The extended La Niña period in Australia during 2022 resulted in an extended period of cold, overcast, wet and stormy conditions. The wet weather and very strong winds put paid to my planned roadtrips and sleeping in a swag on the ground. The weather meant that other options for photography were opened up. The bushland was a 5 minute drive from our home at Encounter Bay, and though it is only a small, the frequent rains meant no snakes until the late spring, whilst the bush provided protection from the strong, gusty coastal winds.
I stayed local, photographically speaking, and Kayla and I spent a large number of our early morning walks in the local bushland throughout the autumn to spring period of 2022. The frequent poodlewalks in the morning meant that I got to know the local bushland in different conditions, and I became quite familiar with its details and its subtle changes. This local, concrete situatedness does mean not living at a ‘global’ level; but, like it or not, the series of relationships in which we are all now involved in draw us into national and planetary economic and environmental histories. In the last couple of years, for instance, Australia has been in the grip of mass extinction, historic drought, coral bleaching, mega bushfires, the Covid-19 pandemic and widespread regional flooding.
My photos of the bushland are modest but they do start to form an ongoing body of work (a project), which has a connection to the contemporary photography shown in the various online exhibitions hosted by the View Camera Australia blog.
A question now comes to the fore: what then is contemporary photography or visual art in the alarming historical moment that we are now living?
It has to be more than photography or visual art of the present times as it would need to say something about our present times in relation to the history of art. This means that it would minimally mean firstly, the broad acceptance of the idea of the post-medium condition, namely, that any materials, and not just traditional ones used in drawing, painting, and sculpture, can be put to use in a work of art; secondly, the broad acceptance of conceptualism, understood as a theory of art claiming that a work of art is the contingent embodiment of an ‘idea’ or ‘concept’. The inference is that artworks are categorized primarily as (simply) art, and not primarily as instances of a particular medium, such as painting or photography; and, secondly, they are artworks in a series –not a single image presented on its own, but as a fragment of a project. Thirdly, the artworks need to have a critical rather than affirming dimension about our present historical moment. The urgent times we are living are not normal times.
The critical dimension in the bushland photos is a rejection of any notion of nature as the invariant eternal; the idealization of purely natural landscapes; the call to go “back to nature” that idealizes an uncorrupted immediacy outside of history or society. These are various strands of the aesthetic experience of nature serving the function of providing solace in the alienated world of late capitalist social order that appears as natural or eternal.The landscape is then reduced to a movie backdrop or pitched as a dreamy setting for a family holiday; whilst the seaside or bush becomes an image for consumption and a mere complement to urban and suburban experience.