I ran the now defunct junk for code and public opinion blogs in the first decade of the 21st century, and these blogs were part of the post-20th century blog ‘moment’, with its hyperlinks, blog rolls and networks. Though this blog moment has long passed, it is worth looking back to see what has been lost. This is not for nostalgic reasons of looking back to golden times, but to recover some things from that moment that could both help us to address problems that we experience in the present, and to guide us to construct the future in an Australia that continues to devalue culture.
The blogging nexus of online self-publishing was at its most intense and generative for roughly a decade, from 2002 onward. Blogging was easy, it was free, it got more readers than you could from a zine and it sidestepped all the old means of distribution and cultural production. The energy of the blogosphere fostered an unofficial, de-commodified intellectual and visual culture. DIY book publishing –eg., like many books my Edgelands photobook —emerged out of the writing and photography in the blogosphere.
I currently persevere with the blog form in an attempt to keep the concept of the public alive outside of academia, social media such as Facebook, the commercial televisual mass media, and the decline of the surviving print papers. I also continue to use the photo blog form as a counter to the isolation and the feeling of weakness in the face of neo-liberal, capitalism’s consumer distractions, temptations and depressive hedonism. This isolation and weakness can lead to a particular interior, emotional state — a sort of debilitating emptiness, despair and resignation. A nullity if you like, which makes it difficult to continue being a creative artist/photographer.
This picture is of an early morning seascape made whilst standing on Rosetta Head in mid-winter. We are looking across Encounter Bay towards the Coorong National Park. This was the morning I was playing around experimenting with fuzzy seascapes learning to see what’s in front of me—what’s actually there, in all its existing complexity– and figuring out how to represent it.
We now live with a digital duality, which suggests that in fact no easy divide can be made between our online and offline lives. These two aspects of our lives are now so closely enmeshed with each other as to be inseparable.
The new and the old. Looking forward and looking back. Struggling with the new and nostalgic about the old.
These are limbo moments during the living with Covid-19. There is a now a ring of steel around Melbourne. What initially appeared to be a temporary time of a suspension of everyday life is now becoming a new normal. With the virus calling the shots, anxiety rises as the veneer of control to contain the spread of Covid-19 vanishes, whilst fear emerges about the capacity to deal with the subsequent economic fallout. The scars, we realize are going to last a generation.
How do we live well with a pandemic, the massive global disruption and closed state borders? The structural inequalities mean that some people clearly won’t be able to live well during the forthcoming era of transformation. What happens then? Will there be a shift to sustainability?
The new is the newsletter, the online gallery, the first exhibition and the forthcoming corner store.This is how I have initially kept myself busy during the Covid-19 lockdown. The next exhibition is on walking/photography and it is a part of the 2020 SALA Festivalin South Australia. The third exhibition is entitled Abstraction: Different Interpretations. This new is my initial response to self-isolation, living with the pandemic, and adjusting to the new normal of increasing untraced community transmission of Covid-19. It probably only a matter of time before it enters South Australia, despite its closed borders.
The old is the studio. Returning to what was. Looking inwards to the archive. Is this the start of a process of reflection and self-awareness as part of the process of gaining a different perspective on everyday life when the ground under our feet is shifting?
The picture above of the Leucosperum pincushion flower from our garden at Victor Harbor is from the archives. It was made with a Rolleiflex 6006 with close up lenses in the studio space at our home in Encounter Bay. The downstairs space had good natural light. Unfortunately, that space is no longer available for studio photography, and the studio equipment has been moved into a storeroom off the garage.
The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to my planned travels to both Lorne and the Great Otway National Park with the Friends of Photography Group in April, and to Melbourne’s CBD to continue working on the drossscape project with Stuart Murdoch in June. I found it astounding that a neo-liberal government committed to austerity and financial orthodoxy locked down whole sections of economic activity knowing that this turn to public health restrictions meant jumping over the cliff edge of the sharpest recession in modern history.
Melbourne has become a no go destination due to the city becoming a hotspot with an outbreak of community transmission in a number of suburbs; those areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship. A crucial source for the community transmission of Covid-19 was the security guard fiasco at the Melbourne quarantine hotels for those Australians returning from being overseas. The public health response to the failures in hotel quarantine infection control protocols was to reimpose restrictions on family and outdoor gatherings; a widespread testing blitz in the hotspot suburbs assisted by Australian defence force personnel; then a stage three lockdown of Melbourne itself.
I was absent from the book launch and the exhibition opening of Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. It took place just after Australia had put in place the Covid-19 restrictions for social distancing and social gatherings. I was in New Zealand at the time trying to return to Australia before New Zealand closed its borders. After I returned to Adelaide I went into the 14 day mandatory quarantine. After the quarantine finished we entered a world of lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections to prevent overloading the health system. The lockdown tempo was set by NSW and Victoria, the two worst affected states.
I have yet to see the exhibition and the books are largely unsold.
The background to the Adelaide Art Photographer’s project is here.
Due to the Covid -19 restrictions the opening was sparsely attended, the book launch was minimal, and the exhibition was opened only for a few hours. Then everything was closed down. However, the exhibition does have some online presence. There are the exhibition images, a walk through of the exhibition images by Paul Atkins and Adam Dutkiewicz and the exhibition opening address by Paul Atkins. Meanwhile the pandemic rages on, many lives are on pause, while many others end.
We are back in Australia in mandatory self-isolation after our time in New Zealand. We are in a bunker–a pleasant one- and we remain here for 14 days in response to the coronavirus pandemic.We now live in a world where, in the short run, we must live as if we are infected. Every social interaction contains the possibility of death. Dodging bullets in public. It appears that the culture of progressive modernity, that we have only unending development and improvement to look forward to, has been upended. . The masked figures everywhere on our news feeds constantly remind us of the LNP’s appalling fiasco of letting infected passengers from cruise ships go unchecked into the community; the evidence of a biosecurity collapse at airports and the way that Border Force and federal quarantine authorities dropped the ball. The LNP was the political party whose 10 years political rhetoric was ‘stop the boats’ and they couldn’t stop the one boat–a cruise ship– that mattered.
The first part of the trip in New Zealand was for me continue to photograph in Wellington and then to attend PhotoBook/NZ 2020. The second part was a two week holiday with Suzanne in the lower half of the South Island. Apart from walking inWellington I walked around the cities of Dunedin and Oamaru and then day walks around Lake Manapouri and on both the Hump Ridge Track and the Kepler Track when we were exploring Fiordland.
We arrived back in the midst of a Convid-19 pandemic with a vaccine over a year away and the LNP government belated jettisoning everything it ever believed about free markets, “sound” public finances, efficiency dividends and austerity to reduce the deficit to assume command economy powers to deal with the public health crisis it was slow to address. Too little, too late.
The walking in Wellington, Dunedin and Oamaru took the form of urban drifting—a dérive-poetics without goal or horizon, even though my time in acacia of these cities was short. The urban walks were made in the spirit of Walter Benjamin (who advised travellers to foreign cities to learn to lose their ways) with drifting, being something akin to a non-logocentric way of mapping and understanding the world.