The Abstraction Newsletter #3

quartz abstrac Kings Head


The third Thoughtfactory newsletter (November 2020) is written by Dr. Gary Sauer-Thompson. It comes at time when American citizens voted Donald Trump out of office, the surge in community transmissions in Melbourne has reached zero, and state borders within Australia are finally being re-opened.

The significant date in Melbourne's long lockdown, which had caused much suffering uncertainty and hardship, was the 8th November. This when the 25 kilometre rule and the “ring of steel” border separating the city from regional Victoria was removed. Melbournians are now able to live the new Covid normal as the rest of Australia - living with outbreaks and isolated cases, social distancing, and an effective public health system of rapid testing, tracing, isolation, and support. New Zealand continues to show the way.

The national policy emphasis in Australia has shifted from public health to repairing the economic damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Opening up the locked-down economy--recharging the economy---is now the policy imperative. The federal Coalition government has little choice but to spend on a vast scale, and to hope that its policy of returning to economic growth via tax cuts, the private sector and a gas-led recovery, is successful. The assumption and hope is that businesses will retain and hire new staff amid an economic crisis.

The Covid-19 recession’s impact is being felt acutely by people who have lost their jobs or watched their small businesses go under. They need immediate assistance along with investment in social need – from social housing to early learning, from disability support to investment in aged care. Though the Morrison government's policy is that business and private investors must take the lead in the recovery, not the government, they have decided to continue putting a reduced amount of cash in the bank accounts of unemployed Australians until March 2021. This is sensible policy as the unemployed will mostly spend the extra money on food, rent and other essentials and this money would quickly circulate through the economy.

However, there was limited funding for arts and culture in the Coalition Government's October budget, and a failure to provide a roadmap to restore and grow the sector. It appears that the Coalition Government has little interest in addressing the long-term decline in funding for the arts. My response has been Light Paths, a DIY public space and potential resource hub to help foster South Australia art photography. It is placed based, community orientated, and structured around field trips and exhibitions. It has its own newsletter, which you can sign up to. Your feedback will be much welcomed.



The first online exhibition at Encounters Gallery (namely, The Covid-19 exhibition) is now archived. So is the second one entitled Walking/ Photography.

The current online exhibition is Abstractions: Different Interpretations featuring work by Adam Jan Dutkiewicz and myself. The exhibition builds on, and links back to, our earlier collaborations in exhibitions and the Abstract Photography photobook that we produced in 2016 with Moon Arrow Press. The background text in the exhibition refers back to the tradition of modernist, abstract painting in Adelaide.

The quartz and granite image below is an outtake from my portfolio in the Abstraction exhibition. It was made with a 5x4 Linhof Technika IV camera along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. The location is Waitpinga (my local area), and the photo was made during the Covid--19 lockdown that placed travelling to work on the Mallee Routes project on hold. The photo was made on an late afternoon poodlewalk with Maleko. He was very patient.

Quartz abstract, Waitpinga

The forthcoming exhibition at Encounters Gallery will be on Tasmania and at this stage it will feature some of my work, and that of Warren Dawson, a Launceston based photographer. My photos will be based around the open cut Mt Lyell mine in Queenstown. In doing some research on old photos of the mine I came across some old posts re the Mt Lyell Mine on an old blog of mine.

The image below is a detail of the grounds in the old public secondary school in Queenstown, Tasmania. It is an outtake from my portfolio of photos in the Tasmanian exhibition, and it was made with a 5x4 Linhof Technika IV camera.
I have also submitted work to the call out by Light Paths for work for an online exhibition entitled The 2020 Exhibition. This exhibition is designed to kickstart the Light Paths project.


I am using the forthcoming Tasmanian exhibition at Encounters Gallery to ease myself into the Tasmanian Elegies photobook. I am currently going through the archives, selecting images, and posting them on a Tumblr blog of the same name.

I am in talks with a book designer to rework the material on the Tumblr blog so that it is more suitable for a book format. The photographs for the project are done, and it is now a question of finding the money to finance the design and printing of the book.

Whilst going through the archives I found this landscape at Gormanston on the slopes of Mt Owen. It was made with a 5x4 Linhof Technika IV camera. The town was built in the 1890s for the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company operations for the Iron Blow open cut copper mine. It is now a ghost town and the buildings are decaying.
Gormanston landscape

The Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company helped to secure Tasmania's economic independence in the late 1800s through extracting copious amounts of copper and significant amounts of silver and gold.

