architecture, black + white, critical writing, history, landscape, South Australia, topographics

the spatial turn + topographic photography

August 25, 2017

The idea of linking  the spatial turn in the humanities to my 1980s photos emerged whilst I was exploring my   photographic archive for the proposed Adelaide Art Photography: 1970-80 book to be published by Moon Arrow Press.  Noticing  a shift in my photography  from street to topographics,  I started to make connections  in  my archive blog  to the spatial turn in the humanities in relation to the landscape and space that had emerged in the 1980s. This spatial  turn refers to  the landscape and space being  understood in terms of  them being socially constructed and continuously reshaped.

The factory in this photo, which was situated near the railway bridge  has long gone. So have the mangroves,  replaced by  a housing development that was designed to revitalise Port Adelaide.  This then is an urbanscape whose history is that of being continuously transformed by the power of capital since the 19th century.  It is not a landscape the traditional English sense of  a picture of natural inland scenery,  or  the Australian sense of a national landscape painting associated with Romanticism as in the Heidelberg School.     Landscape in this traditional sense  usually veils historically specific social relations behind the smooth and often aesthetic appearance of “nature. The tradition of the  landscape in the visual arts acts to “naturalize” what is deeply cultural,  social and economic.

mangroves, Port River estuary

The emphasis of the Port Adelaide  photography, which  is on place  and the mapping of place,  is a part of the tradition of chorography  that seeks to understand and represent the unique character of individual places. In chorography, the skills of the artist (painter and writer) were more relevant than those of the astronomer and mathematician, which were critical in geography.  Choreography is a part of the  pictorial topographic mapping tradition.  Continue Reading…

architecture, black + white, film, roadtrip, South Australia

a photocamp at Wallaroo

August 12, 2017

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.
Continue Reading…

Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, history, people, publishing

The Bowden Archives: in publication

July 17, 2017

The Bowden Archives  is is  now in publication.  I took the image  files  to the publisher–Wakefield Press— on  Monday, the 17th July.  I still have the text, or rather the  three texts, to finish. I am currently struggling to get  them into some short of shape. The overall  argument is still very implicit and fuzzy, and  the arguments of each of the texts  are  still  hazy.  I have another month to get the texts  to flow, and once that is done  I will  finally have a draft of the book .

A book  is the next stage after publishing the images  online in  Flickr and then a WordPress blog. It is very much a DIY project  at a time when there is a substantial attack on knowledge, inquiry and,  cultural memory caused by  the austerity  regime imposed by conservatives.  This has seen ongoing public funding cuts to  science authorities, universities, research programs, museums, archives,  galleries and the public broadcaster along with a general dismissal of photography as a naïve, indulgent or downright irresponsible way to spend one’s time and energy.

Bowden kids, Adelaide

At this stage the preface is entitled ‘Living in Bowden‘, the second essay is entitled ‘Alternate Photographic Histories’ and the third text is entitled ‘Photography,  Memory,  Place’.  The idea behind the book is to give a grounding to this style of regional photography; one that breaks with the positivist conception of documentary photography in the art institution by  making the shift to hermeneutics and interpretation. This means that the photos are made rather than taken. It is a small and modest step to helping create a strong, critical visual culture to counter the latent anti-intellectualism      directed at those people who want to talk/write  about the ideas on which photography rests, as well as making images.  Continue Reading…

critical writing, history

the modest vocation of photography?

June 26, 2017

I joined the library at Flinders University of South Australia as an alumni so as to  gain access to books that could help with my research for some of my photographic projects, such as  the  Tasmania Elegies and the Mallee Routes ones.  I also wanted to see how  photography had been incorporated into the  recent histories of the Australia visual arts after the boom in the 1980s and the postmodern revisions of modernism.   Was it now on a par with the traditional mediums of the visual arts within their  autonomous sphere,  and was it accorded the same art-historical tenets in the context of the coexistence of the multiplicity of styles and tendencies?

I started reading Christopher Allen’s  book Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism that was  published in 1997.  Allen is currently a national art critic for The Australian, and if  he is currently working  as a conservative art critic,  his 1997 text acknowledges that  Australian culture has received its styles from elsewhere. There have been  Australian impressionists, post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, abstractionists, pop artists and postmodernists.

Allen’s argument is that no visual style is simply received: the history of Australian art, so far as it merits a history of its own, is the history of our adaptation of these foreign styles to our own unique purposes.  This grounds Australian art deep in the broader currents of Australian history. Art becomes part and parcel of the history of our coming to terms with our unique physical, social and political environment. Whatever you do, you inevitably implicate yourself in a specifically Australian set of concerns,  and  to deny these implications is simply to implicate yourself further.

Wentworth Forest, Tasmania

No photographers are included in the colonial period and Max Dupain, Ponch Hawkes and Sue Ford are  mentioned in passing.   In   his  last chapter on postmodernism Allen says that postmodern photographers, such as Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were unlike those photographers:

 who work grew out of of the observation and documentation of their social environment –which is after all perhaps photography’s  real, though modest vocation–these artists made picture of elaborately, prepared subjects….The most prominent of the photographer’s is, however, without a doubt, Bill Henson, if only because he achieves what is hardest for  the photographer–that is to construct an imaginary world: in his case it is a night-world of naked bodies, ruins and disaster.

Fair enough.   Yet there are no examples of a photography that is based on observation and documentation in his history.   Nor is there any consideration   of  the changing views of what constitutes observation and documentation in relation to visual composition and  the broader currents of Australian history;  or to the way that photography  represents  how Australians have come  to terms with their  unique physical, social and political environment.

So we can infer that, for Allen,   photography has a peripheral presence in  terms of the visual arts. Photography is not listed in the index of the text.  The core of the visual art in  Allen’s aesthetic rationality  is painting and photography is not considered to be  on a par  with the traditional mediums of the visual arts.  Continue Reading…

archives, critical writing, Tasmania, topographics

Tasmanian Elegies: antecedents

June 8, 2017

I have been slowly plugging away on the Tasmanian Elegies project. I have  been going through my film archives  and posting selected images on the Tumblr blog. I am up to my  2012 visit,   but I think that there is a gap of 4-5 years before I return to Tasmania on a phototrip. It looks as if the project  is starting to come together and that I will have enough images  to start thinking in terms of  a book for this project  after ‘The Bowden Archives: memory, text, place’    is done and dusted.  This is a project with a long gestation period.

I  will probably  enough images but it is the text that is going cause me trouble. Tasmanian Elegies  is at odds with the  emphasis on landscape photography   in Tasmania,  and that branch of landscape photography known as wilderness photography.I am probably going to have to go to a university library to access, and read  what Roslynn D. Haynes in her   Tasmanian Visions: Landscapes in Writing, Art and Photography (2006) has to say.

water tanks, Mt Lyell Mine, Queenstown

This emphasis on wilderness by Tasmanian photographers is understandable given the large number of wilderness areas  in Tasmania,  the ongoing threat to wilderness  from the mining and timber industries and the environmental movements defence of wilderness in the face of these threats.  Photography has become the chief visual instrument of environmentalists endeavouring to increase an awareness of the natural beauty and sublimity of Tasmania’s wilderness. Wilderness here  is usually  understood as  an unpeopled wilderness. Continue Reading…