I was unable to participate in the Unless You Will conference or symposium at RMIT in Melbourne that took place during 17-19th February 2017. This was unfortunate for me, since the symposium was designed as a physical meeting place for art photographers, but it was one without an online conversational dimension. So I am currently in the dark about what took place or what the key ideas that were presented and debated.
Though I know that Unless You Will was founded by Heidi Romano, who also directed the inaugural Photobook Melbourne festival, I am out of the loop. For example, I failed to submit my Abstract Photography: re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice book for the 2017 Australian Photobook of the Year Award. I just didn’t know about the award. I felt that I should have, given my shift away from exhibitions towards producing photobooks.
Lyonville abstract, 2016
The blurb for the Unless You Will conference says that this symposium seeks to cultivate interaction and connection within photography:
As a kind of visual meeting place or think-tank it provides is an opportunity for the photographic community to share different practices, gain insights into other artists’ work and inspire critical discussion around emerging trends and ideas in photography and visual culture….The aim of the symposium is to search for avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography.
The central aim of the Unless You Will project is to connect Australian photo creatives with their overseas counterparts around visual storytelling. That suggests that the photographers involved with, or connected to Unless You Will, are working within the tradition of long-form documentary storytelling. Continue Reading…
Abstraction x 5 is a forthcoming group exhibition that opens at the Light Gallery in Adelaide, Sunday 2nd October. The exhibition builds on my 2015 Australian Abstraction exhibition at the Light Gallery in Adelaide. Abstraction x 5 features work by Adam Dutkiewicz, Beverley Southcott, Graeme Hastwell, Stuart Murdoch and myself.
Adam Dutkiewicz and myself will be launching our book on abstract photography, which is published by Moon Arrow Press, at the opening of Abstraction x 5. The book recovers the abstractions produced by Adelaide based photographers in the 1950s -1970s and it establishes a tradition by linking this to some of the work in my Australian Abstractions exhibition in 2015.
Adam and myself plan to make this the first in a series of photography books. The next book planned features some of the underground photographers in Adelaide from the 1970s to 2000. Underground in the sense that the photographers produced a body of work that was largely ignored by the established galleries. Continue Reading…
This abstraction of the granite rocks at Kings Head, which is n near Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, is another out take from the Fleurieuscapes exhibition at Magpie Springs. One reason for this image not making the cut is that I decided that there would be no abstractions in the exhibition, given my 2015 Australian Abstraction exhibition at the Light Gallery in Adelaide during the SALA Festival. Another reason for its exclusion is that the people helping me to curate the pictures for the exhibition judged that the image was too forbidding and austere. It was a part of the grotesque mode of expression in the visual art and it didn’t really fit in the exhibition.
This exhibition is part of the emerging trend in contemporary art photography in Australia and New Zealand that shows a marked and widespread interest in landscape. There has been a tendency to trivialise and overlook landscape photography, including the photography of wilderness.
rock abstract, Kings Head
The textual background to the exhibition is that the genre of landscape has been desperately unfashionable across the arts for so long, the preserve of the Sunday painter and the happy tourist snapper. While the photographic canon includes the greats of landscape photography, more recently photographers have tended to avoid a genre that is so easily linked to the vernacular (ie., happy snappers and tourism) and so difficult to connect to serious intent.
When I was living in the Sturt St townhouse in Adelaide’s CBD some of our poodle walks in the Adelaide parklands involved me looking at the base of cut logs to photograph as well as the trunks of trees. The logs were from the cut down trees in the parklands, and they were scattered around the parklands to make the parklands more like the bush and less like a park.
I photographed the most interesting ones whilst on the walks but I’ve done nothing with these images. I wasn’t all that happy with what I’d done, but I felt that there was little that I could do with these found objects in the field. These logs were huge and they could not be bought to the makeshift studio at Encounter Bay.I continued with the open air studio after we moved to Victor Harbor as I realised that bringing back live cuttlefish and wet seaweed into the studio didn’t really work.
Then I saw the work of Ed Douglas in his recent Some Connections exhibitions –he was doing the same thing that I was but he was working in the studio, using a large format camera and black and white film. Consequently, he had much greater control over his found subject matter— which he selected from the firewood that he had delivered to his property in the Adelaide Hills. The work was far more sophisticated and of much higher quality.
I have set up a primitive studio –Encounter Studio–at Victor Harbor. It is based around using one small window light, a Cambo heavy duty studio stand with 2 geared heads for view cameras and an 8×10 Sinar P. I’ve also just purchased a beat up (entry level) 5×4 Sinar F2 from Alex Gard in Tasmania. Though I have a started looking for objects to bring back into the studio to photograph –ie., materials from nature, eg., from both the beach and the bush—but so far I have found very little that is useful photography wise.
As is well known, the orthodox modernist response to photography’s taking away the responsibility for representational content from painting was an affirmative withdrawal into painterly autonomy through abstraction in the form or spiritual or painterly values. The more radical avant-grade response was the rejection of painting altogether in the the form of the readymade. Photography was seen to have usurped painting’s aspiration to objectivity in painting’s older tradition of the naturalistic representational function. That left photography’s representations as truth telling.
Most of the critical emphasis to this crisis of painting in the 20th century has been on painting and the way that photography is used as a ready-made source for paintings i.e. painting as photo painting. But what if photography starts working with abstractions in the form of painterly values? Does that negation of painting’s specificity signify a failure to reconcile art and politics? Does it imply a turning to high culture and the traditional values of art and a rejection of non art and popular culture where most of today’s photography is situated? Is it a response to the anti-aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s that celebrated cultural and vernacular forms that denied the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm?; an anti-aesthetic that is willing to discard the aesthetic as an outmoded modernist category in its desire to overcome modernist formalism.