One of the more noticeable characteristics of the contemporary photographic culture in Australia is the dearth of independent critical-writing or public criticism that endeavours to convince the wider public of the worth of art photography through the process of explicating, encouraging, elevating, supporting, critiquing. There is next to nothing icy way of photo criticism in Adelaide:—the Broadsheet Journal has closed down, whilst The Adelaide Review, Artlink and Tulpa basically overlook/ignore photographic exhibitions The consequence of this lack of cultural building blocks is that art photographers working on long term projects live in a critical vacuum, despite the shift online to a networked digital world.
Many traditional photographers would not be concerned about this vacuum in photography’s critical discourse as they have no real love for art criticism, but it is a depressing situation that we find ourselves in. Criticism is a crucial part of making and enabling a photographic culture, and photography has been at the centre of critical debates and themes throughout late twentieth and 21st century art photography’s and it has had a crucial impact on contemporary art in this period.
Royal Adelaide Hospital
This lack of a critical impulse and discourse about contemporary photography is reinforced by the lack of value around the arts in mainstream media and among the public more generally. The entire journalism industry has been going through a major phase of disruption, and arts coverage has been the first to go in the mainstream media. It has been decimated over the last decade, which makes the newspapers irrelevant.
The primary reason for this is that the arts are no longer a priority for the mainstream media that is still dependent on advertising and sales revenue. The shift to digital means that the emphasis is now all about what rates online in terms of the most clicks from readers. Since the reviews of exhibitions are not being read, other than by those immediately connected to them, so the media publishers stop publishing art reviews. As his well known, the advertising model is broken and people do not want to subscribe to the mainstream media. Arts coverage in the mainstream media is directly commensurate with the advertising dollars it brings in re the page’s profitability. This means that arts coverage is in its own silo – it survives off the strength of art-related advertisers only. Continue Reading…
I am participating in the Photoforum Members Show at Studio 541, Mt Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. I rejoined Photoforum when I was at Photobook-NZ in Wellington after several years absence. I submitted 3 images (medium format, colour negative film) for inclusion in the Members Show, which were made when I was walking Wellington on a recent visit. The exhibition was oversubscribed, so the curators/organizers reduced the three images to two. However, it was only due to the stirling work at very short notice by the team at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide that I was able to get the images printed, framed and couriered to Auckland. We had a week to do it.
All the images in the Photoforum exhibition are posted on Studio 541’s website along with the bio’s and artist statements. These show a diverse range of work that stands in opposition to, and digs beneath, the NZ is beautiful or a paradise school of photography.
Photo Forum Members’ Show 2018.
Photoforum was co-founded in 1973 by John B Turner, Tom Hutchins and Max Oettli to promote photography as an artistic and expressive medium, to encourage co-operation and collaboration amongst the photographic community, and to provide mentoring for photographers. A secondary, but crucial aim, was to encourage photographers to actively engage in the public risk-taking of critical writing and curatorial practice, outside of the universities and polytechnics.
Over its 40 years history Photoforum has also helped to nurture a critical environment, but there is still a lack of critics and historians to better cover the field of photography in New Zealand. My memories of the early years when I was a member was that documentary photography has been the dominant language of PhotoForum photography.There is nothing like this community-orientated non-profit organisation, which has made valuable contributions to New Zealand art and art history, amongst the art photographers in Australia. We independent Australian art photographers are much poorer as a result of not having a similar DIY community of expressive photographers. Continue Reading…
In early March I spent a week walking Wellington, New Zealand as well as photographing in the city, whilst Suzanne walked the Grand Traverse, Queenstown way with her Adelaide walking friends. I had studio apartment in the Aro Valley courtesy of Air bnb, and I spent about 8 hours a day walking the city in a Situationist mode. I drifted through central Wellington with two camera bags on my shoulders: one containing a Rolleiflex (TLR) a Leica M4-P rangefinder whilst the other held my newly acquired Sony Alpha A7r111, which I was slowly learning how to use.
2 houses, Wellington
I loved Wellington. It’s a funky, vibrant cultured city. I was so at home being there. Even though Wellington is a much smaller city than Adelaide in population terms, it is so much more alive in an urban sense. Despite the revitalisation since 2013 of the central city and the liquor-licensing reforms Adelaide remains a doughnut city. Wellington was much more alive than it was when I worked there in the 1970s as an economist in the public service. Then it was empty of life at the centre with little in the way of depth of character. The central city is a much better place these days.
Wellington also has a strong art photography culture which, unlike Australia, is connected to, and a part of, a literay culture. There is also a vibrant café culture with excellent coffee scattered amongst the Wellington ‘walkability’. The funky changes in the urban culture happened in the 1990s apparently, but I am not sure what the driving forces for the city’s transformation were, given that Wellington is largely a public service town. Was the emergence of a lively urban culture caused by the acceleration of diverse migration flows? Continue Reading…
I have spent some time in the last week or so contacting people to invite them to participate in the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book that is to be produced by Adam Dutkiewicz and myself for Moon Arrow Press. This book builds on, or is a development from, the Abstract Photography book that we published in 2016, which recovered what was left of the abstract modernist work produced in the 1960s. These are companion volumes so to speak.
The result to the initial email that has been sent out has been positive, in that the people who have been contacted so far have all said yes. Several others are rather slow in responding to that email. However, the main problem that I have encountered at this stage has been finding the contact details for some of the names of the relevant people that have mentioned. As a result some people who made art photographs during that period will not be included. They disappear from our visual history.
Harts Mill, Port Adelaide
Adelaide Photography 1970-2000
is designed to fill in one of the many gaps of the national histories
of art photography in Australia that leave out Adelaide. This gap, silence or absence gives the wrong impression, as it implies that nothing of interest happened in South Australia in art photography during the last quarter of the 20th century. The inference is that South Australia is just a fly over state, and if any photographic work happened during this period, it is provincial, and so of little interest with respect to the national canon. Hence the idea of alternate histories–namely a rethinking of Australian photographic history that questions our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The idea of linking the spatial turn in the humanities to my 1980s photos emerged whilst I was exploring my photographic archive for the proposed Adelaide Art Photography: 1970-80 book to be published by Moon Arrow Press. Noticing a shift in my photography from street to topographics, I started to make connections in my archive blog to the spatial turn in the humanities in relation to the landscape and space that had emerged in the 1980s. This spatial turn refers to the landscape and space being understood in terms of them being socially constructed and continuously reshaped.
The factory in this photo, which was situated near the railway bridge has long gone. So have the mangroves, replaced by a housing development that was designed to revitalise Port Adelaide. This then is an urbanscape whose history is that of being continuously transformed by the power of capital since the 19th century. It is not a landscape the traditional English sense of a picture of natural inland scenery, or the Australian sense of a national landscape painting associated with Romanticism as in the Heidelberg School. Landscape in this traditional sense usually veils historically specific social relations behind the smooth and often aesthetic appearance of “nature. The tradition of the landscape in the visual arts acts to “naturalize” what is deeply cultural, social and economic.
mangroves, Port River estuary
The emphasis of the Port Adelaide photography, which is on place and the mapping of place, is a part of the tradition of chorography that seeks to understand and represent the unique character of individual places. In chorography, the skills of the artist (painter and writer) were more relevant than those of the astronomer and mathematician, which were critical in geography. Choreography is a part of the pictorial topographic mapping tradition. Continue Reading…