history, Melbourne, roadtrip, topographics, urban

Topographics and a changing Melbourne

April 20, 2018

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 Bernice Abbott’s well known 1930s large format photo project, Changing New York,  is a historical reference point in spite of the truncated nature of the 1939 book.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. 

One of the  key differences with Bernice Abbott’s Changing New York work is that  her focus was on architecture whereas ours is looking at the transformation of the city from the perspective of the industrial  wastelands. This  is the topographical  perspective on a city that is rapidly changing in front of our  photographic  eyes.

The conceptual reference point is one of the  layers of history that exist in a particular place at a particular moment; a history  for people to remember and see it as it was; and to foster an awareness that the ideology of progress involves a reckless erasure of the past.

railway, Nth Melbourne

There is  a commonality in subject matter. This is a  rapidly,  changing city from the perspective of preserving its history of its changing built environment in which is nineteenth century buildings are being demolished, altered or replaced with large modern buildings; only a few people in the images; large format photography; framing and focusing each picture  on site over manipulating negatives back in the studio; an awareness that   Melbourne is  a  rapidly changing city and is still a young one; an emphasis on the relationship between  the old and new; and a digging beneath the surface of things.

At the moment I do not know of  many  photographic reference points for this  kind of urban project, especially ones that are contemporary rather than historical. One possibility is Thomas Struth’s deserted streetscapes in Düsseldorf and New York as these photographs  represent the history of a place. These streets, which  were photographed from the same symmetrical perspective in the middle of a street looking down to its vanishing point, and early in the morning so the scene would be deserted,  are of the character of ordinary, everyday architecture in different districts

These photos coincided with the “New Topographics” photographer’s group show in Rochester, New York, in 1975,   which documented the  social incursion into a landscape still partly wild, and did so critically, under the negative sign of domination— the dismal sprawl of standard-plan suburbia and industrial parks into the furthest reaches of the American outback. The landscape in the American West was changing  rapidly and this industrial transformation  had an  aggressive uprooting and displacing character.

At this stage I am not sure of  other  similar reference points.

 

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