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digital, Melbourne, topographics, urban

in Melbourne: topographics

May 8, 2017

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…

architecture, digital, history, Mallee

in the Wimmera-Mallee

November 20, 2016

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

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…

Art, colour, critical writing, digital

photographic gatekeeping’s framing

June 18, 2016

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

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…

architecture, colour, digital, roadtrip, topographics

roadtrip to Wallaroo

April 18, 2016

The second step in the roadtrip with an 8×10 has just taken place. It was to Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula. On this occasion I   built on the first roadtrip to the Coorong by  camping instead of renting a house and linking up with Gilbert Roe, a fellow photographers from Adelaide, instead of being on my own.  He is the only photographer that I know in Adelaide who is interested in exploring South Australia, doing road trips,  camping and photographing.

Although I digitally scoped  some agricultural landscapes of the Yorke Peninsula, and the  older style  beach shacks at Wallaroo’s North Beach   the large format photography on this roadtrip was centred around  the Vittera silos at Wallaroo:

silo, Wallaroo

silo, Wallaroo

I’ve been searching for historical precedents for Australian photographers doing roadtrips along the lines of Americans such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and  Joel Sternfeld who extended  the tradition of chronicling roadside America that was initiated by Walker Evans in the 1930s. Continue Reading…

colour, digital, history, landscape, ruins, topographics

at Lake Albert

April 10, 2016

After attending  the Centre of  Culture,  Land and Sea’s   informative workshop at Meningie in South Australia.  I used the opportunity  to explore around  Lake Albert and the Narrung Peninsula with its legacy of settler agriculture before driving on  down to Salt Creek  for a photoshoot for the Edgelands project.

Lake Albert, along with Lake Alexandrina,   is a part of the Lower Lakes of the River Murray,  and  is adjacent to the northern lagoon’s eco-system of the Coorong. Being at the bottom end of the highly engineered River Murray,  Lake Albert  suffers from the river’s  minimal environmental flows.  Those at the  terminus of the River Murray receive what is left over after consumptive use in the Murray-Darling Basin.

 Though  the  Barrages at Goolwa were constructed to maintain the Lakes as freshwater systems at a constant water depth, the Lakes/Coorong region is  at the end of a major river systems, which  means that this region is highly sensitive to changes in freshwater flows. Despite the Basin Plan, which has addressed the overallocation of water  from the Basin’s rivers  by irrigated agriculture,  not enough fresh water currently flows into Lake Albert  to flush the lake  out,  so it is salty,  and all the  contaminants from the upper part of the river end up in Lake Albert.
Lake Albert, South Australia

Lake Albert, South Australia

The irrigators around  Lake Albert suffered from a lack of water during the Millennium Drought (from 2002- 2010)—-when Lake Albert was closed off from natural river flows by a Government constructed band at the entrance top the Lake.   Exposure and oxidation of acid sulfate soils due to falling water levels from 2007-2009 in the Lower River Murray and Lower Lakes also resulted in acidification of soils, lake and ground water. The low water levels on Lake Albert  resulted in many of the dairy farmers, who had  relied on pumped water from Lake Albert,   being  forced to sell their cattle and even abandon their dairy farms. Continue Reading…