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…
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:
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…
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
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…
On the way back from Melbourne I spent a couple of days exploring the Coorong around Salt Creek to scope for the second part of the Edgelands project. Edgelands are often seen as dead zones or tracts of land with confused and unassigned values on the urban fringe. Our cities, for instance, have many inactive patches of land that fall out of favor with humans for many reasons. These humdrum urban corridors or borderlands are usually seen as distinctively non-photogenic commonplace spaces.
However, there are spaces that are outside the urban fringe between the carefully defined spaces of farmland and national parks that are also edgelands which have a minimal human engagement. In South Australia these can be found around the Coorong. Most people visiting the Coorong either camp in the Pink Gum wood land near Salt Creek in the national park, or they cross the waters of the Coorong at 42 mile or Tea Tree Crossing off the loop road to the sand dunes for their wilderness camping or to go fishing along the shore of the ocean beach. Parts of the Ngrugie Ngoppup Walk near Salt Creek, for instance, goes through a space that is not obviously occupied and not clearly marked by traditional boundaries of farm and national park.
How then, to photograph this landscape?
I wanted to avoid the dramatic morning and evening light favoured by an environmental Romanticism that places the emphasis on both natural beauty and this remote landscape being a pristine natural world that is a refuge from the ravages of an industrial capitalism fuelled by coal, oil and gas. This has resulted in a substantial level of landscape change —in both its nature and magnitude. The Coorong is a melancholy landscape.
It is a necessary to walk these spaces to discover them, as they are not obvious from the road or through a car windscreen the highway. Ari and I walked part of this space in the middle of the day, so that I could take some snaps with a digital camera to study on the studio’s computer screen when I returned to Encounter Bay. This is a landscape that evokes feelings of uncanny alienation and a mood of dark depression. Continue Reading…