I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. Continue Reading…
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…
I had several days in Melbourne centred around working with Stuart Murdoch on Saturday editing the 80 or so images for the Bowden Archives book. Thanks to Stuart I now have a dummy of the book which I can show to various people to see how they react, their impressions and judgements.
Whilst in Melbourne I helped Helga Leunig set her stall up at the Other Art Fair at the Facility in Kensington; saw some Penelope Hunt’s images from her Remains to be Seen and Water Lilies projects at her stall in the Other Art Fair; managed to take a few snaps around Docklands; had some printing done at Magnet; heard about an upcoming Melbourne Photo Festival; saw the NGV’s Festival of Photography that featured Bill Henson and William Eggleston; meet up with both Eric Algra re the Mallee Routes project and friends from the Lajamanu trip; and was shown around Sunshine by Stuart Murdoch. I wasn’t able to make any photos for the Mallee Routes project on my way back from Melbourne to Adelaide.
However, late on Saturday afternoon Stuart and I went on a photo shoot on the Western Ring Road. It took us a while to access this location situated amongst the various freeways connected to the Western Ring Road for our topographical photo shoot:
Western Ring Rd, Melbourne
The photographic highpoint of the trip was this topographical photoshoot with Stuart even though it was very windy and the lovely afternoon autumn light had gone. We only had time to scope the location on this urban freeway corridor and to take a few photos with our medium format cameras. It’s a good location for a large format shoot with the right conditions: clouds, afternoon winter light and little in the way of a south westerly wind.
This brief photoshoot raised the question of a topographical approach to photography. What is it? In Andrew Sayer’s book Australian Art (2001) topographics refers to the colonial drawings that came out of naval and military culture and derived from the need got recognise coastlines. Often they are views from the water looking towards the shore. The standard reference point for contemporary Australian topographical photographers is the 1975 New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York which was curated by William Jenkins, where the photographers were mapping the built environment of the late 20th century American western landscape with its motels, housing developments, office parks, and endless parking lots.
In the catalogue essay Jenkins interpreted the exhibition images of the American West and Midwest as being “reduced to an essentially topographical state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion”. The subsequent reframing and restating of the exhibition 40 years latter interpret it as reinventing the genre of the landscape as the photographers grappled with finding a new idiom through which to represent the built environment. Continue Reading…
I struggled with my photography on the recent phototrip to the Wimmera-Mallee for the Mallee Routes project I am working on with Eric Algra and Gilbert Roe. Though it involved slow travelling as a way of making sense of a changing world, my method of working –scoping scenes with a digital camera, then re-photographing with film cameras at a latter date—quickly hit its limits.
I was there on the cusp of summer. It was hot and dry and the light was very bright, intense and contrasty. I could only work very early in the morning after sunrise and in the early evening for a very short period of time. The exploring and scoping of material was during the heat of the day the distances involved in travelling from town to town—about 50 km– meant that it was not feasible for me to return to what I had previously sketched in the brief period of time that I was there.
Memorial Hall, Hopetoun
We camped at the Mallee Bush Retreat on the foreshore of Lake Lascelles in Hopetoun, and I mostly photographed around this regional town. This image of the Memorial Hall was made around 8pm on the last night. We had just come out of the pub and I saw the soft light on the building’s facade. I quickly scoped it, but I had no time to re-photograph it with my 5×4 Linhof before the gentle light disappeared. What I have is a photographic document in the form of a digital file.
In our culture of computer-pictures--our society of information is a society of pictures—it is held that with the emergence of computer-generated imagery the very foundation and status of the photographic document is challenged due to the profound undermining of photography’s status as an inherently truthful pictorial form.It is true that digital nature of the image has challenged the essential qualities of analogue photography: its evidential nature, and the identification as a form of visual truth. It is also true that representing the world through a camera lens is giving way to new forms of vision and image with the new digital image technologies associated with the computer.
This image is no deadpan documentation; nor a mummified effigy that is properly housed in a museum; nor a fading memory in a post-photographic culture of what photography once was. Looking at this particular photographic file on my computer screen is to look at the past: this photograph gives me a particular recollection of an experience and it gives me something to hold onto about he Mallee’s history. 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…