abstraction, exhibitions, landscape, rocks

Photography, Landscape, Place

September 24, 2021

I have a few photos in this multimedia group Rock, Stone, Earth exhibition of rocks from the northern Flinders Ranges to the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. The exhibition is curated by Janine Baker and Stephen Johnson, it is at the Onkaparinga Art Centre in Port Noarlunga, and it is being opened by Vic Waclawik on Sunday 26th September.

Featured artists are: Quentin Gore, Stephen Skillitzi, the late Władysław Dutkiewicz, John Richardson, Adam Dutkiewicz, Janette Humble, Deborah Odell, Gary Sauer-Thompson, Tina Moore, Stephen Johnson and Janine Baker.

My photos of  rocks include those large format ones made from the daily poodlewalks  in  the area between Petrel Cove and Kings Headon the southern Fleurieu Peninsula; secondly,  those from the Flinders Ranges made whilst I was on  camel treks in South Australia (one  to Mt Hopeless in 2018 and one from Blinman to Lake Frome in 2021); and thirdly, those made on walks in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park in 2021.

The rocks in the northern Flinders Ranges are very old — some dating back to before the lower Cambrian period with its explosion of life after the great glaciation of the planet. The Flinders Ranges contain an exceptional and unique geological heritage. This geological heritage with its Ediacaran fossils is the basis for the nomination of the Flinders Ranges for world heritage listing.

rock face, Waitpinga, South Australia

This heritage is based on a depositional system known as the Adelaide Rift Complex or Adelaide Superbasin, which includes the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. The latter experienced a mountain building period around 500 million years ago that caused a substantial folding, buckling and faulting of the strata.

The rocks I photographed can be contextualized and linked by the geology of the Adelaide Superbasin in South Australia. The sedimentary rocks of the basin were deposited in a depression during the breakup of the supercontinent of Rodinia. The nature of the rocks suggest they were deposited in a mostly marine environment — a shallow sea — approximately 870 to 500 million years ago.

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exhibitions, film, landscape

large Format #3

August 17, 2021

David Tatnall has started an online gallery at View Camera Australia for analogue photos made with both medium and large format cameras. The first exhibition: —August 2021–is now up. It was based around recent work — made within the year to August 2021. I sent 3 images for submission to August 2021, and one of them entitled ‘sea sky earth’, was included in the exhibition. It was made with an old 5×7 Cambo SC 3 monorail in the late autumn/early winter of 2021. It was early in the morning on an over cast day.

The image below is an outtake –that is, one of the 3 images sent for consideration. It is of a local wetland in Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It was also made with a Cambo 5×7 SC3 monorail as a part of an ongoing series of photographing my local area. This is the traditional country of the Ngarrindjeri people.

Hindmarsh River estuary, Victor Harbor, 2021

There are some great images in the exhibition, and it showcases both the strength of large format photography and the diversity of analogue photography in Australia. The audience response to the online August 2021 exhibition has been extremely positive. As a result of the positive audience response David Tatnall plans to do another online exhibition in October. It is a good idea.

Hopefully these images will help to uplift the mood of the people in Sydney and Melbourne, who have been in lockdown for some time; and those people in Brisbane and Adelaide have been in and out of lockdown; and those in Canberra who have recently gone into lockdown. People are anxious and under stress with the rolling lockdowns, which are designed to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 by severely limiting people’s movement.

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archives, Melbourne, topographics

Stuart Murdoch + topographics

July 25, 2021

This second part of the interview with Stuart Murdoch picks up from the first part of the interview on the Thoughtfactory website. It brings to the fore the New Topographic tradition or movement as it developed in Australia. Stuart’s images below are part of an larger body of work.

GST: Now that we have a broad understanding of your project in relation to Melbourne photography  I thought that we might  zoom in on  some particular photos. Could you select 2-3 photos that are an important/significant  to you  in this project, and then talk about how you came to see, how you approached making it  and why it is significance for your project. The kind of photo that I have in mind is one that  represents a hurrah moment—ie., I’ve stopped stumbling around, its coming together and this photo points the way, or gives me confidence to continue working on the project in isolation.

SM: The way I now work means those hurray moments are few and far between. Picture choices in the early days were based on pictorial strengths and merits alone. Dipping back into my archive has proved fruitful and it helps me to look forward to attempt to capture changes before they occur. The subject matter that I pursue has not really changed in 30+ years of working with cameras, only the spaces themselves. Now in the 21st century revisiting these sites is important as they are markers of Melbourne’s development along with my own as a visual creative. 

The photo of St Albans (circa 1990) has had a significant impact on my work:

Stuart Murdoch, St. Albans, circa 1990.

I literally stopped the cab I was driving and pulled my kit out of the boot. I did this on occasion, on weekend day shifts in particular. While this image echoed aspects of Robert Adams’ work, it was for me a uniquely Melbourne suburban picture. By the way the site has radically altered in some way but is still the same in others.  

