I have recently become involved in a new project entitled Our-Waters, which is about the River Murray and the photographic archives of the Godson Collection held by the State Library of South Australia. Some background to the project is here on my Our Waters Our Country blog, which, for now, is loosely associated with the Our Waters project.
As it is still early days in the project, it has no public profile (ie., there is no website) to inform people what is happening. However, a recent update on the state of play of the Our Waters project is on this blog post. This indicates that this photography is not what Rebecca Solnit calls eco-porn: photography that celebrate the ‘untouched beauty’ of nature associated with the nature tourism and calendars that view our land and rivers as a place of wildness and wilderness.
Lake Alexandrina, 2011
It is an opportune time to start such a project given the recent report on the ecological state of the Coorong by the Goyder Institute. The ecological condition of the Coorong has been steadily degrading since European “settlement” due to upstream water extractions, and the Millennium Drought was a major disturbance causing a rapid decline in condition. Whilst the relatively recent increase in natural and managed inflows to the Coorong through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have improved the ecological condition of the North Lagoon, the ecological condition of the South Lagoon has not recovered, or it has continued to decline. As Mary E. White wrote in her Running Down – Water in a Changing Land (Kangaroo Press, 2000):
The continuing saga of the extraction of massive amounts of water from inland rivers to satisfy the escalating demands of the irrigation industry is Australia’s most serious, and ultimately potentially most disastrous water-related issue. It is a battle between two essentially irreconcilable attitudes to land use.
To speak plainly, the Murray-Darling Basin has been, and is being, managed to benefit the irrigators. Continue Reading…
There is a forthcoming conference on Land Dialogues at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia. It is an interdisciplinary approach to place/space and human/non-human convergence discourses. The conference blurb says that this involves the following themes:
(1) Analysis or application of existing or emergent dialogues with land in indigenous, pre-colonial, post-colonial and anti-colonial contexts.(2) Explorations of the limits (or perceived limits) of sustainment principles, sustainabilities, ecologies and agriculture.(3) New/Old Frontiers, Land and the Digital and explorations of, or reflections on potentials for new topographies including data visualisations in relationship to land. (4) Experimental or experiential works or non-standard items including exhibition or performance towards dialogue with land.
Theme (4) includes a photographic exhibition that is curated by James Farley
entitled Land Dialogues – Contemporary Australian Photography (in Dialogues with Land)
. The Photographers involved include Christine McFetridge, Kate Robertson, Renata Buziak, James Farely
, Chris Orchard
, Jacob Raupach, Felix Wilson,
and Amy Findlay. However, it is unclear what kind of dialogue with the land these photographers are engaged in since there is no curatorial statement online apart from the general statement that photographers involved are exploring and reevaluating how the Australian community identifies, represents and values the spaces that we create and occupy. Surprisingly, there no abstracts of the conference papers online.
Currently we have a vacuum about the nature of dialogues with nature in contemporary photography within the gallery system that was once premised on the modernist divide of nature and culture as mutually exclusive. Nature was landscape rather than country, and nature existed in a repressed state in the galleries through the 1980s and early 1990s. So what kind of dialogues with nature are happening in the second decade of the 21st century, given that agricultural industrialisation, which was an early cornerstone of Australian modernity, has left us with parched catchment areas, salt encrusted soil and degraded rivers?
My own work in the Edgelands project —here
—-can be considered to be a dialogue with the land as opposed to country. This image of the Murrumbidgee River
near Hay is an example:
The Murrumbidgee River runs through Wagga Wagga and it is the second largest source of water flows into the Murray-Darling system. The 1,600 km long river is ranked as one of the two least ecologically healthy of 23 tributary rivers in the Basin. Lake Burley Griffin, which is a part of the upper Murrumbidgee, is pretty much a fetid carp pond. By the mid 1970s, almost all of the water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area had been allocated to irrigators, and today we are seeing an example of river system collapse with the signs of an ecological disaster are all too clear.
