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architecture, black + white, film, roadtrip, South Australia

a photocamp at Wallaroo

August 12, 2017

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.

silo, Wallaroo, York Peninsula

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.
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Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, history, people, publishing

The Bowden Archives: in publication

July 17, 2017

The Bowden Archives  is is  now in publication.  I took the image  files  to the publisher–Wakefield Press— on  Monday, the 17th July.  I still have the text, or rather the  three texts, to finish. I am currently struggling to get  them into some short of shape. The overall  argument is still very implicit and fuzzy, and  the arguments of each of the texts  are  still  hazy.  I have another month to get the texts  to flow, and once that is done  I will  finally have a draft of the book .

A book  is the next stage after publishing the images  online in  Flickr and then a WordPress blog. It is very much a DIY project  at a time when there is a substantial attack on knowledge, inquiry and,  cultural memory caused by  the austerity  regime imposed by conservatives.  This has seen ongoing public funding cuts to  science authorities, universities, research programs, museums, archives,  galleries and the public broadcaster along with a general dismissal of photography as a naïve, indulgent or downright irresponsible way to spend one’s time and energy.

Bowden kids, Adelaide

At this stage the preface is entitled ‘Living in Bowden‘, the second essay is entitled ‘Alternate Photographic Histories’ and the third text is entitled ‘Photography,  Memory,  Place’.  The idea behind the book is to give a grounding to this style of regional photography; one that breaks with the positivist conception of documentary photography in the art institution by  making the shift to hermeneutics and interpretation. This means that the photos are made rather than taken. It is a small and modest step to helping create a strong, critical visual culture to counter the latent anti-intellectualism      directed at those people who want to talk/write  about the ideas on which photography rests, as well as making images.  Continue Reading…

critical writing, history

the modest vocation of photography?

June 26, 2017

I joined the library at Flinders University of South Australia as an alumni so as to  gain access to books that could help with my research for some of my photographic projects, such as  the  Tasmania Elegies and the Mallee Routes ones.  I also wanted to see how  photography had been incorporated into the  recent histories of the Australia visual arts after the boom in the 1980s and the postmodern revisions of modernism.   Was it now on a par with the traditional mediums of the visual arts within their  autonomous sphere,  and was it accorded the same art-historical tenets in the context of the coexistence of the multiplicity of styles and tendencies?

I started reading Christopher Allen’s  book Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism that was  published in 1997.  Allen is currently a national art critic for The Australian, and if  he is currently working  as a conservative art critic,  his 1997 text acknowledges that  Australian culture has received its styles from elsewhere. There have been  Australian impressionists, post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, abstractionists, pop artists and postmodernists.

Allen’s argument is that no visual style is simply received: the history of Australian art, so far as it merits a history of its own, is the history of our adaptation of these foreign styles to our own unique purposes.  This grounds Australian art deep in the broader currents of Australian history. Art becomes part and parcel of the history of our coming to terms with our unique physical, social and political environment. Whatever you do, you inevitably implicate yourself in a specifically Australian set of concerns,  and  to deny these implications is simply to implicate yourself further.

Wentworth Forest, Tasmania

No photographers are included in the colonial period and Max Dupain, Ponch Hawkes and Sue Ford are  mentioned in passing.   In   his  last chapter on postmodernism Allen says that postmodern photographers, such as Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were unlike those photographers:

 who work grew out of of the observation and documentation of their social environment –which is after all perhaps photography’s  real, though modest vocation–these artists made picture of elaborately, prepared subjects….The most prominent of the photographer’s is, however, without a doubt, Bill Henson, if only because he achieves what is hardest for  the photographer–that is to construct an imaginary world: in his case it is a night-world of naked bodies, ruins and disaster.

Fair enough.   Yet there are no examples of a photography that is based on observation and documentation in his history.   Nor is there any consideration   of  the changing views of what constitutes observation and documentation in relation to visual composition and  the broader currents of Australian history;  or to the way that photography  represents  how Australians have come  to terms with their  unique physical, social and political environment.

