I have started going though my photographic archive to select photos that I have made in Tasmania for the Tasmanian Elegies project. I wanted to move beyond the ones in the website’s gallery as they are a lot more in the archives and I didn’t know what t6o do with them. So I have revamped an old Tumblr blog and turned it into a way of selecting the images from the archive. Hence we have Thoughtfactory’s Tasmanian Elegies blog.
This publishing platform will allow me to see the images in terms of a project; a project that can become a book, if the images hold up and look interesting together. Books, I am realising, have long lead times–a couple of years for me. The blog is the first step in constructing a text.
Mt Lyell mine landscape, 2012
One motivation for doing something with the images in the archives is the Griffith Review’s edition 39 on Tasmania–The Tipping Point, whose co-editor was Associate Professor Natasha Cica, the then director of the Inglis Clark Centre for Civil Society at the University of Tasmania. It consists of essays, articles, reviews and review articles on a wide range of cultural and media matters, as well as fiction and poetry’. The core argument is that Tasmania is in transition from a resource -based economy (logging and mining) to a ‘smart island’ focused around culture, food, and tourism.
This is a big shift for a small population (just over 500,000) still caught up in the battle between the environment and conservation and economic development and growth, and still experiencing a brain drain. Continue Reading…
It is good to see that road trips –as distinct from the expedition, the field trip or travel photography –have started to become popular amongst Australian art photographers as distinct from the American road trip tradition, which largely happened after 1945 with its myths about driving west in the car to The Promised Land.
We can begin to think in terms of a photographic tradition of road trips in Australia as a genre: one that is framed by the modernists as the act of being on the road; the art of individuals–the lone photographer– producing discrete works; and the photograph as a self-contained work of art. The road trip is a part of a dream of being on the open road; the photography is an existential act of wrangling with an alien world, mastering it by anthologising it, and giving unique insights into what lay behind everyday appearances. The road trip genre tends to be biographical and personal.
A starting point for constructing this tradition, given the decline in the curatorial interest in photography in the 21st century, would be the 2014 exhibition, The Road: Photographers on the move 1970-85 exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art, even if it was confused about what constitutes a road trip–Robert Rooney photographing the same car in different locations around Melbourne–with its reference to the serial propositions of Ed Ruscha such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962)—is not a road trip. The 1985 cut off date meant that the exhibition did not include the latter road trip work by Trent Parke, Narelle Autio or the work of David Marks.
I am slowly working away on a road trip project and posting the images on my On the Road Tumblr blog. There are some more from the 1980s on my archival blog. Even though it is envisioned to be a book, this project is based on several trips and it currently has no title or theme. Liquid Moments? Oddly Squared? No Maps, No Plans? Easy Roads? Dark Lies the Road?
The image below of an altered landscape in the South Australian mallee is from the archives, and it one of the earliest of my road trip photos.
silo + tractor, SA Mallee
The South Australian photographer Che Chorley has a book in production from his 2016 Land Sea You Me road trip (bike trip) from Eucla in Western Australia to Nelson on the Glenelg River in Victoria. The Melbourne based Nathan Stolz is on his six months A Long and Winding Road road trip to explore and probe Australian identity and cultural difference in the the early 21st century. My work in the The Long Road to Lajamanu works within the road trip tradition.
There may well be other art photographers who have archives of road trip photos and/or are working on contemporary road trip projects in Australia that I don’t know about. Eric Algra comes to mind. Continue Reading…
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.
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.
The key idea behind the LBM Dispatch, named for and printed by Alex Soth’s limited-run publishing house, Little Brown Mushroom, is a reimagining of the iconic American roadtrips photography book as a series of small newspapers, each of which chronicles a quick trip Brad Zellar and Alex Soth have taken through a different state or territory of the USA. Previous Dispatches have covered Michigan, Ohio, and California’s “Three Valleys—Silicon, San Joaquin, and Death” and the Texas Triangle.
They pretend to be newspapermen and in the course of these road trips they end up in places that might well have been foreign countries. Little townships, small town service clubs and fraternal organizations, church dances, crime scenes, small business expos all quite different from the bland development of corporate America.
The Mallee is similar. Once you get off the highways and into the heart of the heart of the country you find that the historical notions about regional Australia’s cultural life and values are still out there. Sure, they’re under siege with the economic hardship and alcohol but there is a strong local culture, community, social life and sense of place. The Mallee, judging from my Hopetown photo road trip, has a strong and deeply rooted regional identity. 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…