Over the last month I have been upgrading my hardware for my film photography at great expense. The old (cheesegrater) Mac Pro (circa 2009) died and its system, which included an Epson V700, has been replaced with a Mac Studio, Eizo monitor, Epson V850 Pro flatbed scanner and VueScan software in addition to the Silverfast SE 8.8 software that came packaged with the Epson scanner.
Whilst engaged in upgrading I stumbled across some lost 5×7 negatives of Adelaide’s CBD that had been tucked in the sleeve of an office style leather folder. The negatives had been made whilst I was still living in the CBD and using the old Cambo 5×7 S3 monorail. I have no memory of why they were in such an odd place.
I experienced great difficulty in scanning 5x7colour negatives with the old Mac Pro system that I made whilst walking the CBD with a 5×7 monorail. If I didn’t use Newton glass when scanning the digital files had huge Newton rings that were extremely difficult to remove in Lightroom. If I did use Newton glass the files had a strong greenish caste that prevented me from restoring or recovering the colour realism. I more or less gave up, or in desperation I tried to save things by converting the colour to black and white. The box of 50 Kodak Portra 160 ASA sheet film lasted me several years as I more or less stopped walking the CBD with a 5×7 monorail.
Today, after I’d finished finishing scanning some 5×4 colour negatives (using the SilverFast SE software) for an online exhibition hosted by View Camera Australia I decided to scan a couple of the lost/found 5×7 colour negatives of modernist architecture in Adelaide using VueScan. To my surprise and delight I obtained a workable scan of Wakefield House– something that I’d not been able to achieve previously. Sure some of the new scans are desaturated whilst others have colour tinges, but that awful green caste that I could not previously remove did not appear. That’s a rare win. Maybe I can pick up walking the CBD with a 5×7 monorail?
GST: Now that we have a broad understanding of your project in relation to Melbourne photography I thought that we might zoom in on some particular photos. Could you select 2-3 photos that are an important/significant to you in this project, and then talk about how you came to see, how you approached making it and why it is significance for your project. The kind of photo that I have in mind is one that represents a hurrah moment—ie., I’ve stopped stumbling around, its coming together and this photo points the way, or gives me confidence to continue working on the project in isolation.
SM: The way I now work means those hurray moments are few and far between. Picture choices in the early days were based on pictorial strengths and merits alone. Dipping back into my archive has proved fruitful and it helps me to look forward to attempt to capture changes before they occur. The subject matter that I pursue has not really changed in 30+ years of working with cameras, only the spaces themselves. Now in the 21st century revisiting these sites is important as they are markers of Melbourne’s development along with my own as a visual creative.
The photo of St Albans (circa 1990) has had a significant impact on my work:
I literally stopped the cab I was driving and pulled my kit out of the boot. I did this on occasion, on weekend day shifts in particular. While this image echoed aspects of Robert Adams’ work, it was for me a uniquely Melbourne suburban picture. By the way the site has radically altered in some way but is still the same in others.
Grass fires in suburban Melbourne, and I’m sure in other large cities too, are a common thing. Especially in parts of the city close to the edge as was St. Albans in those days. So this picture has always held a prominent position in my mind. For all the elements captured, and the signs and signifiers it carried. The burnt grass, the powerlines the vehicular tracks, all these signs/man made marks demonstrated a use of the space and land that was and remains contemporary. It continually draws me back in even after nearly 30 years of looking at it as a contact image. I still on occasion drive past it, the changes are significant, but the space is still empty, and now near a major Arterial road, the M8 ring road.
We were on the return leg of the roadtrip and stayed a couple of nights with the standard poodles at some upmarket seaside cottages near Johanna Beach that overlooked a farm. It was a short walk through the campsite and the sand dunes to the surfing beach, and a small drive across the Great Ocean Road to the edge of the forest along the Old Ocean Rd.
The new and the old. Looking forward and looking back. Struggling with the new and nostalgic about the old.
These are limbo moments during the living with Covid-19. There is a now a ring of steel around Melbourne. What initially appeared to be a temporary time of a suspension of everyday life is now becoming a new normal. With the virus calling the shots, anxiety rises as the veneer of control to contain the spread of Covid-19 vanishes, whilst fear emerges about the capacity to deal with the subsequent economic fallout. The scars, we realize are going to last a generation.
How do we live well with a pandemic, the massive global disruption and closed state borders? The structural inequalities mean that some people clearly won’t be able to live well during the forthcoming era of transformation. What happens then? Will there be a shift to sustainability?
The new is the newsletter, the online gallery, the first exhibition and the forthcoming corner store.This is how I have initially kept myself busy during the Covid-19 lockdown. The next exhibition is on walking/photography and it is a part of the 2020 SALA Festivalin South Australia. The third exhibition is entitled Abstraction: Different Interpretations. This new is my initial response to self-isolation, living with the pandemic, and adjusting to the new normal of increasing untraced community transmission of Covid-19. It probably only a matter of time before it enters South Australia, despite its closed borders.
The old is the studio. Returning to what was. Looking inwards to the archive. Is this the start of a process of reflection and self-awareness as part of the process of gaining a different perspective on everyday life when the ground under our feet is shifting?
The picture above of the Leucosperum pincushion flower from our garden at Victor Harbor is from the archives. It was made with a Rolleiflex 6006 with close up lenses in the studio space at our home in Encounter Bay. The downstairs space had good natural light. Unfortunately, that space is no longer available for studio photography, and the studio equipment has been moved into a storeroom off the garage.
There is still some fine tuning to be done, but we expect the pdf to be sent to the printers towards mid-November, with the book printed by Xmas. It will be launched in early March 2020 at an exhibition of photos in the book at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. Copies can be purchased earlier through Moon Arrow Press.
This is the revised front cover of Adelaide Art Photographers with its referencing the 35mm Kodak film strips of the 20th century without its flap:
The book is a companion volume to the previously published Abstract Photography (2017) by Moon Arrow Press in 2017. The Adelaide Art Photographers book is around 180 pages. There are 20 photographers who have 6 pages for their portfolios and 1 page for their profiles. There is also an essay on aesthetics, which is understood in terms of a critical philosophy of art in the cultural context of the anti-aesthetic. The latter understood aesthetics to mean judgements of taste about the formal beauty of art; with the modernist autonomy of art being understood as a (negative) freedom of art from social determination in a capitalist society.
The anti-aesthetic movement in this period was reacting against Greenberg’s modernist reinterpretation of aesthetic autonomy into the task of medium self-definition through purification. This was via the transposition of the concept of aesthetic autonomy into a linguistic register in literary modernism–with T. S. Elliot being the main influence on Greenberg here. This modernism rejects the past, established art forms and their typical ways of being practiced in favour of some new manner of art making; it affirm this new manner as the uniquely appropriate way, of practicing a kind of art expressive of the modern world.