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colour, exhibitions, film, history, Indigenous, landscape

The Lumen Seed: Questions for a Conversation

March 20, 2017

The  questions below were written by myself  in order to facilitate  a  conversation at the launch of Judith Crispin’s The Lumen Seed  book at the Atkins Photo Lab  gallery in Adelaide  on  Friday,  17th March  2017. The questions  were  structured around  The Lumen Seed book,   and they were designed to give some background to the construction of the text for the audience.   They place the emphasis  on Judith’s  photography rather than her poetry,  given that the space for the launch  at the Atkins Photo Lab  is a photography gallery. The audience pretty much took over once we got the conversation rolling.

The images in the post are mine and they were made whilst I was at  Lajamanu.  There  has been one review  of the book so far: –namely, this  review of  The Lumen Seed at the F-Stop photography magazine.  

Lajamanu 

1. Since few people in the audience would have been to either the Tanami Desert or Lajamanu we will start the conversation  here. Lajamanu is 4000 kilometres from Sydney and around 800 kilometres north west of Alice Springs. It’s remote and difficult to get to. So the first question is  why Lajamanu Judith?

2. Remote indigenous communities have a negative  profile in the mainstream media,  and those on the conservative side of politics want to close them down and shift people to the bigger towns. This is  currently happening in Western Australia with support from the Federal Government which has withdrawn funds for essential services including the supply of power, water and management of infrastructure.

When I was at Lajamanu I was surprised at how well the Warlpiri community was functioning. This indicated that  more is going on here  than Tony Abbott’s lifestyle choice. From my brief stay I gained the impression that the life of the community was premised on a synthesis of tradition and modernity.

Is that impression right? If so,  can you tell us how the Warlpiri are succeeding and what they are trying to do? Can you answer in terms of the Warlpiri’s conception of their relationship to Australian modernity.

3. What  do you think is the biggest threat to the Warlpiri’s future at Lajamanu?  Is it  the impact of climate change on the Tanami in the form of more droughts and floods? Or would it be the failure of the younger generation to continue to walk the difficult line  between tradition and modernity?

Trunk + bone

 

Photography book

My experience when I was at  Lajamanu in 2016 was one of being a cultural tourist. I was very uncomfortable in that role, and I wasn’t sure how to step beyond being a cultural tourist to photograph what I was seeing.

4. So Judith, was that your initial experience as a photographer at Lajamanu?  When did you start moving away from  being a cultural tourist to begin to  formulate the ideas behind the Lumen Seed project?

5. Why did you decide to incorporate the broader historical context around the Warlpiri and Central Australia into your photographic project?

Most photography books adopt a similar format: a series of photos in the form of a visual narrative with a brief, written introduction, usually written by someone other than the photographer. The emphasis is on the images. The Lumen Seed, in contrast, is much more multilayered and intertextual.

6. Can you tell us why you took this approach to a photography book?  Continue Reading…

architecture, critical writing, history, Mallee

documentary photography: a note

February 26, 2017

Australian Photography: The 1980s was a photographic  exhibition curated by Helen Ennis at  the Australian National Gallery around 1988, the year of  Australia’s Bicentenary.    This event triggered debate on Australian national identity, Aboriginal rights, historical interpretation and multiculturalism.

This survey style exhibition focused on both new work by emerging artists, by which was meant a new generation of professionals trained in the art schools;  as well as recent work  by those artists who had began their careers in the mid to late 1970s,  and whose work has often addressed more traditional photographic concerns in the 1980s.

Carwell, Victorian Mallee

Carwarp, Victorian Mallee

In the catalogue Ennis observed that due to the centrality of photography’s position with postmodernism, some photographic work  has enjoyed as high profile in exhibitions of contemporary art. However, photographs displaying more traditional concerns, for example, those made in the photo documentary and formalist styles,  are rarely considered in the art world.

As an  example of  exhibitions of contemporary art that gave prominence to photographs Innes mentions Australian Perspecta and  the Biennale of Sydney exhibitions held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These were photos  that displayed clear links to works of art rather than photography  that seem to be derived from a particular knowledge of the medium and its history.  Australian Perspecta, which was  a biennial survey show to  showcase Australian contemporary art  ran from 1981 until 1999 and it is an example of the way in which the State Galleries  focused on the big national and international survey exhibitions as well as the  block-buster touring shows due to their  capacity to generate large amounts of revenue.

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…

history, Indigenous, landscape, people, roadtrip

on the road to Lajamanu

October 9, 2016

The three exhibitions that I have been involved in  —Weltraum, Abstractions x5 and Mallee Routes— are  over.

Tomorrow morning I drive to Mildura via the Mallee Highway  to link up with Judith Crispin and friends who are travelling from Sydney to  Lajamanu in the North Tanami Desert  in the Northern Territory of Australia.  It will take us approximately 3 days  to get to Lajamanu via Alice Springs from Mildura.We will  travel on  the Goyder Highway to Port Augusta, and then on the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. I haven’t been on the Woomera –Alice Springs section  of the Stuart Highway before, so this is new terrain for me.

In Alice Springs we  will meet up  with other photographers–Juno Gemes and Helga Leunig–and a poet–Dave Musgrave, who runs Puncher and Wattmann, an independent Australian publishing house that publishes Australian poetry and literary fiction. The third  day is then spent traveling in two 4 wheel drive vehicles  on the Tanami Road  to  the turnoff to Lajamanu, then along the Lajamanu track to the community based on the eastern side of Hooker Creek.  There is some background  on Lajamanu here and here. 

on the road

on the road

We are going to  see the Milpirri Festival, which  is presented by the Warlpiri people at Lajamanu in association with the Tracks Dance Company.  For one night only, every two years, Milpirri brings the whole Lajamanu community together in a  theatrical performance in Lajamanu itself. Milpirri began in 2005 and it is based upon a twenty-seven-year relationship between Tracks Dance Company and Lajamanu community that began in 1988.

Milpirri challenges the  narrative of  the Australian nation state that Indigenous societies embrace modernity (‘Close the Gap’) by leaving their homelands to gainfully ‘participate’ in the nation.  In this  narrative  the ‘remote’ is increasingly figured as disadvantageous, as well as unhealthy, for sustainable and productive lives to take shape.  The conservatives say that  these remote communities need to be, and should be,  shut down. The conservative’s  default position is assimilation.   Continue Reading…

architecture, colour, history, Mallee, roadtrip

Weltraum outtake

August 14, 2016

This  35mm outtake is one of the exploratory  pictures that I made whilst I was working out how to approach  photographing the 15 silos on the Mallee Highway project. Several work in progress images from this series  form my contribution to the Weltraum exhibition at Magpie Springs  in the 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale.

The location of the picture is Murrayville in  the Victorian Mallee,  and I was photographing all the silos on the Mallee Highway whilst making my way to the camp at Ouyen with Gilbert Roe.  I made notes as photographed each silo along the way as to side of the silo provided the best perspective and whether am or pm  was the most suitable time.

Murrayville

Murrayville

The options that I had were: should I stand well back from the silo and make it part of the landscape rather than focus on the silo itself;  should I use backlight to give the landscape a gloomy atmosphere; should I use colour or black and white film; what camera would I use? I decided that I would focus on the silo, use frontal light,  work in black and white,  and photograph  with  the Cambo 8 x10 monorail.

In the light of this straight-on gaze of the large format camera  the  photographic approach of the above 35mm  outtake is sidelined to  become a part of the Mallee Project. Continue Reading…