The picture below of silos at Wallaroo on the north-west of York Peninsula in South Australia was made whilst on my first photocamp with Gilbert Roe in 2016. I had realised that day trips into the Mallee would not work for the Mallee Routes project since I photograph in the early morning or late afternoon light. So for the road trips to work I needed to camp in a specific location and work from there for several days. I need to get to know the area, the subject matter and the lighting conditions.
Wallaroo was a test run to check out our old camping equipment that we hadn’t used since the 1990s. I needed to see what still worked, what needed to be replaced to make a photo camp successful, and to judge whether or not I was still up for camping. Much to my surprise, the camp at Wallaroo worked a treat, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
silo, Wallaroo, York Peninsula
My various experiences at the subsequent photo camps at Ouyen, Hopetoun, Loxton and Hopetoun have resulted in the acquisition of a new tent, a new stove and a portable fridge. The battery and the solar panels to keep the fridge running at the photo camp whilst I am out exploring the local region during the day are the next necessary items to acquire. Then camping on a phototrip is no longer a hardship.
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 have been bunkered down in the digital studio in front of the computer scanning the 1980s archival medium format negatives for The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia book. With most of the scanning for the first two sections now done, I have started to scanning negatives for the third section. This one is based around my escaping from the confines of Bowden after I’d purchased a VW Kombi.
Some of these are photos of Adelaide’s suburban beaches (Glenelg, Larg’s Bay Semaphore and North Haven) during the heat of the summer, others are from day trips through the Adelaide Hills and Mt Lofty Ranges; some are from trips to Melbourne and there is one major road trip along the River Murray to the eastern seaboard. I wasn’t really aware of many of these photos that I’d taken. The negatives were developed, contact sheets made, filed away in a filing cabinet, then forgotten until now.
Mt Lofty Ranges
Though some of these photographs are concerned with urbanism, they are different from the Bowden section, which was very much concerned with the suburb being shaped by the spatial production of industrial capitalism; a fragmentary map of the suburb at a particular point in Adelaide’s urban history. Continue Reading…
2016 has ended with me in debt from 1 solo exhibition, three group exhibitions and publishing the Abstract Photography book during the year. So 2017 will necessarily be low key, as it is primarily a year of paying off the debts incurred. I have decided to use the period of consolidation to work through my 1980s and 1990 photographic archives to get material for a book tentatively entitled The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia.
Citi-Centre, Rundle Mall, Adelaide
Any photography that I do in 2017 will be primarily concentrated on the collaborative Mallee Routes project in order to build up the images in my digital and film galleries so that there is material for a second exhibition. One is tentatively being planned for in late 2017.
The 1980s in Adelaide witnessed a building boom of office development that was fueled by the deregulation of the exchange rate and the financial system. By 1985 Australia had become more integrated into a global market, partly because the internationalisation of the world’s capital and financial markets had already proceeded so far that it was more or less impossible for a small country like Australia to resist moving in the same direction. Deregulation in Australia by the Hawke-Keating Labor Government created culture of unrestrained growth a boom in property and tourist developments, and speculative investment by managers unprepared and untrained for the consequences.
Whilst working through my archives of the photography that I did in the 1980s when I lived in Bowden, Adelaide I came across this outtake from the Mallee Routes exhibition that Eric, Gilbert and I had at Atkins Photo Lab in October/November 2016. It was an outtake since I eventually decided that I didn’t want to exhibit any large format black and white photos in this particular exhibition.
ruins, Mantung, SA
In looking back to this period I relaxed that I came to Adelaide in the 1970s in an attempt to escape from the influence of the high seriousness of American modernism that was then sweeping through the newly established photographic galleries. The modernist aesthetic in the US and Australia was established as the “institutional art” supported by the political establishment and championed by cultural conservatives, and thus the antithesis to the avantgardism that closely accompanied modernism’s diffusion in Europe. The post-modern movement in the US can be interpreted as the American version of the avantgarde when it began to take shape in the 1970s and it suggested “new directions and new vistas” for artists in cultural politics.
This period was the tail end of formalist modernism and industrial capitalism. If it was prior to the emergence of postmodernism
in Australia it was the beginning of the new era of postmodernity, then marked by the Reagan/Thatcher era, the process of de-industrialization, the advent of economic deregulation, the new salience of globalisation, the emergence of finance capitalism and a neo-liberal mode of governance.