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architecture, black + white, critical writing, history, landscape, South Australia, topographics

the spatial turn + topographic photography

August 25, 2017

The idea of linking  the spatial turn in the humanities to my 1980s photos emerged whilst I was exploring my   photographic archive for the proposed Adelaide Art Photography: 1970-80 book to be published by Moon Arrow Press.  Noticing  a shift in my photography  from street to topographics,  I started to make connections  in  my archive blog  to the spatial turn in the humanities in relation to the landscape and space that had emerged in the 1980s. This spatial  turn refers to  the landscape and space being  understood in terms of  them being socially constructed and continuously reshaped.

The factory in this photo, which was situated near the railway bridge  has long gone. So have the mangroves,  replaced by  a housing development that was designed to revitalise Port Adelaide.  This then is an urbanscape whose history is that of being continuously transformed by the power of capital since the 19th century.  It is not a landscape the traditional English sense of  a picture of natural inland scenery,  or  the Australian sense of a national landscape painting associated with Romanticism as in the Heidelberg School.     Landscape in this traditional sense  usually veils historically specific social relations behind the smooth and often aesthetic appearance of “nature. The tradition of the  landscape in the visual arts acts to “naturalize” what is deeply cultural,  social and economic.

mangroves, Port River estuary

The emphasis of the Port Adelaide  photography, which  is on place  and the mapping of place,  is a part of the tradition of chorography  that seeks to understand and represent the unique character of individual places. In chorography, the skills of the artist (painter and writer) were more relevant than those of the astronomer and mathematician, which were critical in geography.  Choreography is a part of the  pictorial topographic mapping tradition.  Continue Reading…

Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, history, people, publishing

The Bowden Archives: in publication

July 17, 2017

The Bowden Archives  is is  now in publication.  I took the image  files  to the publisher–Wakefield Press— on  Monday, the 17th July.  I still have the text, or rather the  three texts, to finish. I am currently struggling to get  them into some short of shape. The overall  argument is still very implicit and fuzzy, and  the arguments of each of the texts  are  still  hazy.  I have another month to get the texts  to flow, and once that is done  I will  finally have a draft of the book .

A book  is the next stage after publishing the images  online in  Flickr and then a WordPress blog. It is very much a DIY project  at a time when there is a substantial attack on knowledge, inquiry and,  cultural memory caused by  the austerity  regime imposed by conservatives.  This has seen ongoing public funding cuts to  science authorities, universities, research programs, museums, archives,  galleries and the public broadcaster along with a general dismissal of photography as a naïve, indulgent or downright irresponsible way to spend one’s time and energy.

Bowden kids, Adelaide

At this stage the preface is entitled ‘Living in Bowden‘, the second essay is entitled ‘Alternate Photographic Histories’ and the third text is entitled ‘Photography,  Memory,  Place’.  The idea behind the book is to give a grounding to this style of regional photography; one that breaks with the positivist conception of documentary photography in the art institution by  making the shift to hermeneutics and interpretation. This means that the photos are made rather than taken. It is a small and modest step to helping create a strong, critical visual culture to counter the latent anti-intellectualism      directed at those people who want to talk/write  about the ideas on which photography rests, as well as making images.  Continue Reading…

critical writing, history

the modest vocation of photography?

June 26, 2017

I joined the library at Flinders University of South Australia as an alumni so as to  gain access to books that could help with my research for some of my photographic projects, such as  the  Tasmania Elegies and the Mallee Routes ones.  I also wanted to see how  photography had been incorporated into the  recent histories of the Australia visual arts after the boom in the 1980s and the postmodern revisions of modernism.   Was it now on a par with the traditional mediums of the visual arts within their  autonomous sphere,  and was it accorded the same art-historical tenets in the context of the coexistence of the multiplicity of styles and tendencies?

I started reading Christopher Allen’s  book Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism that was  published in 1997.  Allen is currently a national art critic for The Australian, and if  he is currently working  as a conservative art critic,  his 1997 text acknowledges that  Australian culture has received its styles from elsewhere. There have been  Australian impressionists, post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, abstractionists, pop artists and postmodernists.

Allen’s argument is that no visual style is simply received: the history of Australian art, so far as it merits a history of its own, is the history of our adaptation of these foreign styles to our own unique purposes.  This grounds Australian art deep in the broader currents of Australian history. Art becomes part and parcel of the history of our coming to terms with our unique physical, social and political environment. Whatever you do, you inevitably implicate yourself in a specifically Australian set of concerns,  and  to deny these implications is simply to implicate yourself further.

Wentworth Forest, Tasmania

No photographers are included in the colonial period and Max Dupain, Ponch Hawkes and Sue Ford are  mentioned in passing.   In   his  last chapter on postmodernism Allen says that postmodern photographers, such as Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were unlike those photographers:

 who work grew out of of the observation and documentation of their social environment –which is after all perhaps photography’s  real, though modest vocation–these artists made picture of elaborately, prepared subjects….The most prominent of the photographer’s is, however, without a doubt, Bill Henson, if only because he achieves what is hardest for  the photographer–that is to construct an imaginary world: in his case it is a night-world of naked bodies, ruins and disaster.

Fair enough.   Yet there are no examples of a photography that is based on observation and documentation in his history.   Nor is there any consideration   of  the changing views of what constitutes observation and documentation in relation to visual composition and  the broader currents of Australian history;  or to the way that photography  represents  how Australians have come  to terms with their  unique physical, social and political environment.

So we can infer that, for Allen,   photography has a peripheral presence in  terms of the visual arts. Photography is not listed in the index of the text.  The core of the visual art in  Allen’s aesthetic rationality  is painting and photography is not considered to be  on a par  with the traditional mediums of the visual arts.  Continue Reading…

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…