The second step in the roadtrip with an 8×10 has just taken place. It was to Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula. On this occasion I built on the first roadtrip to the Coorong by camping instead of renting a house and linking up with Gilbert Roe, a fellow photographers from Adelaide, instead of being on my own. He is the only photographer that I know in Adelaide who is interested in exploring South Australia, doing road trips, camping and photographing.
Although I digitally scoped some agricultural landscapes of the Yorke Peninsula, and the older style beach shacks at Wallaroo’s North Beach the large format photography on this roadtrip was centred around the Vittera silos at Wallaroo:
I’ve been searching for historical precedents for Australian photographers doing roadtrips along the lines of Americans such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Joel Sternfeld who extended the tradition of chronicling roadside America that was initiated by Walker Evans in the 1930s.
Even though the roadtrip is meant to be the quintessential Australian journey, apart from EO Hoppe, who made an extended photographic tour of Australia in 1930, I’ve only come up with a few names so far: Frank Hurley, Wes Stacey, Mickey Allen, Tim Handfield, Trent Parke and Narelle Auto. Judging from The Road: photographers on the move 1970-1985 exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art in 2014 photographers such as John Gollings, Virgina Coventry and Ian North photographed specific places–eg., Surfers Paradise in 1973-4 for Gollings, Moe, Victoria for Coventry and Canberra in 1980-81 for North–rather than being on a roadtrip in the above American sense.
What is beginning to emerge from the two road trips undertaken so far is a desire to become acquainted with or get to know regional South Australia. What is actually there? What is actually happening there? How have things changed? For instance, when I visited Wallaroo in the 1970s it was a depressed railroad town, copper was in the mythical past, and wheat was keeping the rural town afloat. Now a large marina and its holiday homes is driving change and transforming Wallaroo into a tourist town.
Whilst scoping for future photography on the Yorke Peninsula I had in the back of my mind the South Australian 19th century collodion wet plate photographers with their elevated views and panoramic vistas.
The 19th century collodion wet plate photographers had visited Wallaroo especially those by Captain Samuel Sweet e.g., this one, this one and this one. These were made with a full plate (8×10) camera in the early 1870s when the colonial regional economy was based on agriculture (wheat and wool) and copper mining and smelting, and producing raw materials for the British Empire. The views of Wallaroo were made whilst Sweet was the captain of the Wallaroo and making routine trips shipping coal from Newcastle to Wallaroo (circa 1872-75)
They are unusual as Sweet avoided the grimy mining scenes, and they were made prior to Sweet’s prolific photographic period between 1875 and 1886. He became a full time commercial photographer in 1875 and was able to make a living from views photography— commercial works (views trade) for a commercial market– that signified modernity’s hopes and promises. Sweet’s positive images in and around Darwin during 1969-71 and the period between 1875 and 1886 highlight the way that colonisation in South Australia was bringing order and prosperity to the developing colony, which was experiencing a boom time. Sweet was primarily an outdoor photographer who was focused on representing progress: namely the process of the emergence of modernity and the establishment of civilisation (an advanced society based on agriculture and urbanisation) in South Australia.
Sweet created a picture of colonial South Australia and enabled the colony to establish its sense of identity as progressive modern and prosperous.