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.
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.
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…
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
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…
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.
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…
In his early writings (that is, his feuilletons written during the 1920’s and 1930s) in Germany, Siegfried Kracauer explored the cultural landscape of industrial capitalism in the early 20th century. The feuilletons, which were eventually collected into two books—The Ornament of the Masses and Streets of Berlin and Elsewhere—- decoded the surface phenomena of modernity as complex historical ciphers—surfaces subject to interpretation. These were interpreted as symptoms of larger sociopolitical developments, such as the evacuation of meaning in the daily life and the popular culture of modernity. These writings are a form of cultural criticism in the business of theorizing the present.
Adelaide CBD, 2.20pm
The underlying argument in these writings has its roots in Nietzsche, Weber and Lukas. History in modernity was seen as a process of disenchantment (demythologising) and a crisis emerged during this process because modern rationality was yoked to capitalist relations of production, becomes an abstract rationality that mythologizes the relations of production in industrial capitalism and the conditions of life that result from them as if they were unchanging nature. Contemporary actuality turns out to be shadowy and insubstantial, a chaos without soul or meaning, whose absurdity can only be represented in a distorted image. We are isolated and homeless, suspended in a void, and stifled by the law-like regularities of a reality we ourselves have created which is fundamentally alien to meaning. Ours is a world fused by the absence of truth, plunged into a state of angst.
The essays or feuilletons map the return of myth across a wide spectrum of high and popular culture in the Weimar Republic. The inconspicuous, quotidian expressions of a culture reveal more about it than its own self-pronouncements. Everyday phenomena such as photos or the nature of popular literature and film are unmediated representations of a culture. As part of this Kracauer explored the relationship between visual culture, art, photography and modernity in the essays such as The Mass Ornament and On Photography. The photograph for Kracauer, as for Georg Simmel, captures a true likeness, a faithful representation, a simple copy of figures, objects and scenes. Photography’s strength is that it captures the actual appearances of people and the surfaces of things but its weakness is its failure to penetrate beneath these exterior manifestations. So the photograph is hollow, empty and mechanical. Without a supporting history or a memory that is associated with the subject matter photography is not adequate to recreate an understanding of the event. Continue Reading…