Another 8×10 road trip will be taking place next week. This time it is a road trip through the Mallee in South Australia and Victoria in order to photograph the silos along the Mallee Highway. I will be camping at Ouyen in Victoria with Gilbert Roe. Let’s hop the weather has cooled down by then.
I scoped this last year during the spring when I was on my Canberra trip with both the digital Sony NEX-7 and the old Rolleiflex SL66. I will be using an 8×10 camera ( for black and white) and a 5×7 camera ( for colour). The project works in the tradition of the aesthetic as a realm of experience being separate from the instrumental thinking of both daily life and the market’s economic reason.Though the approach is historical in orientation it will be quite different to the road trips of David Marks between 2001-6 where he used Diana and Polaroid cameras.
I cannot remember the individual silos in the small towns.For instance I cannot recall which town on the Mallee Highway this particular silo is in that I made with the Rolleiflex SL66. Maybe it was around Walpeup or Underbool in Victoria:
I never took any notes on the trip. I was just scoping the various silos to see if this economic architecture could constitute a conceptual type photography project—-something along the lines of ’13 silos on the Mallee Highway’. It is conceptual in the sense that I first came up with the title, then proceeded to photograph the subject on one of my road trips from Adelaide (my hometown) to Tooleybuc just south of the River Murray . The work of art is to be the book itself, simply but carefully designed.
However, unlike Ed Ruscha’s 1960’s book, Twentysix Gasoline Stations, where the photographs inside the book looked as if the artist had merely pointed the camera out the car window in order to fulfill the requirements of the textual phrase, my silo photos will not be deadpan photographs. The serial representations of the various silos on the specific locations along the Mallee Highway will look carefully composed, as in the Becher’s tradition.
The Bechers worked with a group of shots of one specific type of architectural structure (gas tanks, grain silos or elevators, water towers, blast furnaces, storage barns) would be displayed together, either in a monograph or hung in a grid, in order to create a placed an emphasis on formal comparison or “typology”–a “typology” of architectural form. This archival schema incorporates the past into the present and points that present to a future.
It is the “concept” that drives the Becher’s work—the concept that there are families of industrial forms, that utilitarian architecture can be appreciated for its aesthetics, and that these buildings can be re-framed and re-presented as sculptures. The other other major element in the Bechers’ work is memory, or preservation; albeit memory entirely devoid of sentimentality or nostalgia, for their consistently straightforward style prevents the injection of emotion into any of the images. As viewers of their photos we have no idea if the factory in front of us still stands today, or was leveled years ago.
I am taking up a particular past in the Mallee and rearticulating it with a new and different force in the present. It is a project about modernisation not globalisation, and though the silos are to be photographic straight on, there is a melancholic mode due to a sense of loss associated with opening up the Malle for farming. It is an attempt to hold on to and find delight in the great beleaguered promise of Australia’s agricultural modernity’s past over and above the critique of that past that is still vital in the present.
Beyond the conceptual book —13 silos on the Mallee Highway’–-lies an archive of these industrial forms structured around a dream of history.