Adelaide, architecture, colour, critical writing

State of Hope: a review

April 8, 2017

The latest issue of  the Griffith Review is  no 55,  is called State of Hope and it is about contemporary South Australia.  It is edited by Julianne Schultz and Patrick Allington    and the issue consists of  short essays and memoir, fiction pieces and poetry, and photo stories.  Authors include Robyn Archer, John Spoehr, Peter Stanley, Angela Woollacott, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Chris Wallace, Dennis Atkins, Nicholas Jose, and Ali Cobby Eckermann. This is an Adelaide and South Australia as primarily  seen by those working within a literary culture that includes print journalists in the mainstream media (i.e. Murdoch’s Advertiser no less).

The Griffith Review is a  leading literary magazine in Australia that  sees itself as a “high quality, agenda-setting, quarterly publication, delivering insight into the issues that matter most in a timely, authoritative and engaging fashion”. Griffith  Review peer reviews the submissions  to its various issues and  nearly all of  the members of the expert panel academics in universities in the eastern states. Previous issues have been  devoted to Tasmania and Queensland.

What is presented in these texts is the public role of writers as public intellectuals. Writers, it seems,  have a role to  to challenge and arouse the nation–ie., to speak truth to power— given the pressures of  the new media technologies and the forces of globalisation on Australia’s  literary culture—and, thankfully,  the old split between between academe,  creative writer and critic  is absent.

The  market blurb to the  State of Hope text says that:

As the industrial model that shaped twentieth-century South Australia is replaced by an uncertain future, now more than ever the state needs to draw on the strengths of its past in order to move ahead. Now, on the cusp of change, the state needs to draw on its talent for experiment and innovation in order to thrive in an increasingly competitive world. State of Hope explores the economic, social, environmental and cultural challenges facing South Australia, and the possibilities of renewal and revitalisation.

This is a reasonable assessment.  South Australia is undergoing extensive de-industrialization that began in the 1970s and an uncertain  post-industrial  future does  loom. However,  South Australia is not alone in this–eg.,  witness Victoria. The process of de-industrialization  and an uncertain future also applies to Australia as a whole after the mining boom.   I also concur that the big shift to renewable energy in South Australia,  as  noted by some contributors,  is an indication of  the shape of a new future for the state.

One characteristic of State of Hope  that  I found   surprising was  the heavy doses of nostalgia with respect to the subjective memoirs of childhood and  youth remembered in Adelaide  in many of the literary contributions. This  nostalgia about the good times in South Australia’s past—-eg.,  when South Australia under Don Dustan could claim to lead the nation in politics, culture and civic virtue— does not engage with  the  contemporary revitalisation of urban life in the CBD.

construction, Franklin St, 2011

Contemporary Adelaide, which  is undergoing rapid change–not just decline– is overlooked  by the looking backwards to the golden days of cheerful,  suburban life in the 1960s and 1970s.  That is 40-50 years ago.  So what about now—everyday urban life in contemporary Adelaide?  Continue Reading…

colour, exhibitions, film, history, Indigenous, landscape

The Lumen Seed: Questions for a Conversation

March 20, 2017

The  questions below were written by myself  in order to facilitate  a  conversation at the launch of Judith Crispin’s The Lumen Seed  book at the Atkins Photo Lab  gallery in Adelaide  on  Friday,  17th March  2017. The questions  were  structured around  The Lumen Seed book,   and they were designed to give some background to the construction of the text for the audience.   They place the emphasis  on Judith’s  photography rather than her poetry,  given that the space for the launch  at the Atkins Photo Lab  is a photography gallery. The audience pretty much took over once we got the conversation rolling.

The images in the post are mine and they were made whilst I was at  Lajamanu.  There  has been one review  of the book so far: –namely, this  review of  The Lumen Seed at the F-Stop photography magazine.  

Lajamanu 

1. Since few people in the audience would have been to either the Tanami Desert or Lajamanu we will start the conversation  here. Lajamanu is 4000 kilometres from Sydney and around 800 kilometres north west of Alice Springs. It’s remote and difficult to get to. So the first question is  why Lajamanu Judith?

2. Remote indigenous communities have a negative  profile in the mainstream media,  and those on the conservative side of politics want to close them down and shift people to the bigger towns. This is  currently happening in Western Australia with support from the Federal Government which has withdrawn funds for essential services including the supply of power, water and management of infrastructure.

When I was at Lajamanu I was surprised at how well the Warlpiri community was functioning. This indicated that  more is going on here  than Tony Abbott’s lifestyle choice. From my brief stay I gained the impression that the life of the community was premised on a synthesis of tradition and modernity.

Is that impression right? If so,  can you tell us how the Warlpiri are succeeding and what they are trying to do? Can you answer in terms of the Warlpiri’s conception of their relationship to Australian modernity.

3. What  do you think is the biggest threat to the Warlpiri’s future at Lajamanu?  Is it  the impact of climate change on the Tanami in the form of more droughts and floods? Or would it be the failure of the younger generation to continue to walk the difficult line  between tradition and modernity?

Trunk + bone

 

Photography book

My experience when I was at  Lajamanu in 2016 was one of being a cultural tourist. I was very uncomfortable in that role, and I wasn’t sure how to step beyond being a cultural tourist to photograph what I was seeing.

4. So Judith, was that your initial experience as a photographer at Lajamanu?  When did you start moving away from  being a cultural tourist to begin to  formulate the ideas behind the Lumen Seed project?

5. Why did you decide to incorporate the broader historical context around the Warlpiri and Central Australia into your photographic project?

Most photography books adopt a similar format: a series of photos in the form of a visual narrative with a brief, written introduction, usually written by someone other than the photographer. The emphasis is on the images. The Lumen Seed, in contrast, is much more multilayered and intertextual.

6. Can you tell us why you took this approach to a photography book?  Continue Reading…

architecture, Mallee, roadtrip, South Australia, topographics

contemporary Australian roadtrips

March 16, 2017

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 ParkeNarelle 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…

black + white, Indigenous, roadtrip

The Lumen Seed: Adelaide book launch

March 10, 2017

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.

Tin, Lajamanu

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.

Continue Reading…

architecture, critical writing, history, Mallee

documentary photography: a note

February 26, 2017

Australian Photography: The 1980s was a photographic  exhibition curated by Helen Ennis at  the Australian National Gallery around 1988, the year of  Australia’s Bicentenary.    This event triggered debate on Australian national identity, Aboriginal rights, historical interpretation and multiculturalism.

This survey style exhibition focused on both new work by emerging artists, by which was meant a new generation of professionals trained in the art schools;  as well as recent work  by those artists who had began their careers in the mid to late 1970s,  and whose work has often addressed more traditional photographic concerns in the 1980s.

Carwell, Victorian Mallee

Carwarp, Victorian Mallee

In the catalogue Ennis observed that due to the centrality of photography’s position with postmodernism, some photographic work  has enjoyed as high profile in exhibitions of contemporary art. However, photographs displaying more traditional concerns, for example, those made in the photo documentary and formalist styles,  are rarely considered in the art world.

As an  example of  exhibitions of contemporary art that gave prominence to photographs Innes mentions Australian Perspecta and  the Biennale of Sydney exhibitions held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These were photos  that displayed clear links to works of art rather than photography  that seem to be derived from a particular knowledge of the medium and its history.  Australian Perspecta, which was  a biennial survey show to  showcase Australian contemporary art  ran from 1981 until 1999 and it is an example of the way in which the State Galleries  focused on the big national and international survey exhibitions as well as the  block-buster touring shows due to their  capacity to generate large amounts of revenue.

Continue Reading…