The mine left behind an environmental nightmare - acid rain and mine tailings turned the Queen River and lower King River into veritable rust sludge and dead rivers. Queenstown's mountains showed the town's mining heritage for decades - the combination of tree removal for use in smelters and the smelter fumes themselves stripped them back to a naked "moonscape". The once denuded hills are slowly becoming a thing of the past.


In contrast to the Abstractions: Different Interpretations exhibition, the Tasmanian photo book is place based. As mentioned in an earlier email this will be explored with an essay on Heidegger, technology and place.

What happened in Queenstown is a good example of what Heidegger calls Gestell or ‘enframing’ that creates a system which values and finds meaning in mere utility alone. The technological transformation of the world that occurs in modernity enframes both nature and humans in terms of consumption, productivity, preference and utility. This contemporary situation is not the result of a process over which we, either collectively or individually, have mastery.

On Heidegger's account the desire for mastery, and the appearance of the entire world as potentially subject to control, is itself an integral element in the particular formation of the world that is technological modernity. Technological modernity is understood in terms of a specific modification of time and space that reduces the thing to a mere resource and place to simple location.

Heidegger’s critique of technology is tied to a topological analysis in which Heidegger’s account of dwelling and place (topos) is an integral part. Heidegger's philosophy can be interpreted as placing the emphasis on the situated, placed, character of being and of existence. The nature of human being is intimately tied to place, and dwelling is Heidegger's name for the topological mode of being that belongs to human beings; not merely the human in some selected historical period, but to the human as such.

Heidegger holds that the artwork opens up a world and discloses the various elements within that world's network of interconnections. The Greek temple or the bridge across the Rhine unify the various elements that together make up a world. The poetic power of the artwork evokes and sensuously discloses the world in which the object depicted in the picture is situated or embedded.

stilllife,  wing


The closure of South Australia's border with NSW and Victoria, due to Covid -19 has meant that my Mallee Routes roadtrips to continuing exploring the Mallee beyond South Australia have been put on hold.

There was a roadtrip in mid-September. It was based around a 5 day camp at Clare with friends who are walking the Lavender Trail in South Australia. The trail winds its way for 325 kilometres from Murray Bridge to Clare. Whilst Suzanne and her friends walked the trail daily around Clare during the 5 days of the camp, I went off photographing in what is known as the mid-north of South Australia.

I explored around the Tothill Ranges area; photographed in the Burra Creek Gorge Reserve (World's End) and wandered along the Goyder Highway. Below is a picture of the Mannum-Whyalla pipeline in the Tothill Range.

Mannum-Whyalla pipeline
Many towns in regional South Australia have historically depended on water piped from the River Murray. Eventually some of the coastal ones, such as Whyalla, will need to make the switch to obtaining their water from desalinisation plants, due to the decreasing rainfall in south-eastern Australia caused by climate heating.

From the blogs

As mentioned in previous newsletters I publish a number of photographic blogs to help filter my work into low key projects that explore the prose of modernity. The pictures below are a selection of recent images from some of the blogs:
still life with shells
am light, Waitpinga
granite, Dep's Beach
Edgeland, Waitpinga
Torrens Island Quarantine Station
Given Facebook's domination of social media, it does seem crazy to preserve with blogs. The readership is low, most of the ideas I'm trying out in these blogs go nowhere and only a few develop a momentum of their own. However, that momentum can open possibilities up -- eg., fait accompli with its exploration of photography in the Anthropocene through juxtaposing photos made in New Zealand and Australia.

Another example is The Long Road to the North. This was initially based on a trip to Lajamanu in 2017, then a camel trek in 2018 in the Northern Flinders Ranges. I then remembered previous trips to Andamooka; and we are now planning a trip to the Gammon Ranges in 2021 and another camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome in South Australia. The north emerges as a place --ie., a conception of place articulated through notions of process, interconnection, and diversity -- rather than the "outback" of settler Australia.

Occasionally a project emerges from the odd blog----eg., Tasmanian Elegies. For the moment that is sufficient justification for persevering with the blogs.


