The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to my planned travels to both Lorne and the Great Otway National Park with the Friends of Photography Group in April, and to Melbourne’s CBD to continue working on the drossscape project with Stuart Murdoch in June. I found it astounding that a neo-liberal government committed to austerity and financial orthodoxy locked down whole sections of economic activity knowing that this turn to public health restrictions meant jumping over the cliff edge of the sharpest recession in modern history.
Melbourne has become a no go destination due to the city becoming a hotspot with an outbreak of community transmission in a number of suburbs; those areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship. A crucial source for the community transmission of Covid-19 was the security guard fiasco at the Melbourne quarantine hotels for those Australians returning from being overseas. The public health response to the failures in hotel quarantine infection control protocols was to reimpose restrictions on family and outdoor gatherings; a widespread testing blitz in the hotspot suburbs assisted by Australian defence force personnel; then a stage three lockdown of Melbourne itself.
I was absent from the book launch and the exhibition opening of Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. It took place just after Australia had put in place the Covid-19 restrictions for social distancing and social gatherings. I was in New Zealand at the time trying to return to Australia before New Zealand closed its borders. After I returned to Adelaide I went into the 14 day mandatory quarantine. After the quarantine finished we entered a world of lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections to prevent overloading the health system. The lockdown tempo was set by NSW and Victoria, the two worst affected states.
I have yet to see the exhibition and the books are largely unsold.
The background to the Adelaide Art Photographer’s project is here.
Due to the Covid -19 restrictions the opening was sparsely attended, the book launch was minimal, and the exhibition was opened only for a few hours. Then everything was closed down. However, the exhibition does have some online presence. There are the exhibition images, a walk through of the exhibition images by Paul Atkins and Adam Dutkiewicz and the exhibition opening address by Paul Atkins. Meanwhile the pandemic rages on, many lives are on pause, while many others end.
We are back in Australia in mandatory self-isolation after our time in New Zealand. We are in a bunker–a pleasant one- and we remain here for 14 days in response to the coronavirus pandemic.We now live in a world where, in the short run, we must live as if we are infected. Every social interaction contains the possibility of death. Dodging bullets in public. It appears that the culture of progressive modernity, that we have only unending development and improvement to look forward to, has been upended. . The masked figures everywhere on our news feeds constantly remind us of the LNP’s appalling fiasco of letting infected passengers from cruise ships go unchecked into the community; the evidence of a biosecurity collapse at airports and the way that Border Force and federal quarantine authorities dropped the ball. The LNP was the political party whose 10 years political rhetoric was ‘stop the boats’ and they couldn’t stop the one boat–a cruise ship– that mattered.
The first part of the trip in New Zealand was for me continue to photograph in Wellington and then to attend PhotoBook/NZ 2020. The second part was a two week holiday with Suzanne in the lower half of the South Island. Apart from walking inWellington I walked around the cities of Dunedin and Oamaru and then day walks around Lake Manapouri and on both the Hump Ridge Track and the Kepler Track when we were exploring Fiordland.
We arrived back in the midst of a Convid-19 pandemic with a vaccine over a year away and the LNP government belated jettisoning everything it ever believed about free markets, “sound” public finances, efficiency dividends and austerity to reduce the deficit to assume command economy powers to deal with the public health crisis it was slow to address. Too little, too late.
The walking in Wellington, Dunedin and Oamaru took the form of urban drifting—a dérive-poetics without goal or horizon, even though my time in acacia of these cities was short. The urban walks were made in the spirit of Walter Benjamin (who advised travellers to foreign cities to learn to lose their ways) with drifting, being something akin to a non-logocentric way of mapping and understanding the world.
One of the areas that I did explore that weekend was Mitre Rock, which is an isolated outcrop to the north of Mt Arapiles that looks out onto farmland:
Though I walked around Mitre Rock and went back several times I only made a couple of photos of this western wall of the outcrop. I didn’t make many 5×4 photos that weekend. I was finding my feet, as it were, as I didn’t know the area at all and I was more focused on continuing on to Murtoa in the Wimmera to make 5×4 photos for the Mallee Routes exhibition in December.
In this post on the Mallee Routes blog I mentioned the lack of critical writing about local exhibitions in Adelaide and the crisis of independent writing about art in general. An associated problem emerges from the art gallery existing in a digital economy due to the gallery usually having a minimal online presence; a minimal presence that is especially noticeable with respect to their exhibitions. The current Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery is a case in point.
The standard convention is that there is just the odd image from an exhibition online which is primarily used to market the exhibition to the public. This means that an online viewer, in say another state, is unable to gain a sense of, or assess, the exhibition. Secondly, there is little to no engagement, dialogue or conversation with the gallery’s online audience about their exhibitions. This, in turn, means that an exhibition has a limited reach and presence. It’s here today, seen by few, and forgotten tomorrow, unless it is reviewed or there is an exhibition catalogue. The latter only happens to the mega exhibitions of superstars or global artists working in the biennial culture.
The art gallery’s low digital presence provides an entry point into a problematic about how the nature of photography is changing and the significance of these changes. We can begin to explore this through looking at the functioning of the art gallery in a digital economy. Firstly, the gallery continues its role of curating and collecting photography; a role that is designed to sort the image s to incorporate into the canon through the separation of photography as art and not-art. However, in continuing to champion photography as an art form, the curators downplay photography’s role as a reproductive technology in order to emphasise the creative legitimacy of the photographer who pressed the shutter.
Secondly, art galleries continue to rely on foot traffic to view the staging of a contemporary photograph exhibition in the white cube, grounded in aesthetic modernism. It does appear that the curators in the art galleries currently see digital technologies as either a new tool for artists to express themselves, or as a channel for communications and marketing through which new audiences can be targeted and captured. This approach to digital technology excludes is photography’s diffusion into general computing in a digital economy.