I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. 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…
I have been slowly plugging away on the Tasmanian Elegies project. I have been going through my film archives and posting selected images on the Tumblr blog. I am up to my 2012 visit, but I think that there is a gap of 4-5 years before I return to Tasmania on a phototrip. It looks as if the project is starting to come together and that I will have enough images to start thinking in terms of a book for this project after ‘The Bowden Archives: memory, text, place’ is done and dusted. This is a project with a long gestation period.
I will probably enough images but it is the text that is going cause me trouble. Tasmanian Elegies is at odds with the emphasis on landscape photography in Tasmania, and that branch of landscape photography known as wilderness photography.I am probably going to have to go to a university library to access, and read what Roslynn D. Haynes in her Tasmanian Visions: Landscapes in Writing, Art and Photography (2006) has to say.
water tanks, Mt Lyell Mine, Queenstown
This emphasis on wilderness by Tasmanian photographers is understandable given the large number of wilderness areas in Tasmania, the ongoing threat to wilderness from the mining and timber industries and the environmental movements defence of wilderness in the face of these threats. Photography has become the chief visual instrument of environmentalists endeavouring to increase an awareness of the natural beauty and sublimity of Tasmania’s wilderness. Wilderness here is usually understood as an unpeopled wilderness. Continue Reading…
I had several days in Melbourne centred around working with Stuart Murdoch on Saturday editing the 80 or so images for the Bowden Archives book. Thanks to Stuart I now have a dummy of the book which I can show to various people to see how they react, their impressions and judgements.
Whilst in Melbourne I helped Helga Leunig set her stall up at the Other Art Fair at the Facility in Kensington; saw some Penelope Hunt’s images from her Remains to be Seen and Water Lilies projects at her stall in the Other Art Fair; managed to take a few snaps around Docklands; had some printing done at Magnet; heard about an upcoming Melbourne Photo Festival; saw the NGV’s Festival of Photography that featured Bill Henson and William Eggleston; meet up with both Eric Algra re the Mallee Routes project and friends from the Lajamanu trip; and was shown around Sunshine by Stuart Murdoch. I wasn’t able to make any photos for the Mallee Routes project on my way back from Melbourne to Adelaide.
However, late on Saturday afternoon Stuart and I went on a photo shoot on the Western Ring Road. It took us a while to access this location situated amongst the various freeways connected to the Western Ring Road for our topographical photo shoot:
Western Ring Rd, Melbourne
The photographic highpoint of the trip was this topographical photoshoot with Stuart even though it was very windy and the lovely afternoon autumn light had gone. We only had time to scope the location on this urban freeway corridor and to take a few photos with our medium format cameras. It’s a good location for a large format shoot with the right conditions: clouds, afternoon winter light and little in the way of a south westerly wind.
This brief photoshoot raised the question of a topographical approach to photography. What is it? In Andrew Sayer’s book Australian Art (2001) topographics refers to the colonial drawings that came out of naval and military culture and derived from the need got recognise coastlines. Often they are views from the water looking towards the shore. The standard reference point for contemporary Australian topographical photographers is the 1975 New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York which was curated by William Jenkins, where the photographers were mapping the built environment of the late 20th century American western landscape with its motels, housing developments, office parks, and endless parking lots.
In the catalogue essay Jenkins interpreted the exhibition images of the American West and Midwest as being “reduced to an essentially topographical state, conveying substantial amounts of visual information but eschewing entirely the aspects of beauty, emotion and opinion”. The subsequent reframing and restating of the exhibition 40 years latter interpret it as reinventing the genre of the landscape as the photographers grappled with finding a new idiom through which to represent the built environment. Continue Reading…
It is good to see that road trips –as distinct from the expedition, the field trip or travel photography –have started to become popular amongst Australian art photographers as distinct from the American road trip tradition, which largely happened after 1945 with its myths about driving west in the car to The Promised Land.
We can begin to think in terms of a photographic tradition of road trips in Australia as a genre: one that is framed by the modernists as the act of being on the road; the art of individuals–the lone photographer– producing discrete works; and the photograph as a self-contained work of art. The road trip is a part of a dream of being on the open road; the photography is an existential act of wrangling with an alien world, mastering it by anthologising it, and giving unique insights into what lay behind everyday appearances. The road trip genre tends to be biographical and personal.
A starting point for constructing this tradition, given the decline in the curatorial interest in photography in the 21st century, would be the 2014 exhibition, The Road: Photographers on the move 1970-85 exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art, even if it was confused about what constitutes a road trip–Robert Rooney photographing the same car in different locations around Melbourne–with its reference to the serial propositions of Ed Ruscha such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962)—is not a road trip. The 1985 cut off date meant that the exhibition did not include the latter road trip work by Trent Parke, Narelle Autio or the work of David Marks.
I am slowly working away on a road trip project and posting the images on my On the Road Tumblr blog. There are some more from the 1980s on my archival blog. Even though it is envisioned to be a book, this project is based on several trips and it currently has no title or theme. Liquid Moments? Oddly Squared? No Maps, No Plans? Easy Roads? Dark Lies the Road?
The image below of an altered landscape in the South Australian mallee is from the archives, and it one of the earliest of my road trip photos.
silo + tractor, SA Mallee
The South Australian photographer Che Chorley has a book in production from his 2016 Land Sea You Me road trip (bike trip) from Eucla in Western Australia to Nelson on the Glenelg River in Victoria. The Melbourne based Nathan Stolz is on his six months A Long and Winding Road road trip to explore and probe Australian identity and cultural difference in the the early 21st century. My work in the The Long Road to Lajamanu works within the road trip tradition.
There may well be other art photographers who have archives of road trip photos and/or are working on contemporary road trip projects in Australia that I don’t know about. Eric Algra comes to mind. Continue Reading…