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critical writing

critical writing, landscape, Victoria

Nature photography at Mt Arapiles

September 12, 2019

As mentioned in this post on the Mallee Routes blog I recently linked up with the Melbourne-based Friends of Photography Group (FoPG) for a weekend photo trip to Mt Arapiles in western Victoria. As mentioned in this post on the Encounter Studio photoblog the FoPG are primarily large format photographers of the natural landscape. In Australia landscape photographers have traditionally understood landscape photography in terms of the tradition of unpeopled or wilderness photography, no doubt due to the historical significance of the Tasmanian wilderness photographers.

It appears that the contemporary impetus and centre of the landscape genre of photography has shifted from Tasmania to Melbourne, Victoria. This is largely due to David Tatnall’s influence on nature conservation in Victoria through his landscape photography and   Ellie Young at Gold Street Studios in Trentham East, Victoria hosting the annual get together of large format photographers  and offering the alternative process workshops.

Castle Craig, Mt Arapiles, Victoria

Have the conceptual underpinnings of wilderness photography in Australia changed with this shift? In the Tasmanian version (eg., Olegas Truchanas, Peter Dombrovskis and others) of this tradition of wilderness photography was associated with Romanticism, nature as redeeming force, uninhabited  places worthy of pilgrimage that are also difficult to access, the European aesthetic tradition of the picturesque and anti-development. Their ethos was that if people could see the beauty of Australia’s wild places then they may be moved to protect them: to save a valuable environment under threat.

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critical writing, Mallee, water

towards a critical climate aesthetics

May 11, 2019

This post on a critical climate aesthetics builds on this one at the Encounter Studio’s photoblog in the light of what has been currently happening in the lower Darling River region. There is some background here about why the Darling River has run dry. The general consensus is that state and federal governments have allowed way too much water to be taken from the system by irrigated agriculture, such as Big Cotton in Queensland and northern NSW.

The idea of a critical climate aesthetics underpins my contribution to the Unknown Futures section of the upcoming Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December 2019.

lower Darling River

Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The argument is that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth; and that there is no foreseeable return to the Holocene Epoch.

This argument would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors in the sense that the Anthropocene references an epoch in which humans are the dominant drivers of geologic change on the globe today.  It wasn’t just drought that has caused the Darling River to dry up. The catastrophe was partly the result of human activity. This suggests that the Kantian sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.

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Adelaide, architecture, critical writing

on photographic criticism in Australia

May 24, 2018

One of the more noticeable characteristics of the contemporary photographic culture in  Australia is the dearth of independent critical-writing or public criticism  that endeavours to convince the wider public of the worth of art photography through the process of  explicating, encouraging, elevating, supporting, critiquing.  There is next to nothing icy way of photo criticism in Adelaide:—the Broadsheet Journal has closed down, whilst The Adelaide Review,   Artlink  and Tulpa basically overlook/ignore photographic exhibitions   The consequence of this lack of  cultural building blocks is  that art photographers working on long term projects live in a critical vacuum, despite the shift  online to a networked  digital world.

Many traditional photographers would not be concerned about this vacuum in photography’s critical discourse as they have no real love for art criticism,  but it is a depressing situation that we find ourselves in.   Criticism is a crucial part of making and enabling  a photographic culture,  and  photography has been at the centre of critical debates and themes throughout late twentieth and 21st century art photography’s and it  has  had a crucial   impact on contemporary art in this period.

Royal Adelaide Hospital

This lack of a critical impulse and discourse about contemporary  photography is reinforced by  the lack of value around the arts in mainstream media and among the public more generally. The entire journalism industry has been  going through a major phase of disruption,  and arts coverage has been  the first  to go in the mainstream media.  It has been decimated over the last decade, which makes the newspapers irrelevant.

The primary  reason  for this is that the arts are  no longer a priority for  the mainstream media that is still dependent on advertising and sales revenue.  The shift to  digital means that the emphasis   is now  all  about what rates online in terms of the most clicks from readers.  Since the reviews of exhibitions are not being read,  other than by  those immediately connected to them,  so  the media publishers stop publishing art reviews.   As his well known, the advertising model is broken and  people do not want to subscribe to  the mainstream media.  Arts coverage in the mainstream media is directly commensurate with the advertising dollars it brings in re  the page’s profitability.   This means that arts coverage is in its own silo – it survives off the strength of art-related advertisers only.   Continue Reading…

Adelaide, architecture, critical writing, publishing, South Australia

Adelaide  Photography 1970–2000

September 24, 2017

I have spent  some time in the last week or so  contacting people  to invite them to participate in the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book that is to be produced  by Adam Dutkiewicz and myself for Moon Arrow Press. This book builds on, or is a development from,  the Abstract Photography book that we published in 2016,  which  recovered what was left of the abstract modernist work  produced in  the 1960s. These are  companion volumes so to speak.

The result to the initial email that has been sent out has been positive,  in that the people  who have been contacted  so far have all said yes.  Several others are rather slow in responding to that  email.  However, the  main problem that I have  encountered at this stage has been  finding the contact details  for some of the names of the  relevant people that have mentioned. As a result some people who made art photographs during that period will not  be included. They disappear from our visual history.

Harts Mill, Port Adelaide

Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 is designed to fill in one of the many gaps of the national histories and timelines of art photography in Australia that leave out Adelaide.  This gap, silence or absence gives the wrong impression, as it implies that nothing of interest happened in South Australia in art photography during the last quarter of the 20th century.  The inference is that South Australia is just a fly over state, and if any photographic work happened during this period, it is provincial, and so of little interest with respect to the national canon. Hence the idea of alternate histories–namely a rethinking of Australian photographic history  that questions our understanding and interpretation of the past.

Continue Reading…

abstraction, coastal, critical writing, digital, publishing

towards a photobook as photo-text

September 3, 2017

I have taken the plunge and started selecting the images  I have made whilst on my coastal poodlewalks   and putting them into a Lightroom  folder as the next step towards constructing a photobook.   I have been publishing some of these images on my  Littoral Zone weblog, which I had set up in order to help me figure out what I am doing with the photographs that have been made almost on a daily basis.   These are  simple, low key photographs of humble things and fleeting moments encountered  on my  various poodle walks.

Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, SA, 2013

Since the photos in the poodlewalks blog were images-in-text, the concept behind the  photobook is a visual  poetics,  or more accurately  a photo-poetics; one that explores word image (textual-pictorial)  relations.  The book as a photo-text   breaks with both the idea of the photographic image as a record of objects or events in the real world as in photojournalism’s narratives,    and the standard conception of  the  photobook being images with minimal or no  text. It is part of what   Liliane Louvel, the French theoriest, calls  an iconotext in which  text and image merge in a pluriform fusion.

Such an approach breaks with a formalist modernism, as that held   held  that the literary  and visual arts are substantially different and mutually exclusive; a view that reaches back to Lessing’s Laocoon  with its distinction between the literature  as a temporal art and the visual as a spatial art. With the  decay of formalist modernism these rigid boundaries were breached with many theorists and artists  positioning themselves against Lessing’s  rigid borders.  The mutual interdependence of images and words and the impure and mixed mediality of visual as well as verbal artifacts are  now widely accepted in our visual culture.  Photography-in-text is  a hybrid product that gives rise to a hybrid textual genre–an intermedial photo-text.   Continue Reading…