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…
This 35mm outtake is one of the exploratory pictures that I made whilst I was working out how to approach photographing the 15 silos on the Mallee Highway project. Several work in progress images from this series form my contribution to the Weltraum exhibition at Magpie Springs in the 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale.
The location of the picture is Murrayville in the Victorian Mallee, and I was photographing all the silos on the Mallee Highway whilst making my way to the camp at Ouyen with Gilbert Roe. I made notes as photographed each silo along the way as to side of the silo provided the best perspective and whether am or pm was the most suitable time.
The options that I had were: should I stand well back from the silo and make it part of the landscape rather than focus on the silo itself; should I use backlight to give the landscape a gloomy atmosphere; should I use colour or black and white film; what camera would I use? I decided that I would focus on the silo, use frontal light, work in black and white, and photograph with the Cambo 8 x10 monorail.
In the light of this straight-on gaze of the large format camera the photographic approach of the above 35mm outtake is sidelined to become a part of the Mallee Project. Continue Reading…
One of the notable tendencies in contemporary photography is a closing of the ranks in responses to the digital revolution that has transformed photography’s technology, seen digital photography undeniably become the pre-eminent means of imaging and photographers as a profession feeling beleaguered. Yhje response is the deployment of the frame that separates the inside from the outside.John Szarkowski, past director of photography at MOMA, defines the photographic frame as “the central act of photography”–the line that separates in from out. Framing, according to this reading, delimits, controls, and encases meaning.
Today the internet is filled with photos, the internet is the realm of every person. Photography is now a means of expression common to everyone and exclusive to no one, and we mostly view images on a computer screen. Self-printing (eg., Blurb) has become more viable, but it hits the mass distribution problem in getting the book available in the brick and mortar retail bookstores and on Amazon. The profession/industry is smaller and poorer.bThe photographic industry is beleaguered.
What emerges from feeling beleaguered is a tacit form of photographic gatekeeping in the form of a closing of ranks and the deployment of frames. This framing is most noticeable in the way the the art gallery encloses and displays. It cuts an inside from an outside, closing that inside on itself as pure interiority and surrounding it with value of art. The art Gallery—a museum?— as frame is thus the constitution of the space that constitutes art by excluding what remains as other, its heterogeneity reduced to the status of nonart. The canonicity of the art gallery’s collection is therefore haunted by a loss of what is excluded –the trace of its other. Art history is built on these exclusions.
However, what I also have in mind is a visual frame that takes the form of photographers keeping their cards and contacts close to their chest, and avoid sharing information with friends and colleagues for fear that someone else’s success might somehow come at their own expense. By doing this they are acting as gatekeepers within the diffuse and informal distribution of power of the networked and distributed nature of the photographic industry.
along Hall Creek Rd
You can see this gatekeeping around photographic festivals, as these are premised on inner and outer, core and fringe of photography as an art form. The competition is based on being on the inner or in the core. The means you have made it. You are successful. It’s good for your CV. Your career is on the up. The outer or the fringe is for the hacks and amateurs. This gatekeeping is understandable in the sense that art is a business and it has career potential. So you must maximise your profile and marketing brings in commissions. Gatekeeping is necessary to stay ahead of one’s competitors. Continue Reading…
Whilst I am travelling around, and camping in, selected locations in South Australia and Victoria to photograph the silos for the silo project, I am slowly starting to broaden out to photograph the landscape that the silos are situated in along with the nineteenth century regional architecture . This is a photography of “what-has-been”, a tracing of some past moment as it were, but one that has an ongoing presence in the present, is part of an attempt to regain a historical understanding of the region.
I have been looking at the Geoff Wilson’s South Australian landscapes as well as Eric Algra’s Postcards from Forgotten Places and Postcards in Colour in the context of my South Australian regional landscape portfolio. Wilson and Algra have explored South Australia before me and they have been exploring locations along the roads that I’m starting to travel on. The work they have done acts as signposts in a region that is largely unknown to me. Their digital imaging are historical markers in an image culture that is dominated by the mass media whose feedback loop constitutes a serious challenge to historical consciousness and critical thinking.
Algra, for instance, has extensively explored
the Mallee whilst on his trips
between Melbourne and Adelaide and his crisscrossing the South Australian Mallee
. His keen eye for what is significant for people living in the Mallee, and his inputs into South Australia’s visual culture, highlights the richness of photography’s contribution to the way we see the world. Algra’s vernacular photography is not part of the academic writing and its conversation about photography in Australia because that writing is still primarily a narrative of photography’s aesthetic aspirations
and the great names of the photographic canon. In Australia, like the United States, photography entered through art history and so photographs were studied as aesthetic objects using formalist methods.
One of the side trips on the Mallee Highway silo photoshoot in Victoria was to look for, and scope, edgelands around Ouyen to continue part two of the project. I did this on the last day when it was bright and sunny and of no use to me for taking photos of silos with a large format camera. Bright and sunny is normal in the Victorian Mallee, with overcast days being the exception. From my travelling around I could see that the Mallee is a specialist grain growing areas diversifying from livestock production (sometime in the 1980s).
I spend the Wednesday morning driving around the boundaries of the town and I stumbled on this behind the golf course just over a kilometre form the centre of town:
felled trees, Ouyen
It wasn’t private land so I wandered around to have a look. The trees were being felled so that large basin could be dug out. I kept on walking around to discover why a basin here. A sign lying on the side of the road said that this basin that was under construction was for a man made recreational lake. It’s ambitious as it 700 metres long by 200 metres wide, with a depth of five metres when full, and it will cover about 14 hectares. Continue Reading…