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 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…
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 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…
The idea of linking the spatial turn in the humanities to my 1980s photos emerged whilst I was exploring my photographic archive for the proposed Adelaide Art Photography: 1970-80 book to be published by Moon Arrow Press. Noticing a shift in my photography from street to topographics, I started to make connections in my archive blog to the spatial turn in the humanities in relation to the landscape and space that had emerged in the 1980s. This spatial turn refers to the landscape and space being understood in terms of them being socially constructed and continuously reshaped.
The factory in this photo, which was situated near the railway bridge has long gone. So have the mangroves, replaced by a housing development that was designed to revitalise Port Adelaide. This then is an urbanscape whose history is that of being continuously transformed by the power of capital since the 19th century. It is not a landscape the traditional English sense of a picture of natural inland scenery, or the Australian sense of a national landscape painting associated with Romanticism as in the Heidelberg School. Landscape in this traditional sense usually veils historically specific social relations behind the smooth and often aesthetic appearance of “nature. The tradition of the landscape in the visual arts acts to “naturalize” what is deeply cultural, social and economic.
mangroves, Port River estuary
The emphasis of the Port Adelaide photography, which is on place and the mapping of place, is a part of the tradition of chorography that seeks to understand and represent the unique character of individual places. In chorography, the skills of the artist (painter and writer) were more relevant than those of the astronomer and mathematician, which were critical in geography. Choreography is a part of the pictorial topographic mapping tradition. Continue Reading…