A common argument in photographic theory is that the triumph of the digital image as the contemporary form of photography forces a reevaluation of the traditional assumption of correspondence between the image and some form of reality of which it is said to be an imprint. The argument is that digital images that begin their life as binary data and are driven by algorithms cannot be comprehended through the conventional trinity of representation, the index and the punctum. A major shift has taken place with the emergence of the networked image.
As a photographer I understand the digital image to be an evolution from analogue photography: to all intents and purposes a digital image made with a digital camera is little different to the one that is made with an analogue camera. I situate myself in the world in the act of photographing, and then I use these working tools to construct visual representations. The Sony a7R111 digital camera is an automated, computational and pre-programmed tool compared to the entirely manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera that was made in the 1970s. The trajectory in digital photography is towards the expensive professional high end. This means increased automation, a pre-programmed apparatus, and more and more AI being built into the post processing software in order to counter the competition from the increasingly sophisticated cameras in smart phones.
Here is a digital image made with a digital Sony-a7 R111 camera:
Here is the analogue photograph made with the all manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera. The negative has been scanned into a digital file and then processed in Lightroom.
The differences between the two technologies within this logic of representation are minimal when they are viewed on a computer screen after being edited with Lightroom software. The object —ie., the quartz and creek in the two images –is known to us as a representation of the object. Photography is a process that mediates the world with the agency of light to produce legible images.
From my perspective as a working photographer the main difference between the two technologies is evolutionary. The digital technology is more convenient to use and it offers greater flexibility for hand held photograph in low light situations–eg., at dawn. As a photographer I continue to work within the trinity of representation, the index and the punctum, with both digital and analogue cameras. However, I do realise that the image on the computer screen made with a digital camera resembles the look of a traditional photograph because the computational processes are currently designed by the manufacturers to make these data packages look familiar to those working within the photograhic tradition.
I notice that the Tate Modern has an exhibition entitled Shape of Light: 100 years of Photography and Abstract Art, one whose art historical approach refers back to the Museum of Modern Art’s landmark photography exhibition, The Sense of Abstraction in 1960. The Tate blurb states that this is the first major exhibition to explore the relationship between the photography and abstract art, spanning the century from the 1910s to the present day, and it includes some of the contemporary work by Antony Cairns, Maya Rochat and Daisuke Yokota.
The Tate exhibition basically re-inserts the history of photography into the well-writ narrative of art history to make a necessary point: – that photography merits serious consideration within the category of abstract art, and that the camera’s attraction to the shape of light rather than the shape of solid form as we perceive it, changed the way images of all kinds were composed. It also suggests that there has been a fruitful dialogue between abstract painting (Miro, Riley, Braque, Mondrian, Pollock, Kandinsky) and photography over the last hundred years.
This raises a question: has this kind of dialogue come to an end in the 21st century rather than being continued?
King’s Head abstraction
The curators place the 20th century’s avant-garde’s photographic experimentations (ie., abstraction) in the context of wider developments in art, with examples of cubism, abstract expressionism, Bauhaus and op art providing benchmarks. The curatorial argument is that abstract photography has evolved in step with painting and that there is a shared history. The relationship between painting and photography has been a symbiotic one, a close mutualist relationship that has benefited both art forms.
An alternative interpretation is that abstract photography followed behind abstract painting, in that abstract painters influenced the way photographic artists understood image and that the photos are the monochrome equivalents of paintings. This interpretation reinforces the culturally conservative position of the supremacy of painting. This conservative interpretation overlooks the way that both Rodchenko and Lazlo Moholy-Nagy challenged the supremacy of painting by refusing to see any medium as more important than another and by working in fields as diverse as film, graphic and theatre design, sculpture, painting and light shows. The common tendency in the Australian art institution is to adopt the conservative interpretation. Continue Reading…
I have finally picked up working on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book with Adam Dutkiewicz that is to be published by Moon Arrow Press. There has been more than a year’s break from the early stages of planning due to other book and exhibition commitments by Adam and myself. We have just called for submissions for the portfolios in the book, and we are now sitting back and waiting to see what comes in from the call out. Though it is not really clear at this early stage what kind of work will be submitted, the book’s explicit regional focus will fill one of the gaps in the art history of Australian photography that has traditionally been written around a cumulative teleology of styles and periods.
The design of the book is simple: each photographer will be given 6-8 pages to present their work from this period, and they will have a text to describe their work and their biography or profile. As there are currently around 20 photographers who expressed an interest in submitting a portfolio and there is some text, the book looks to be around 130 pages. The launch of the book will be at an exhibition of some of the prints in Adelaide early in 2020.
The year 2000 is a useful cutoff point for the book because this is when photography started to go global: the explosion of websites, art fairs, festivals, biennales, travelling museum exhibitions, catalogues, conferences, artist residencies etc associated with the international transmission of objects, ideas and photographers operating across the boundaries of nation states. If this meant that the hold that European and North American artists had over the production of contemporary art has been broken, that the art world has become more event-driven with biennials and art fairs in far-flung locations, then it also means the biennales are institutional sites whose ways of seeing contain an aesthetic regime of experience.
sand dunes, Largs Bay, Adelaide
My own portfolio is structured around my shift from street photography to topographics. This would exclude the landscape photographs, and it foreshadows my turn to, and latter embrace of, a topographical approach to still photography. The topographical turn, which was made during this period, with both the Port Adelaide series and the spatial interpretations of Adelaide, was largely shaped by using large format cameras. It was a foreshadowing in the sense of my not consciously relating this to the New Topographics tradition in the US, even though I was consciously photographing a human altered landscape. Continue Reading…
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…
Georgina Downey has usefully suggested that the collaborative project of photographing industrial Melbourne by Stuart Murdoch and myself can be usefully framed as belonging to what landscape architects, call drosscapes. We have been photographing in and around waste urbanscapes that are different from edge lands as it is a junkyard that is a by product of industrialisation and is in the process of being redeveloped.
The concept of drosscape was coined by Alan Berger (a landscape architect and associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design) in 2006 in his book, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America to refer to the waste landscapes. Berger proposed classifying a differentiation between waste landscapes (places that store, manage or process urban or industrial waste), wasted landscapes (polluted or abandoned sites), and wasteful landscapes (huge extensions of developed land with virtually no use for the community).
wasteland, Nth Melbourne
The idea of drosscape applies to the industrial Melbourne site that Stuart and I have been photographing, as this wasteland is currently being redeveloped as part of the extension of the Melbourne underground. Berger says that a drosscape is:
“the creation of a new condition in which vast, wasted, or wasteful land surfaces are modeled in accordance with new programs or new sets of values that remove or replace real or perceived wasteful aspects of geographical space (i.e., redevelopment, toxic waste removal, tax revenues, etc.)”. As a verb, he sees the ‘drosscaping’ as the practice incorporating social programs and activities into the transformed waste landscape.”
He adds that one must not commit the mistake to call an abandoned train station by itself a drosscape. In this instance, a drosscape would be the integration of new horizons onto the unused site, which by itself it is only dross. Continue Reading…