Adelaide, architecture, critical writing, publishing, South Australia

Adelaide  Photography 1970–2000

September 24, 2017

I have spent  some time in the last week or so  contacting people  to invite them to participate in the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book that is to be produced  by Adam Dutkiewicz and myself for Moon Arrow Press. This book builds on, or is a development from,  the Abstract Photography book that we published in 2016,  which  recovered what was left of the abstract modernist work  produced in  the 1960s. These are  companion volumes so to speak.

The result to the initial email that has been sent out has been positive,  in that the people  who have been contacted  so far have all said yes.  Several others are rather slow in responding to that  email.  However, the  main problem that I have  encountered at this stage has been  finding the contact details  for some of the names of the  relevant people that have mentioned. As a result some people who made art photographs during that period will not  be included. They disappear from our visual history.

Harts Mill, Port Adelaide

Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 is designed to fill in one of the many gaps of the national histories and timelines of art photography in Australia that leave out Adelaide.  This gap, silence or absence gives the wrong impression, as it implies that nothing of interest happened in South Australia in art photography during the last quarter of the 20th century.  The inference is that South Australia is just a fly over state, and if any photographic work happened during this period, it is provincial, and so of little interest with respect to the national canon. Hence the idea of alternate histories–namely a rethinking of Australian photographic history  that questions our understanding and interpretation of the past.

The book is art historical in orientation and conservative in that it retains the idea of photography as a medium as opposed to photography being a part of visual culture, thereby  deepening the danger of  the ghetto of a separate history of photography. But we have to recover the lost photographic works produced in that period before we can think in terms of  a unified visual history or how to conceptualise that history.

Grand Trunkway, Port Adelaide

The design of the book is that each photographer will be given a profile of 4-6 pages, which would include an artist statement and a portfolio images. At this stage the book will have an art historical essay,   an essay on the aesthetics of art photography during that period, and it will  consist of  approximately  12-15 photographers. The aim is to overcome the serious gaps in the  historical picture that are close in time but arduous to access— recovering a photographic legacy in the face of its repression or exclusion.

The reason that 2000 is the cut off date is because that was when  photography was caught up in  an apparent crisis of identity  due to the emergence of digital technology.  Photography becomes information in a pure state and this changes the cultural framework of photography and the previous art histories of photography. As a result, the latter, with their  hurried kinds of narratives, the emphasis on individual innovation and the primacy of the single cathartic image,  with the  minimal  reference to aesthetics, begin to look dated.

Hallett Cove, Adelaide

This kind of history is one in which artists of talent gained access to the art gallery’s collection that was counterposed to the mass production of images in popular culture. All other photographers were  mere sociologists.  The art history books were then written from the images in these collections. Today, they  look like  an archaeology–a necessary digging down into the past to construct a national history of art photographers before  photography could be located within art history or a visual culture. What was created by this nationalist historiographic  vision was a canon of photographers, a decontextualised history,   a tradition of research, and the diffusion of works through books.

The year 2000  provides a good vantage point to look back on  our visual history and on the historiographic models on which our understanding of photography has been grounded,  and to rethink the  assumptions  of these models (eg., art v non-art),  their hierarchical distinctions between the images, and their conceptual frame of analysis. It has become increasingly difficult to think in terms of a single history based on famous photographers as canonic references to be admired, given that we are aware of the coexistence of diverse ways of understanding, interpreting and writing about our photographic culture.

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