architecture, black + white, Mallee, South Australia

Mallee Routes outtake

December 6, 2016

Whilst working through my archives of the photography that I did in the 1980s  when I lived in Bowden, Adelaide I came across this outtake from the Mallee Routes exhibition that Eric, Gilbert and I had at Atkins Photo Lab in October/November 2016. It was an outtake since I eventually decided that I didn’t want to exhibit any large format black and white photos in this particular  exhibition.

ruins, Mantung, SA

ruins, Mantung, SA

In looking back to this period I relaxed that  I came to Adelaide in the 1970s  in  an attempt to escape from the influence of the high seriousness of American modernism that was then sweeping through the newly established photographic galleries. The modernist aesthetic in the US and Australia was established as the “institutional art” supported by the political establishment and championed by cultural conservatives, and thus the antithesis to the avantgardism that closely accompanied modernism’s diffusion in Europe. The post-modern movement in the US can be interpreted as the American version of the avantgarde when it began to take shape in the 1970s and it suggested “new directions and new vistas”  for artists in  cultural politics.

 This period was the tail end of   formalist modernism and industrial capitalism. If it  was  prior to  the emergence of postmodernism in Australia it was the beginning of  the  new era of  postmodernity, then  marked by the Reagan/Thatcher era, the process of de-industrialization,   the advent of economic deregulation, the new salience of globalisation, the emergence of finance capitalism and a neo-liberal mode of governance.

In the ’80s there were other forms of art or of experience that seemed to exist outside the capitalist system, that resisted commodification, however provisionally or temporarily. Indeed, whole aesthetics, from Adorno’s notion of the negative to Left ideas of subversion, were based on the premise that there could be some kind of non-commodified art.The language was about art being a  domain of contestation, resistance, activism, with the aesthetic seen as establishing  a  critical distance.

 This is no longer the case today. Postmodernism is no longer with us.  Postmodernity, a new stage of capital, is globalisation conceptualized as an economic and cultural (read aesthetic) phenomenon. Today   everything has become, or is in the process of being commodified.  There  is little space for forms of art  that resist commodification, despite the implosion of finance capitalism and the global financial crisis. Capitalism has wholly saturated our world,  we struggle to understand the deeper logic of the new global system or its cultural logic.  The idea of art establishing a critical distance  appears outmoded.
Living in Bowden in the 1980s meant that I was disconnected from the  iconoclasm of postmodernism in the US with its dismantling of the dichotomies of modernism–eg.,high and low cultural forms, avantgarde and kitsch, abstraction vs. representation, present vs. past, etc. What prevails in  the  American discourse on the postmodern is the aesthetic, with its narrative of realism-modernism-postmodernism. I was a naive  realist photographer whose only contact with postmodernism was through the published conference papers  from  the humanities in Sydney,  whose academics were engaged with the texts of  Foucault, Kristen, Lacan  and Derrida.
The postmodern humanities  in Sydney, Australia were associated largely with a canon of post-structuralist texts imported as ‘French theory.’




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  • Reply stuart December 7, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Gary I began my serious ‘education’ in the arts in the late 80s at the height of Post Modernism. From my perspective as a student it was considered something that we just “put up with”. I carried on making my own art the way I wanted make it. Something I continue to do today. My sales however are zero. I don’t care about this. I will continue to create images that satisfy my own creative desires, and use any and all means to get the work out there for anyone who cares to see it. This includes online, photographic prints, photographic books, and any other way I can afford and find the time to do. I plan on continue on this path for the remainder of my life.

    • Reply Gary Sauer-Thompson December 7, 2016 at 9:46 am

      Stuart, this post is a bit of a sketch for my The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia weblog, which is a working through my photographic archive from the 1980s and an attempt at recalling my memory of what I was thinking about photography at that time.The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia is a draft of a book project that I am doing with Moon Arrow Press in 2017. I’m just assembling the raw material, as it were.

      It’s good that you stand by your work. We need to. However, we also need to understand the photographic culture that we are a part of, and immersed within. My criticism of Melbourne’s educational photographic institutions in that period is that they didn’t help me to understand what modernism or postmodernism was. You “put up” with postmodernism in Melbourne and I “fled” from American modernism in Melbourne.

      The failure of these institutions to help us understand such broad cultural movement is a big mark against them. I don’t know whether RMIT is different today but the CCP in Adelaide reminds of Melbourne’s photographic education institutions in the late 1970s and 1980s.

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