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visual arts

critical writing, history

the modest vocation of photography?

June 26, 2017

I joined the library at Flinders University of South Australia as an alumni so as to  gain access to books that could help with my research for some of my photographic projects, such as  the  Tasmania Elegies and the Mallee Routes ones.  I also wanted to see how  photography had been incorporated into the  recent histories of the Australia visual arts after the boom in the 1980s and the postmodern revisions of modernism.   Was it now on a par with the traditional mediums of the visual arts within their  autonomous sphere,  and was it accorded the same art-historical tenets in the context of the coexistence of the multiplicity of styles and tendencies?

I started reading Christopher Allen’s  book Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism that was  published in 1997.  Allen is currently a national art critic for The Australian, and if  he is currently working  as a conservative art critic,  his 1997 text acknowledges that  Australian culture has received its styles from elsewhere. There have been  Australian impressionists, post-impressionists, cubists, surrealists, abstractionists, pop artists and postmodernists.

Allen’s argument is that no visual style is simply received: the history of Australian art, so far as it merits a history of its own, is the history of our adaptation of these foreign styles to our own unique purposes.  This grounds Australian art deep in the broader currents of Australian history. Art becomes part and parcel of the history of our coming to terms with our unique physical, social and political environment. Whatever you do, you inevitably implicate yourself in a specifically Australian set of concerns,  and  to deny these implications is simply to implicate yourself further.

Wentworth Forest, Tasmania

No photographers are included in the colonial period and Max Dupain, Ponch Hawkes and Sue Ford are  mentioned in passing.   In   his  last chapter on postmodernism Allen says that postmodern photographers, such as Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were unlike those photographers:

 who work grew out of of the observation and documentation of their social environment –which is after all perhaps photography’s  real, though modest vocation–these artists made picture of elaborately, prepared subjects….The most prominent of the photographer’s is, however, without a doubt, Bill Henson, if only because he achieves what is hardest for  the photographer–that is to construct an imaginary world: in his case it is a night-world of naked bodies, ruins and disaster.

Fair enough.   Yet there are no examples of a photography that is based on observation and documentation in his history.   Nor is there any consideration   of  the changing views of what constitutes observation and documentation in relation to visual composition and  the broader currents of Australian history;  or to the way that photography  represents  how Australians have come  to terms with their  unique physical, social and political environment.

So we can infer that, for Allen,   photography has a peripheral presence in  terms of the visual arts. Photography is not listed in the index of the text.  The core of the visual art in  Allen’s aesthetic rationality  is painting and photography is not considered to be  on a par  with the traditional mediums of the visual arts.  Continue Reading…

abstraction, critical writing, exhibitions

Abstraction x 5 book launch

August 16, 2016

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.

Abstract Photography

Abstract Photography

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…

colour, landscape, topographics

South Australian landscapes

May 21, 2016

Whilst  I am  travelling around,  and   camping in,   selected locations in South Australia and Victoria to photograph the silos   for the silo project,  I am slowly starting to broaden out to photograph the landscape that  the silos are situated in  along with the nineteenth century regional architecture . This is a photography of “what-has-been”, a tracing of some past moment as it were, but one that has an ongoing presence in the present, is part of an attempt to regain a historical understanding  of the region.

fence+lake, Coorong

fence+lake, Coorong

I have been looking at the  Geoff Wilson’s    South Australian landscapes as well as Eric Algra’s Postcards from Forgotten Places and Postcards in Colour  in the context of my South Australian regional landscape portfolio. Wilson and Algra have explored South Australia before me and they  have been exploring locations along  the roads that I’m starting to travel on. The work they have done acts as signposts in a  region that is largely unknown to me. Their digital imaging are  historical markers  in an image culture that is dominated by the mass media  whose feedback loop constitutes   a serious challenge to historical consciousness and critical thinking.

 Algra, for instance,  has extensively explored  the Mallee whilst on his trips between Melbourne and Adelaide and  his crisscrossing  the South Australian Mallee.   His  keen eye for what is significant  for  people living in the Mallee, and   his inputs into South Australia’s visual culture,  highlights  the richness of photography’s contribution to the way we see the world.  Algra’s  vernacular photography   is not part of the   academic writing and its conversation about photography in Australia because that writing  is still  primarily a narrative of photography’s aesthetic aspirations and the great names of the photographic canon. In Australia, like the United States, photography entered through art history and so  photographs were  studied as aesthetic objects using formalist methods.