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 photographyand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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…