Grass fires in suburban Melbourne, and I’m sure in other large cities too, are a common thing. Especially in parts of the city close to the edge as was St. Albans in those days. So this picture has always held a prominent position in my mind. For all the elements captured, and the signs and signifiers it carried. The burnt grass, the powerlines the vehicular tracks, all these signs/man made marks demonstrated a use of the space and land that was and remains contemporary. It continually draws me back in even after nearly 30 years of looking at it as a contact image. I still on occasion drive past it, the changes are significant, but the space is still empty, and now near a major Arterial road, the M8 ring road.

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landscape, trees

landscape Now

June 9, 2021

The history of the representations of landscape in Australia was complex, if not contradictory, given that landscape is a contested term, meaning very different things to different people. The modernists, for instance, held that landscape was an anachronistic genre, part of a old, privileged gum tree tradition ‘overthrown’ by Modernism. Landscape as a term should be abandoned it was held. Currently, landscape is often viewed in the art institution to be of little or no relevance in our overwhelmingly urban, more or less progressive, global culture.

On the other hand, the view that the visual representations of landscape (the bush) were deemed to be old fashioned and irrelevant only lasted until various modernists — such as Nolan, Boyd, Williams — turned to representing the landscape after stepping outside the capital cities into what they called the Outback or the dead centre. Then the visual representations of landscape became okay and their representations were not ideological ie., it was not embedded in ideology. Landscape is the framed view whose paradox islandscape is that it is both what is other to the human subject: land, place, nature; and yet, it is also the space for projection, and can become, therefore, a sublimated self-portrait or a field of dreams.  

on location: Otway National Park, Victoria

This contradictory history of modernism has dissolved in three ways. Firstly, is the idea of topographics as a ‘man-altered landscape’ that emerged after the influential New Topographics exhibition in 1975 at George Eastman House. Secondly,  we can understand the representation of ‘landscape’ as the means by which artists engage with issues of place, with questions about our location in the world – a location which is always, as Merleau-Ponty made clear, originally grounded in our immediate bodily location. 

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black + white, critical writing, Melbourne, photography, topographics, urban

Interview: Stuart Murdoch

May 7, 2021

I have decided to do the odd interview with photographers whose work I find interesting and who are interested in engaging in a conversation about their work. ‘Interviews’ will only be an occasional feature of the Thoughtfactory blog. This, the first in the series, is with Stuart Murdoch.

Stuart is a Melbourne based photographer. He has adopted a topographic mode of working, continues to run a couple of photography blogs (one on photography and one on Sunshine); is a member of the Melbourne Photobook Collective; and an administrator of the Australian and New Zealand Topographics group on Flickr. He and I have occasionally collaborated around a rethinking documentary photography project.

Gary Sauer-Thompson (GS-T)

Thanks for offering to do the interview on your industrial Melbourne photos  Stuart. The interview  will be posted on the Thoughtfactory blog and it maybe cross posted to the blog of View Camera Australia.  My observation of what is happening in photo-land is that most photographers in Australia traditionally talk about a particular print,  or about their technique,   or their equipment,  despite,  or in spite of,  the art world being conceptually orientated since conceptual art in the 1960s.  This traditional photo land approach strikes me as an unhelpful way to make sense of  your industrial photos of Melbourne series, which has been ongoing for a decade or more. A more fruitful approach is to shift the emphasis  to understanding your series of photos as a project.  

Can you describe what this project is (ie., the idea behind the project),  what you are trying to do with making this project and how has it evolved over time.  If it has evolved over time, how  has this changed the way you have have approached  photographing industrial Melbourne.  Can you describe what  photographic and or  literary or cultural influences  have  informed your photography, and how have these shaped the way that have understood both the project and they way you approached the photography.

Stuart Murdoch (SM) Thanks for the invitation Gary, and what a great set of questions to kick off with.

Initially I never set out to photograph the industrial in Melbourne. Like many students starting out I aspired  to making work that was considered valuable and usually pictorially conservative subject matter. At University I discovered Robert Adams, and The New Topographic Exhibition in 1977 1. I never looked back and continue working in this way to this day. I have seen enough of each of the photographer’s work, leading up to and after the exhibition, to gain an understanding and appreciation of ideas being put forward by William Jenkins2

Stuart Murdoch, Port Melbourne, looking west, 1990

Robert Adams especially has for me been particularly inspiring. I have quite a few of his monographs and other books. His early essays, helped clarify in my own mind something I’d seen around me, since my early days of photography in the late 1980’s, but was unable to articulate, until, as he suggests in one of his essays, I found a map and compass and sent out to find my own way. Adams’ ideas about hope are central to how I approach my photography.

The idea that the urban was worthy of photographing was revelatory. But I wanted more than a dispassionate  view that Jenkins espoused to frame the approach to the New Topographics. The question I asked myself  was it; or is it ever, possible to photograph one’s own place with “dispassionate neutrality”? 3 I would argue that it is not. Though the New Topographic Photographers  like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, may have approached or attempted to approach their work from a neutral and distant style, my own work is more ardent.

Stuart Murdoch, Melbourne, 1989

This place — Melbourne — is my home.

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