As mentioned in the posts here and here on my low key Rethinking Documentary photography blog I am involved in a collaborative photographic project with Stuart Murdoch on changing Melbourne. An exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery in Adelaide during South Australia’s 2018 SALA Festival is the first public showing of this collaborative body of work.
Linfox, Footscray, Melbourne
Melbourne, like New York in the 1930s, is changing very fast and the currently existing parts of the historical, industrial Melbourne will be gone tomorrow. These are the familiar things a city that are overlooked until they are gone. Bernice Abbott’s well known 1930s large format photo project, Changing New York, is a historical reference point in spite of the truncated nature of the 1939 book. Many of Abbott’s photographs from this body of work are now in the public domain, as they have been made available online by the New York Public Library. These photos are a reference point for our photographing a changing Melbourne, even though there are big differences between the two cities and the photographic projects. Continue Reading…
I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. Continue Reading…
I had several days in Melbourne centred around working with Stuart Murdoch on Saturday editing the 80 or so images for the Bowden Archives book. Thanks to Stuart I now have a dummy of the book which I can show to various people to see how they react, their impressions and judgements.
Whilst in Melbourne I helped Helga Leunig set her stall up at the Other Art Fair at the Facility in Kensington; saw some Penelope Hunt’s images from her Remains to be Seen and Water Lilies projects at her stall in the Other Art Fair; managed to take a few snaps around Docklands; had some printing done at Magnet; heard about an upcoming Melbourne Photo Festival; saw the NGV’s Festival of Photography that featured Bill Henson and William Eggleston; meet up with both Eric Algra re the Mallee Routes project and friends from the Lajamanu trip; and was shown around Sunshine by Stuart Murdoch. I wasn’t able to make any photos for the Mallee Routes project on my way back from Melbourne to Adelaide.
However, late on Saturday afternoon Stuart and I went on a photo shoot on the Western Ring Road. It took us a while to access this location situated amongst the various freeways connected to the Western Ring Road for our topographical photo shoot:
Western Ring Rd, Melbourne
The photographic highpoint of the trip was this topographical photoshoot with Stuart even though it was very windy and the lovely afternoon autumn light had gone. We only had time to scope the location on this urban freeway corridor and to take a few photos with our medium format cameras. It’s a good location for a large format shoot with the right conditions: clouds, afternoon winter light and little in the way of a south westerly wind.
This brief photoshoot raised the question of a topographical approach to photography. What is it? In Andrew Sayer’s book Australian Art (2001) topographics refers to the colonial drawings that came out of naval and military culture and derived from the need got recognise coastlines. Often they are views from the water looking towards the shore. The standard reference point for contemporary Australian topographical photographers is the 1975 New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York which was curated by William Jenkins, where the photographers were mapping the built environment of the late 20th century American western landscape with its motels, housing developments, office parks, and endless parking lots.
In the catalogue essay Jenkins interpreted the exhibition images of the American West and Midwest as being “reduced to an essentially topographical state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion”. The subsequent reframing and restating of the exhibition 40 years latter interpret it as reinventing the genre of the landscape as the photographers grappled with finding a new idiom through which to represent the built environment. Continue Reading…
I was unable to participate in the Unless You Will conference or symposium at RMIT in Melbourne that took place during 17-19th February 2017. This was unfortunate for me, since the symposium was designed as a physical meeting place for art photographers, but it was one without an online conversational dimension. So I am currently in the dark about what took place or what the key ideas that were presented and debated.
Though I know that Unless You Will was founded by Heidi Romano, who also directed the inaugural Photobook Melbourne festival, I am out of the loop. For example, I failed to submit my Abstract Photography: re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice book for the 2017 Australian Photobook of the Year Award. I just didn’t know about the award. I felt that I should have, given my shift away from exhibitions towards producing photobooks.
Lyonville abstract, 2016
The blurb for the Unless You Will conference says that this symposium seeks to cultivate interaction and connection within photography:
As a kind of visual meeting place or think-tank it provides is an opportunity for the photographic community to share different practices, gain insights into other artists’ work and inspire critical discussion around emerging trends and ideas in photography and visual culture….The aim of the symposium is to search for avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography.
The central aim of the Unless You Will project is to connect Australian photo creatives with their overseas counterparts around visual storytelling. That suggests that the photographers involved with, or connected to Unless You Will, are working within the tradition of long-form documentary storytelling. Continue Reading…
This picture of Melbourne from a Qantas plane was made whilst we were returning to Australia from our brief trip to Wellington and the Tongariro National Park in New Zealand. It was early morning when we flew in. We only made our connecting flight to Adelaide with minutes to spare.
It was only a couple of years ago that I used to do these kind of diary snaps with a 35m film Leica (M series). I admired the Leica ethos –that reality should be fixed on film with lenses that faithfully capture what is in front of the camera. The final print is the work of the photographer, and if the result was not as hoped for, then the photographer takes the blame, not the camera.
However, for 35mm photography I’ve made the switch to digital photography. These days I use a Sony digital camera (an old NEX-7) with Leica M lenses. The reason for the switch is that digital imagery delivers superior results when used handheld in most practical situations. The transition from film to digital technology is still a transit stage probably to digital imagery on and off the internet.
The drive of the photographic industry to produce successor models for every camera (including smart phones) with ever-shorter product cycles, there is an eager acceptance of consumers/photographers to upgrade to the newest model, and the photographer is becoming more and more of a computer technician. The search is for the perfect camera, and often it is the technology (cameras are effectively computer devices for image capture) that drives the photography. Newer models supposedly means better model. However, you cannot tell from the pictures that the newest digital camera is the best ever, since the pictures are more or less indistinguishable from those from the previous model. Continue Reading…