Looking back over 2021 I can see that the Delta strain of the Covid-19 pandemic had a large impact on my large format photography during 2021. South Australia’s borders were closed throughout 2021 and that meant my photo trips had to be within South Australia’s state borders. Even so, apart from a 12 day camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome plus walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, I stayed close to home in Victor Harbor. The exception was a trip to Melbourne and a visit to the Otways between Melbourne’s two lockdowns.
My large format photography in 2021 has been mostly done within my local area, with much of it being representations of the roadside vegetation along the back country roads. These roads are ones that I often walked along with the poodles in the early morning or the late afternoon. An example of the early morning:
The other reason that I didn’t really do that much large format photography throughout 2021 was that the public health restrictions designed to eliminate Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to concentrate on working on the images and text The Bowden Archives and Industrial Modernity project. This mostly involved researching and working on the text of the four sections of the project, and that meant sitting in front of the computer screen for most of the day, day after day.
Xmas 2021 was my self-imposed deadline for finishing the text. Then I could take a holiday break. It happened — just.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.