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…
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…
Another 8×10 road trip will be taking place next week. This time it is a road trip through the Mallee in South Australia and Victoria in order to photograph the silos along the Mallee Highway. I will be camping at Ouyen in Victoria with Gilbert Roe. Let’s hop the weather has cooled down by then.
I scoped this last year during the spring when I was on my Canberra trip with both the digital Sony NEX-7 and the old Rolleiflex SL66. I will be using an 8×10 camera ( for black and white) and a 5×7 camera ( for colour). The project works in the tradition of the aesthetic as a realm of experience being separate from the instrumental thinking of both daily life and the market’s economic reason.Though the approach is historical in orientation it will be quite different to the road trips of David Marks between 2001-6 where he used Diana and Polaroid cameras.
I cannot remember the individual silos in the small towns.For instance I cannot recall which town on the Mallee Highway this particular silo is in that I made with the Rolleiflex SL66. Maybe it was around Walpeup or Underbool in Victoria:
silo+house, Mallee Highway
I never took any notes on the trip. I was just scoping the various silos to see if this economic architecture could constitute a conceptual type photography project—-something along the lines of ’13 silos on the Mallee Highway’. It is conceptual in the sense that I first came up with the title, then proceeded to photograph the subject on one of my road trips from Adelaide (my hometown) to Tooleybuc just south of the River Murray . The work of art is to be the book itself, simply but carefully designed. Continue Reading…