Australian Photography: The 1980s was a photographic exhibition curated by Helen Ennis at the Australian National Gallery around 1988, the year of Australia’s Bicentenary. This event triggered debate on Australian national identity, Aboriginal rights, historical interpretation and multiculturalism.
This survey style exhibition focused on both new work by emerging artists, by which was meant a new generation of professionals trained in the art schools; as well as recent work by those artists who had began their careers in the mid to late 1970s, and whose work has often addressed more traditional photographic concerns in the 1980s.
Carwarp, Victorian Mallee
In the catalogue Ennis observed that due to the centrality of photography’s position with postmodernism, some photographic work has enjoyed as high profile in exhibitions of contemporary art. However, photographs displaying more traditional concerns, for example, those made in the photo documentary and formalist styles, are rarely considered in the art world.
As an example of exhibitions of contemporary art that gave prominence to photographs Innes mentions Australian Perspecta and the Biennale of Sydney exhibitions held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These were photos that displayed clear links to works of art rather than photography that seem to be derived from a particular knowledge of the medium and its history. Australian Perspecta, which was a biennial survey show to showcase Australian contemporary art ran from 1981 until 1999 and it is an example of the way in which the State Galleries focused on the big national and international survey exhibitions as well as the block-buster touring shows due to their capacity to generate large amounts of revenue.
In an earlier post about The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia project I mentioned that the book increasingly looks to be about place and memory.
The places in the book are the Adelaide CBD, Bowden and Adelaide’s suburban beaches. They are places in the sense that memory is formed in and by place through experiential interactions and in turn, place triggers personal and collective memory
Certainly my memories of these places are being triggered by the specific photographs that I have been selecting from my 1980s and 1990s archives. Many of my memories from this period have long been forgotten. They are slowly returning as I reconstruct this period through photos and research material about the process of de-industrialization in South Australia. Continue Reading…
2016 has ended with me in debt from 1 solo exhibition, three group exhibitions and publishing the Abstract Photography book during the year. So 2017 will necessarily be low key, as it is primarily a year of paying off the debts incurred. I have decided to use the period of consolidation to work through my 1980s and 1990 photographic archives to get material for a book tentatively entitled The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia.
Citi-Centre, Rundle Mall, Adelaide
Any photography that I do in 2017 will be primarily concentrated on the collaborative Mallee Routes project in order to build up the images in my digital and film galleries so that there is material for a second exhibition. One is tentatively being planned for in late 2017.
The 1980s in Adelaide witnessed a building boom of office development that was fueled by the deregulation of the exchange rate and the financial system. By 1985 Australia had become more integrated into a global market, partly because the internationalisation of the world’s capital and financial markets had already proceeded so far that it was more or less impossible for a small country like Australia to resist moving in the same direction. Deregulation in Australia by the Hawke-Keating Labor Government created culture of unrestrained growth a boom in property and tourist developments, and speculative investment by managers unprepared and untrained for the consequences.
Whilst working through my archives of the photography that I did in the 1980s when I lived in Bowden, Adelaide I came across this outtake from the Mallee Routes exhibition that Eric, Gilbert and I had at Atkins Photo Lab in October/November 2016. It was an outtake since I eventually decided that I didn’t want to exhibit any large format black and white photos in this particular exhibition.
ruins, Mantung, SA
In looking back to this period I relaxed that I came to Adelaide in the 1970s in an attempt to escape from the influence of the high seriousness of American modernism that was then sweeping through the newly established photographic galleries. The modernist aesthetic in the US and Australia was established as the “institutional art” supported by the political establishment and championed by cultural conservatives, and thus the antithesis to the avantgardism that closely accompanied modernism’s diffusion in Europe. The post-modern movement in the US can be interpreted as the American version of the avantgarde when it began to take shape in the 1970s and it suggested “new directions and new vistas” for artists in cultural politics.
This period was the tail end of formalist modernism and industrial capitalism. If it was prior to the emergence of postmodernism
in Australia it was the beginning of the new era of postmodernity, then marked by the Reagan/Thatcher era, the process of de-industrialization, the advent of economic deregulation, the new salience of globalisation, the emergence of finance capitalism and a neo-liberal mode of governance.
The key idea behind the LBM Dispatch, named for and printed by Alex Soth’s limited-run publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom, is a reimagining of the iconic American roadtrips photography book as a series of small newspapers, each of which chronicles a quick trip Brad Zellar and Alex Soth have taken through a different state or territory of the USA. Previous Dispatches have covered Michigan, Ohio, and California’s “Three Valleys—Silicon, San Joaquin, and Death” and the Texas Triangle.
They pretend to be newspapermen and in the course of these road trips they end up in places that might well have been foreign countries. Little townships, small town service clubs and fraternal organizations, church dances, crime scenes, small business expos all quite different from the bland development of corporate America.
The Mallee is similar. Once you get off the highways and into the heart of the heart of the country you find that the historical notions about regional Australia’s cultural life and values are still out there. Sure, they’re under siege with the economic hardship and alcohol but there is a strong local culture, community, social life and sense of place. The Mallee, judging from my Hopetown photo road trip, has a strong and deeply rooted regional identity. Continue Reading…