Most of my recent reading has been for the Abstractions: Different Interpretations exhibition; or rather trying to find relevant material on abstraction.
  • Books: these include: Photomediations: A Reader (Open Humanities Press); Photography and the Optical Unconscious (Duke University Press); On the Verge of Photography: Imaging Beyond Representation (Article Press); Jeff Malpas, Heidegger and the Thinking of Place: Explorations in the Typology of Being, MIT Press, Camb,. Mass 2012
  • Magazines: An interesting photo magazine is Square Magazine, which is run by Christophe Dillinger. The latest issue ---Fall 2020---- has 10 images of mine from The Covid-19 exhibition previously shown at the online Encounters Gallery.
  • I did some reading/research for Light Paths, the online photographic initiative designed to support and foster art photography in South Australia.
  • Papers: I read T.J. Clark's Clement Greenberg's Theory of Art for the abstraction exhibition; Daniel Spaulding's Towards an Apotropaic Avant-Garde in Mute (Feb. 2019).
  • Historical research: Whilst researching material for the Abstraction exhibition I came across R .B. Pippin, After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism Aesthetics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2013. A forum on this book is here.
  • Aesthetics: Paul Giladi, Embodied Meaning and art as sense-making: a critique of Beiser's interpretation of the "End of Art Thesis" in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture (Vol. 8, Issue 1, 2016). This is an open access journal. The current philosophical debate surrounding Hegel’s aesthetics focuses heavily on the philosopher’s controversial ‘end of art’ thesis in his Lectures on Aesthetics. This thesis is usually interpreted (wrongly) as the claim that art has ended. Beiser, rightly rejects this interpretation, and argues that Hegel's comments about the “pastness” of art commit Hegel to viewing post-romantic art as merely a form of individual self-expression. Giladi challenges this reading and says that Hegel developed an aesthetics that sees art as a form of enquiry. Art is no longer pure sensuous enjoyment or the free play of imagination because the culture of modern reflexivity implies that art as a form of enquiry involves thinking about art, the practice of art, and its social relevance at the most basic level.
  • Photography. There is some wonderful black and white photography by Misa Ato who has some of work in the fall issue of Square Magazine as myself. Also Place in Time: The Christchurch Documentary Project, which arises out of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
  • This article by Lewis Bush on the Grain Photography Hub about the tropes of photography during coronavirus pandemic raises and questions some core metaphysical assumptions (axioms for Bush) that underpin photography. These are: equating seeing (direct sensory experience) with knowing; the emphasis on photographing the highly visible consequences of news events and social phenomena rather than attempting to reveal the root causes or perpetrators of societal problems; and the camera being a transparent window on the world. Bush says that these underlying assumptions are deeply rooted in the history of photography, and in the broader history of western thought.
  • Heidegger argues that this history in technological modernity is premised on a subject object duality. He goes on to argue (in section thirteen of his 1936-37 lectures on "The Will to Power as Art") that this history is one that treats the artwork as the object of sensory apprehension and knowledge in a broad sense; that the modern aesthetic experience is one in which art is disconnected from truth and knowledge; that art is displaced to the sensuous realm of appearance and to the subjective realm of private feeling and self-expression; and that art is systematically subordinated as an inferior form of knowledge vis-a vis science.
  • The photo below is of urban renewal in Bowden Brompton, Adelaide:
Brompton, Adelaide

Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000

A cross-section of some of the Art Photographers of the late 20th century who worked with film in Adelaide, South Australia.

It includes an essay on art photography and formalist, modernist aesthetics.


Click here to Email Gary and order a copy
Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000

From the Corner Store

The online corner store, which is my response to the restrictions to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and the audience limitations of the physical gallery, is still being constructed. It is being designed to sell both my photobooks and the prints of a selection of photos from my various projects. The corner store should be up and running in late November.

The image below is from the current online Abstraction exhibition at Encounters Gallery. The location is Salt Creek in the Coorong in South Australia, and it was made with a 5x4 Linhof Technika IV.

Linhof 5x4

A Personal Note

Rosetta Head in Victor Harbor is on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia and it is one of Suzanne's favourite spots. She walks to, and over, Rosetta Head each morning with Maleko. She stops and does her exercises near this rock looking east whilst Maleko waits. Kayla and I usually walk in various other coastal locations in the early morning, but on this occasion we joined Suzanne and Maleko at sunrise.

At Rosetta Head on an early morning poodlewalk:

Maleko + Kayla, Rosetta Head
The poodle's patience inspired me to do a few little videos of coastal water flows. They are modest as they were made with an old iPhone 6 whilst I'm sitting and watching the ebb and flow of the waves.
As I mentioned in the earlier newsletters, the Thoughtfactory newsletter is an experiment to try to create, and link up to, an alternative online photographic network outside of Facebook's surveillance algorithms. Facebook killed off the network of photo blogs that flourished 4 or 5 years ago. In the absence of the US government updating its anti-trust legislation for a digital age, I am sharing my different photographic activities (including my Flickr stream) to step around the algorithmic governance of Facebook. This sharing is a response to this kind of societal harm in the digital public sphere.

Do forward the email onto friends or colleagues if you think they may be interested in reading it; in photography; or the relationship between photography and philosophy.