So we can infer that, for Allen,   photography has a peripheral presence in  terms of the visual arts. Photography is not listed in the index of the text.  The core of the visual art in  Allen’s aesthetic rationality  is painting and photography is not considered to be  on a par  with the traditional mediums of the visual arts.  Continue Reading…

archives, critical writing, Tasmania, topographics

Tasmanian Elegies: antecedents

June 8, 2017

I have been slowly plugging away on the Tasmanian Elegies project. I have  been going through my film archives  and posting selected images on the Tumblr blog. I am up to my  2012 visit,   but I think that there is a gap of 4-5 years before I return to Tasmania on a phototrip. It looks as if the project  is starting to come together and that I will have enough images  to start thinking in terms of  a book for this project  after ‘The Bowden Archives: memory, text, place’    is done and dusted.  This is a project with a long gestation period.

I  will probably  enough images but it is the text that is going cause me trouble. Tasmanian Elegies  is at odds with the  emphasis on landscape photography   in Tasmania,  and that branch of landscape photography known as wilderness photography.I am probably going to have to go to a university library to access, and read  what Roslynn D. Haynes in her   Tasmanian Visions: Landscapes in Writing, Art and Photography (2006) has to say.

water tanks, Mt Lyell Mine, Queenstown

This emphasis on wilderness by Tasmanian photographers is understandable given the large number of wilderness areas  in Tasmania,  the ongoing threat to wilderness  from the mining and timber industries and the environmental movements defence of wilderness in the face of these threats.  Photography has become the chief visual instrument of environmentalists endeavouring to increase an awareness of the natural beauty and sublimity of Tasmania’s wilderness. Wilderness here  is usually  understood as  an unpeopled wilderness. Continue Reading…

critical writing, exhibitions, photography

The National: New Australian Art 2017

May 23, 2017

The National: New Australian Art  exhibition is impressive. It is spread across three of Sydney’s major art institutions (the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) and Carriageworks), and it  claims to provide a  major focus on Australian art of our time. ‘Our time’, presumably, is  the contemporary postindustrial era of digital media, global capitalism,  mass entertainment,  constant flux, culture of excess,  and the proliferation of screens. This is  a time  of a  profound shift in orientation and sensibility as 21st-century Australia seeks to reimagine itself and to secure its identity within an increasingly globalised and interconnected world.

This inter-institutional project of contemporary art continues Sydney’s claim to be the country’s leading centre of contemporary art. This  claim  had been  previously based on the Sydney Biennale, and then  the Australian Perspecta series  from  1981 to  1999  at the AGNSW.  The National in  Sydney–Australia’s global city–is a six year initiative, with  three editions  in 2017, 2019 and 2021,  and it  will profile a mix of emerging, mid-career and established artists from around the country and practising overseas.The websites of the above  three institutions say that the new and recently commissioned works encompasses a diverse range of mediums, including painting, video, sculpture, installation, drawing and performance.

There is no photography was  my immediate reaction. This is confirmed by going though all the artists exhibiting in 2017.  No  photographers or photo artists. The closest is video art.   Photography, one can infer,  is not a part of contemporary art in post colonial Australia.   Neither are artists working in South Australia. Or Tasmania for that matter. So why these exclusion? Do  photographers and  the contemporary artists in the two excluded states  lack intellectual sophistication, critical nous  and the requisite  knowledge of art history?

Mt Lyell open mine, Queenstown

The exclusion  of photography from this exhibition of contemporary art  suggests the obsolescence of photography. It is outmoded, like the juke box.

My understanding of contemporary  art—the works exhibited at international Biennali  or Documenta — is that it refers to that  period frequently characterised by an inherently decentred, cosmopolitan, digitalised and globalised world order. In Australia it would be the post conceptual art after the Australian  Bicentennial in 1988,  and in situating  itself reflexively within the  contemporary,  it  is  art  in which formerly peripheral Indigenous and Australian art now has a key role to play. There are  different forms of artistic agency – aesthetic, poetic, social, political—  in the present,  multiple perspectives on contemporary life in Australia as a country, nation and state, the emergence of repressed histories,  an archival impulse, and the turn away from medium specificities.

The   question is, given the importance of digital images  on the internet,  why are art photographers not seen as a part of the networking of mainstream contemporary art?  This is  one  that explores the fault lines in  any fixed notion of Australian national identity,   the  different issues of contemporary life,  and  the ruins of modernity?  It’s a puzzle, especially when you see this kind of Photography Festival; a puzzle that suggests the obsolescence of photography.  Continue Reading…