film, landscape

gloomy landscapes

January 10, 2016

This was my first attempt at a dark landscape.  It  is roadside vegetation in Waitpinga on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula on a no through road that I would often walk down with the standard poodles.  It was made in 2013,  and I  didn’t really know what I was doing apart from not photographing the beautiful.

I wasn’t photographing the tree per se that is  the grotesque  or formlessness as a way to explore alternative modes of expression to that of the beautiful,  pastoral landscapes that celebrate the dominion of mankind over nature,  and the picturesque.  I was  more attracted by the gloominess  of what was left of the native scrub or bush in relation to the field  for the grazing cattle. If the  field represented the “mastering” and “possessing”  of wild nature, then the roadside vegetation was all that left of  the bush. It was to be brooding. That’s about it.

gloomy landscape 1

gloomy landscape 1

I hadn’t connected this first take at gloomy landscapes  to Australian  photographers  working in the Gothic tradition, or those who recognised the Gothic nature of the Australian landscape. I must have felt I was doing something different that was worth exploring as I did black and white interpretations,  and  then  I went back and did some large format versions in both colour (5×4)  and black and white (8×10).  It was vaguely  something to do with Romanticism and the sublime; vaguely  because the roadside vegetation in Australian today was a long, long  way from Casper David Friedrich’s 1818 painting  of the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog and Kant’s subject affirming concept of the sublime. All the  photographic interpretations that I made of the roadside vegetation at Waitpinga involved the  contra-jour  (shooting into the light) technique, and none of them were made at twilight. Some were made early in the morning  just before it started to rain. I wasn’t thinking  about making photos at twilight as I was more attuned to the early morning or late afternoon light. Photography was about light not gloom.

Latter that year,  when I was staying at American River on  Kangaroo Island, I   did make a dark landscape closer to  twilight time.  But I was still thinking in terms of lovely  soft light  as well as gloominess. After viewing the image of the scanned negative on the computer screen I realised that you can’t really have it both ways.

road, American River

road, American River

I didn’t know what a dark or gloomy landscape was supposed to represent; nor did I connect it to a sense of disquiet or to the uncanny,  the way that the Gothic tradition was linked to   colonialism and white settlement  in Australia, or those Australian photographers  working in the Australian Gothic tradition. I didn’t even know that there was an Australian Gothic tradition.

What I did have in mind then was the on-going eclipse of the natural through the clearing of the land for farming.   This eclipse is felt keenly in South Australia,  which  continues to rely on the  water from the River Murray, which  is in slow and steady decline  due to the water taken by  irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. It was only latter that I started becoming aware of the aboriginal absence in  both the pastoral landscape and in the mediascape’s  flow of  popular and tourist images of  the Fleurieu Peninsula.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Fleurieuscapes: Outtake 3 - Thought FactoryThought Factory January 15, 2016 at 11:42 am

    […] forever-long summer days of   Joel Meyerowitz’s  1979 book Cape Light or  the gloomy or  dark landscapes of the Gothic […]

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