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 makes 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 recently become involved in a new project entitled Our-Waters, which is about the River Murray and the photographic archives of the Godson Collection held by the State Library of South Australia. Some background to the project is here on my Our Waters Our Country blog, which, for now, is loosely associated with the Our Waters project.
As it is still early days in the project, it has no public profile (ie., there is no website) to inform people what is happening. However, a recent update on the state of play of the Our Waters project is on this blog post. This indicates that this photography is not what Rebecca Solnit calls eco-porn: photography that celebrate the ‘untouched beauty’ of nature associated with the nature tourism and calendars that view our land and rivers as a place of wildness and wilderness.
Lake Alexandrina, 2011
It is an opportune time to start such a project given the recent report on the ecological state of the Coorong by the Goyder Institute. The ecological condition of the Coorong has been steadily degrading since European “settlement” due to upstream water extractions, and the Millennium Drought was a major disturbance causing a rapid decline in condition. Whilst the relatively recent increase in natural and managed inflows to the Coorong through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have improved the ecological condition of the North Lagoon, the ecological condition of the South Lagoon has not recovered, or it has continued to decline. As Mary E. White wrote in her Running Down – Water in a Changing Land (Kangaroo Press, 2000):
The continuing saga of the extraction of massive amounts of water from inland rivers to satisfy the escalating demands of the irrigation industry is Australia’s most serious, and ultimately potentially most disastrous water-related issue. It is a battle between two essentially irreconcilable attitudes to land use.
To speak plainly, the Murray-Darling Basin has been, and is being, managed to benefit the irrigators. Continue Reading…
Although I have a rudimentary studio set up at Encounter Studio (with a 8×10 Sinar P, a table and window light) most of the still life images that I do of the subject matter around the coastal neighbourhood at Victor Harbor are in open air settings. The method of working is simple. The locations and subject matter are selected whilst I am on the morning or evening poodle walks, I take some scoping photos with the digital camera (an old Sony NEX-7) and, if they work, I come back and reshoot them with a film camera.
This kind of studio work is a break from my topographic approach to photography that I do for the Mallee Routes project. This is an early example, probably one of the first images made in an open air, coastal studio:
bottle + shells, Petrel Cove
The bottle had been washed on Dep’s Beach, which is west of Petrel Cove, and I carried it back to Petrel Cove on the return leg of the poodlewalk. I set it up amongst some rocks, and made some digital pictures. I then hid the bottle amongst some rocks so that people wouldn’t find it and the high tide wouldn’t carry it back to sea.
As mentioned here and here I had an opportunity to do some aerial photography in late November along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula thanks to Chris Dearden and his recreational Sonex motor-glider (a Xenos). We flew from the privately owned Goolwa airport to the mouth of the River Murray, then turned west and flew to Newland Cliffs in Waitpinga, then flew back to Goolwa. This was the first time that I’d done any aerial photography outside of a few snaps on various commercial flights.
I was stunned by the beauty of this part of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula coastline from the air. It sure looked very impressive.
Mouth of the River Murray
I just could not resist making a photo of the mouth of the Murray River with the two dredges working full time to keep the mouth of the river open. Water should be flowing through the mouth and into the Coorong, given the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the water buybacks to increase the environmental flows of the river and the dredges not needed.
What we have learned recently is that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is incompetent and that the NSW state government and bureaucracy have been complicit in water theft and meter tampering. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority knew about the theft of water for environmental flows by some irrigators for cotton growing in northern NSW and it did nothing. Same for the Queensland government. There is a long history of state governments in the Murray-Darling Basin turning a blind eye to excessive water extraction by irrigators. Continue Reading…
I really do struggle with my landscape photography in and around Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia, even though I do a lot of scoping for it. I struggle in the sense of having both a lots of doubts the value of this working and a lack of confidence in what I am doing —with both the coastal work and the roadside vegetation. So I don’t get very far with working the Fleurieuscapes project as I am not sure what I am doing with it.
I only have confidence in the abstraction side of this photographic project. The work process is now routine and I am quite comfortable with it. I make a digital study of the object, sometimes convert the colour digital file to a black and white one, and then spend some time assessing the image for possibilities for a 5×4 photo session. Is it worth doing? If so, what is the best way to approach this? This is an example of the work process –some granite rocks on the beach at Petrel Cove.
granite study for 5×4
I have sat on this image for a couple of months at least. In fact I scoped it a year ago and I’d left it sitting on the computer. I re-scopped it earlier this year when I was walking around exploring Petrel Cove whilst on a poodlewalk. I remembered that I had previously photographed this bit of rock and that I wasn’t happy with what I had done, but I had thought that it had possibilities for a black and white 5×4 photoshoot using the baby Sinar (F2). So I re-scoped it. Continue Reading…