I am creatively flat after returning from my trip to Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert, curating and showing in three exhibitions (Weltraum, Abstractions x 5 and Mallee Routes), which are now coming to a close, and publishing the Abstraction Photography book with Moon Arrow Press. I’m exhausted, in debt, with limited stocks of film in the fridge and limited money to buy more film.
What happens now? Apart from having a rest, going to the gym, and paying off my debts? Where to now with my photography?I do have the 15 Silos on the Mallee Highway project to complete, work to do on the Mallee Routes project for some exhibitions over the next couple of years, and return to the Fleurieuscapes project.
However, I am also thinking along the lines of producing more books of photographs. But which body of work to create photo-books with? One possibility is going through my archives of photos that I did in the 1980s and 1990s; not to mine them for material, but to see if the material that emerges from exploring the archives that has the possibility of constituting a body of work that could fit into a book on Adelaide photography during that period.
This kind of project would be a filling in the gaps and recovering a lost history in the regional photographic culture in Adelaide during the photography boom. Currently, we only have a very fragmentary sense of the photography that happened in the last quarter of the twentieth century in this city. This was the period of the emergence of postmodernism and its constructed imagery (eg., Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson in Australia) and its play with, and appropriations of, already existing images; a theoretical engagement with the nature of photography’s visual language’; a more scholarly approach undertaken by masters and doctoral candidates at Australian universities; and the invention of an Australian photographic avant-garde.
In this context the topographical kind of photography, that was based on a reworking the large format 19th century colonial photography and its positivist underpinnings, had a peripheral position in relation to mainstream art practice in this period; even though it offered an alternative to the overspecialised, esoteric, and self-referential discourse of late modernism that denied that the representational status of the photograph had any importance.
What interests me about the archival work is that some of it was ensemble based. This represented turn away from the single image, photography’s affiliation with painting and printmaking, and to produce work designed for acceptance and judgement in the art institution; and a turn towards a shared ground with literature. In seek a photographic way out of the late modernist cul-de-sac of formalist closure I was informed by Alan Sekula’s 1984 Photography Against The Grain: Esays and photo works 1973-1983; a text that undercuts the art photography vs documentary photography duality to develop a critical social documentary.
Sekula argued that such an art would be called documentary insofar as it threw into question the myth of photographic truth, of the document as transparent record of fact; it would be realist only insofar as both its reflexivity about the medium and its social engagement contradicted the purportedly neutral objectivity of realism. Sekula recovers a tradition of twentieth century realism that had been lost or ignored in the midst of the embrace by the neo-avant-gardes of the 1960s-70s.