I will be helping Paul Atkins to launch Judith Crispin’s recent book, The Lumen Seed, at Atkins Photo Lab gallery on Friday, the 17th March at 6pm. The launch will consist of an exhibition of some of Judith’s prints from the book, some background images made whilst we were at Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert in 2016, and a conversation between Judith and myself about the book. The conversation will link photography in the form of a book to contemporary issues in the Humanities.Some of my snaps from the 2016 trip to Lajamanu will be amongst the background images.
The Lumen Seed raises issues for me about taking photography within remote Indigenous communities. I only took a few photos whilst at Lajamanu on this trip, as I felt like a cultural tourist, and I was uncomfortable in that role. I also wanted to avoid viewing Warlpirri people at Lajamanu through the eyes of both colonial anthropology and the eyes of 21st century ecology.
Classical Anthropology used photography as visual evidence for scientific (anthropological and ethnographic) research, and it historically worked with a colonial gaze that had its roots in the evolutionary conception of primitivism (lowly race compared to western culture as the pinnacle of civilisation ) in the Darwinism of the colonial past. This colonial gaze viewed indigenous people as objects, whilst modern ecology, faced with the massive loss of life-support systems, reverses the evolutionary model and constructs Aboriginal primitivism by seeing indigenous people as close to Nature in contrast to the present white Australian (corrupted) civilisation that is hostile to nature. Indigenous people are constructed as iving peacefully in tune with the nature and preserving their ancient, “natural” wisdom.
The photographs I had in the back of my mind were those in Spencer and Gillen’s early work in central Australia –ie., their photographs of ritual performances (ceremonies) of the Arrernte people of the McDonnell Ranges. These were done the late 19th century and they formed the basis for their Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) book.
Aboriginal people, in this text, were seen as dehumanized “survivals” from an early stage of social development. The inference was that Aboriginal traditions will not adapt and survive in changed forms, but rather will be misunderstood, trampled on and destined to disappear. Since survival was believed impossible, it was important to document the ‘dying race’ of the ‘childhood of man’. A close study of Aborigines, whose demise was only a matter of time, could provide an insight into the very origins of humankind.
I have been bunkered down in the digital studio in front of the computer scanning the 1980s archival medium format negatives for The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia book. With most of the scanning for the first two sections now done, I have started to scanning negatives for the third section. This one is based around my escaping from the confines of Bowden after I’d purchased a VW Kombi.
Some of these are photos of Adelaide’s suburban beaches (Glenelg, Larg’s Bay Semaphore and North Haven) during the heat of the summer, others are from day trips through the Adelaide Hills and Mt Lofty Ranges; some are from trips to Melbourne and there is one major road trip along the River Murray to the eastern seaboard. I wasn’t really aware of many of these photos that I’d taken. The negatives were developed, contact sheets made, filed away in a filing cabinet, then forgotten until now.
Mt Lofty Ranges
Though some of these photographs are concerned with urbanism, they are different from the Bowden section, which was very much concerned with the suburb being shaped by the spatial production of industrial capitalism; a fragmentary map of the suburb at a particular point in Adelaide’s urban history. Continue Reading…
My energies in the last month or so of 2016 have been directed in starting to put material –images and text—together for the photo-book that I have started working on. It is a form of memory work as it is an active seeking out and an interpretive and reconstructive approach to the past. The book is situated in the nexus of photography, archive and memory and it is a working through of personal and collective memory based on my photographic archive.
The first stage is going through the 1980s photography archive, selecting negatives from the contact sheets, scanning the selected images, and then digging around the internet for text to act as a commentary on this decade in Adelaide. The assembled material goes into a post on an old wordpress blog, which acts as a repository of selected material that I can then rework into an initial digital draft using InDesign. Or probably Scrivener, before I turn to InDesign, as I do need a word processor and project management tool that would allow me to compose and structure a difficult document.
newspaper boy, Adelaide
The book’s current working title is The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia and, at this stage, it is composed of three main sections: Adelaide street images, the Bowden archival project, and pictures made away from the city–at the beach or on the road. I have primarily been working on the first two sections and these are looking okay. 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.