The Coorong in South Australia is basically a string of saltwater lagoons sheltered from the Southern Ocean by the sand dunes of the Younghusband Peninsula. It is still largely seen as a pristine wilderness rather than an edge land. Nature from this perspective is a by-word for “wilderness areas”.
The Coorong is identified as a National Park, which is then reduced to a pristine wilderness that is a sanctuary for many species of birds, animals and fish. It is held to be a pristine wilderness (an elsewhere beyond human culture and society), despite the existence of walking trails; the waters of the Coorong being a popular venue for recreational and commercial fishers; and it being a remote space where we go to in our SUV’s on weekends and public holidays. The idea of wilderness area is a social/political construction as not all parts of the Coorong are a national park or a pristine wilderness.
The concept of nature underpinning the idea of the Coorong as a pristine wilderness means that it is seen as a self-contained, harmonious set of internal self-regulating relations that always return to harmony and balance so long as they aren’t perturbed by humankind. Because nature is seen as harmoniously self-regulating, any technological intervention in nature is seen as inviting harm, disaster and catastrophe.
This conception of nature as a pristine wilderness goes back to the Romantics, who constructed nature as offering a respite from the transgressions of so-called civilised European society then undergoing the initial phases of capitalist industrialisation. Nature is seen as sacrosanct and is venerated. Nature as “over there,” somehow separate from our daily lives, is then set on a pedestal.
at the salt site
The next step is to argue that the ultimate cause of our ecological problems is modern technology, Cartesian subjectivity, within which we are abstract beings somehow outside nature, who can manipulate nature, dominate nature. Nature is an object of our manipulation and exploitation. Modernity is based on a hard and fast distinction between Nature and Culture, where the two domains are to be thought as entirely separate and distinct. Continue Reading…
Whilst I was walking and photographing in the Otway forest during my Melbourne trip I realised that my relationship with the southern Fleurieu Peninsula had changed from visiting to dwelling. I now live in on the coast and belong to this place. That meant my photography of the region had become place based, as it was premised on both taking a walk in the landscape rather than rushing to explore or discover and dwelling in a place.This photography is a recovery of a sense of our embeddedness of place.
Dwelling in a place implies a greater environmental awareness and sensitivity and is usually contrasted with the more instrumental domination of the landscape that is premised on power, control and exploitation. Dwelling implies a capacity to observe, underestand, describe and being attentive to, and caring for, the natural environment of the place where one is living.
3 gums, pm
There is a tradition of representing the Australian landscape as hostile to its human inhabitants; a tradition that reaches back to the colonist representation of the harshness of the Australian landscape nature. The colonists saw Australia as a land of stance animals and bizarre plants, a land worn out though it were a land left behind by time, as an alien, barren hostile land that had been deserted by God. Their response to the landscape was to trash it in order to dominate it. Continue Reading…
With the opening of the Fleurieuscapes exhibition at Magpie Springs done and dusted I have had bit of time to set up the various project galleries on the website properly. They now need to have more images added to the projects and I have started working on the Adelaide galleries, which are here, here and here.
I have also had time to begin to think about the Fleurieuscapes project and how I have been approach the work to date and where it needs to go. I have avoided the pastoral and the picturesque modes of the nineteenth century by concentrating on the formal aspects of the landscape. It is difficult to avoid the reduction of the landscape to a stereotype of bright sunshine and scattered gum trees in the high summer.
Admittedly, bright sunshine and scattered gum trees does break with the English pastoral of the Heidelberg School –the homestead paddocks with milking cows casting long shadows in early morning or twilight, as they grazed in cool temperate pasture of the Heidelberg School. The land had been successfully tamed by the settlers, and at Federation, they were celebrating their British moorings and their Anglo-Saxon heritage.
The picturesque mode relishes light and shadow, texture of grass, antiquated fences, dappled shaded cows. The picturesque was a European (English) aesthetic and Australian art was non-European and ‘unpicturesque’. This European landscape art is predicated on a widespread desire for disinterested enjoyment that precludes the direct lived engagement premised on an understanding of the actual ecology of places. It is predicted on an ‘outsider’s perspective’, rather than the experience of someone who lives in that particular place.