I am planning a large-format road trip to the Coorong where I work the 8×10 Cambo monorail, black and white film, and one 300mm normal lens. I will also have a 5×4 field camera with me to use with colour film and for when I am walking through the wetlands. The photo trip is to build material for the second part of the Edgelands project.
I will attend a workshop at Meningie run by the Centre for Culture, Land and Sea on the ecological state of the River Murray and Coorong on Sunday 3rd April. I will then drive to, and base myself at Salt Greek for 3 days. The work from this roadtrip will be part of a group exhibition at the South Coast Regional Arts Centre (in the historic Old Goolwa Police Station building). The exhibition is a part of the Alexandrina Council’s 2016 ‘Just Add Water’ program.
Before you think a road trip with an 8×10 monorail is crazy, here is a precedent from the 1980s: then Doug Spowart (using a Sinar P 8×10) and Maris Rusis (he was Queensland’s only committed 10×8 image-making practitioner at the time) did a road trip from Brisbane to Canberra, Kosciuszko and Suggan Buggan in the late 1980’s with 8×10 monorails. In his comments about this trip Doug says that:
On this journey we shared cheap motels and backpackers, red wine and erudite conversation. Loading large format film holders in the cramped spaces of motel wardrobes and borrowed darkrooms we ventured into the high country and along roadsides. Photographing in the field was in part an endurance in the sweltering heat of mid-summer’s noon-day sun under the focussing cloth, and the privations of only being able to make 6-8 photographs a day – but each image was unique… a triumphant moment… a personal vision of light.
He says that this body of work was done in Australian light and of Australian subjects far removed from the well-trodden ground of the American tradition. Spowart and Rusis referenced the American work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston Minor White, Emmet Gowan and others held in the National Gallery of Australia. His judgment was that what he and Rusis were achieving technically and conceptually matched anything that they saw in the gallery’s collection. Rusis has continued with large photography (eg., his fabulous distorted snow gums series) and some of his work from this trip was exhibited at FotoFrenzy Gallery in 2014. Spowart, in contrast, appears to have given up large format photography (in the 1990s) and very little of his work from this trip is online.
There has been a cultural shift between then and now, namely, we do not have to worry about the Americans, in the sense of comparing ourselves to them, or using them as a reference point, or being anxious about the masters sitting on our shoulder and casting a long shadow in front of us. What appeared to be universal then–photography per se— is now recognised to be regional at a particular time—American modernist photography— and it has little relevance to photographing in the Coorong from an ecological perspective.
My work takes its bearings from what I’ve already scoped from a previous visit, and from the insights gained from the scientists at the Meningie workshop about the ecological sustainability of the lower lakes and Coorong.