that is, using a cheap film camera and sending the images to a chemist to be developed and printed— I would use one 8×10 camera, one lens and one type of film. What could be simpler than that?
The emphasis of the conceptual project is, as it was for the conceptual artists in the 1960s/70s, on the idea–15 silos on the Mallee Highway— with the photography being the tool to realise the idea. The motivation behind this project was to build on the rather thin tradition of conceptual photography in Australia: Wesley Stacey’s three deadpan series: The road: outback to the city (1973-75); The road: Paraburdoo and Tom Price, The Pilbara, WA (1973-75) and The road: up the centre, SA to NT (1973-75) and Ian North’s series of bland Canberra suburbs and its uninviting streetscapes, Canberra Suite (1980-81).
It all sounded so easy. I reckoned that I could knock the project off in a year. I didn’t anticipate the difficulties that I would encountering using the 8×10.