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 taken the plunge and started selecting the images I have made whilst on my coastal poodlewalks and putting them into a Lightroom folder as the next step towards constructing a photobook. I have been publishing some of these images on my Littoral Zone weblog, which I had set up in order to help me figure out what I am doing with the photographs that have been made almost on a daily basis. These are simple, low key photographs of humble things and fleeting moments encountered on my various poodle walks.
Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, SA, 2013
Since the photos in the poodlewalks blog were images-in-text, the concept behind the photobook is a visual poetics, or more accurately a photo-poetics; one that explores word image (textual-pictorial) relations. The book as a photo-text breaks with both the idea of the photographic image as a record of objects or events in the real world as in photojournalism’s narratives, and the standard conception of the photobook being images with minimal or no text. It is part of what Liliane Louvel, the French theoriest, calls an iconotext in which text and image merge in a pluriform fusion.
Such an approach breaks with a formalist modernism, as that held held that the literary and visual arts are substantially different and mutually exclusive; a view that reaches back to Lessing’s Laocoon with its distinction between the literature as a temporal art and the visual as a spatial art. With the decay of formalist modernism these rigid boundaries were breached with many theorists and artists positioning themselves against Lessing’s rigid borders. The mutual interdependence of images and words and the impure and mixed mediality of visual as well as verbal artifacts are now widely accepted in our visual culture. Photography-in-text is a hybrid product that gives rise to a hybrid textual genre–an intermedial photo-text. Continue Reading…
I was unable to participate in the Unless You Will conference or symposium at RMIT in Melbourne that took place during 17-19th February 2017. This was unfortunate for me, since the symposium was designed as a physical meeting place for art photographers, but it was one without an online conversational dimension. So I am currently in the dark about what took place or what the key ideas that were presented and debated.
Though I know that Unless You Will was founded by Heidi Romano, who also directed the inaugural Photobook Melbourne festival, I am out of the loop. For example, I failed to submit my Abstract Photography: re-evaluating visual poetics in Australian modernism and contemporary practice book for the 2017 Australian Photobook of the Year Award. I just didn’t know about the award. I felt that I should have, given my shift away from exhibitions towards producing photobooks.
Lyonville abstract, 2016
The blurb for the Unless You Will conference says that this symposium seeks to cultivate interaction and connection within photography:
As a kind of visual meeting place or think-tank it provides is an opportunity for the photographic community to share different practices, gain insights into other artists’ work and inspire critical discussion around emerging trends and ideas in photography and visual culture….The aim of the symposium is to search for avenues beyond the traditional in presenting photography.
The central aim of the Unless You Will project is to connect Australian photo creatives with their overseas counterparts around visual storytelling. That suggests that the photographers involved with, or connected to Unless You Will, are working within the tradition of long-form documentary storytelling. Continue Reading…
Abstraction x 5 is a forthcoming group exhibition that opens at the Light Gallery in Adelaide, Sunday 2nd October. The exhibition builds on my 2015 Australian Abstraction exhibition at the Light Gallery in Adelaide. Abstraction x 5 features work by Adam Dutkiewicz, Beverley Southcott, Graeme Hastwell, Stuart Murdoch and myself.
Adam Dutkiewicz and myself will be launching our book on abstract photography, which is published by Moon Arrow Press, at the opening of Abstraction x 5. The book recovers the abstractions produced by Adelaide based photographers in the 1950s -1970s and it establishes a tradition by linking this to some of the work in my Australian Abstractions exhibition in 2015.
Adam and myself plan to make this the first in a series of photography books. The next book planned features some of the underground photographers in Adelaide from the 1970s to 2000. Underground in the sense that the photographers produced a body of work that was largely ignored by the established galleries. Continue Reading…
This abstraction of the granite rocks at Kings Head, which is near Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia, is another out take from the Fleurieuscapes exhibition at Magpie Springs. One reason for this image not making the cut is that I decided that there would be no abstractions in the exhibition, given my 2015 Australian Abstraction exhibition at the Light Gallery in Adelaide during the SALA Festival. Another reason for its exclusion is that the people helping me to curate the pictures for the exhibition judged that the image was too forbidding and austere. It was a part of the grotesque mode of expression in the visual art and it didn’t really fit in the exhibition.
This exhibition is part of the emerging trend in contemporary art photography in Australia and New Zealand that shows a marked and widespread interest in landscape. There has been a tendency to trivialise and overlook landscape photography, including the photography of wilderness.
rock abstract, Kings Head
The textual background to the exhibition is that the genre of landscape has been desperately unfashionable across the arts for so long, the preserve of the Sunday painter and the happy tourist snapper. While the photographic canon includes the greats of landscape photography, more recently photographers have tended to avoid a genre that is so easily linked to the vernacular (ie., happy snappers and tourism) and so difficult to connect to serious intent.