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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 This is  currently happening in Western Australia with support from the Federal Government which has withdrawn funds for essential services including the supply of power, water and management of infrastructure.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…

black + white, Indigenous, roadtrip

The Lumen Seed: Adelaide book launch

March 10, 2017

I will be  helping  Paul Atkins to launch  Judith Crispin’s  recent  book,  The Lumen Seed, at Atkins Photo Lab  gallery on Friday, the 17th March at 6pm. The launch will consist of an exhibition of some of Judith’s prints from the book, some background images made whilst we were at Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert in 2016,  and a conversation between Judith and myself about the book. The conversation will link photography in the form of a book  to contemporary  issues in the Humanities.Some of my snaps from the 2016 trip to Lajamanu will be amongst  the  background images.

The Lumen Seed raises  issues  for me about taking photography within remote Indigenous communities.  I only took  a few photos whilst at Lajamanu on this  trip,  as I felt like a cultural tourist,  and I was uncomfortable in that role. I  also wanted to avoid  viewing Warlpirri people at Lajamanu through the eyes of both  colonial anthropology and the eyes of 21st century ecology.

Tin, Lajamanu

Classical Anthropology  used photography as visual evidence for scientific (anthropological and ethnographic) research, and it historically worked with a  colonial gaze that had its  roots in the  evolutionary conception of primitivism (lowly race compared to western culture as the  pinnacle of civilisation ) in the  Darwinism of the colonial past. This colonial gaze viewed  indigenous people as objects,  whilst modern ecology, faced with  the massive loss of life-support systems, reverses the evolutionary model and constructs  Aboriginal primitivism  by seeing  indigenous people as close to Nature in  contrast to the present white Australian (corrupted) civilisation that is hostile to nature. Indigenous people are constructed as iving peacefully in tune with the nature  and preserving their ancient, “natural” wisdom.

The  photographs I  had in  the back of my mind  were those in  Spencer and Gillen’s early work in central Australia –ie., their photographs of ritual  performances (ceremonies) of   the Arrernte people of the McDonnell Ranges. These were done  the late 19th century and they  formed the basis for their Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) book.

Aboriginal people, in this text, were  seen as dehumanized “survivals” from an early stage of social development. The inference was that Aboriginal traditions will not adapt and survive in changed forms, but rather will be misunderstood, trampled on and destined to disappear.  Since survival was believed impossible, it was  important to document  the ‘dying race’ of the ‘childhood of man’. A close study of Aborigines, whose demise was only a matter of time,   could provide an insight into the very origins of humankind.

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…