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archives, Melbourne, topographics

Stuart Murdoch + topographics

July 25, 2021

This second part of the interview with Stuart Murdoch picks up from the first part of the interview on the Thoughtfactory website. It brings to the fore the New Topographic tradition or movement as it developed in Australia. Stuart’s images below are part of an larger body of work.

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:

Stuart Murdoch, St. Albans, circa 1990.

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.

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archives, landscape, Victoria

Otways: Archival

March 30, 2021

I have arranged to go on a large format field trip with the Melbourne based Friends of Photography Group (FOPG) in the Great Otway National Park in and around Lorne. Whilst preparing for this field trip by looking at Google maps I remembered that I had photographed in the western edge of the Otway National Park in 2016. This was on an earlier roadtrip that included Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne.

farm, Johanna

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.

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archives, Encounter Studio, studio

Studio

July 28, 2020

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?

Rolleiflex 6006, 2010
orange rose, Encounter Studio

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 Festival in 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?

pincushion flower, Leucosperum

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.

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Adelaide, archives, black + white, critical writing, photography, publishing

Adelaide Art Photographers 1970-2000

October 23, 2019

Whilst I was working on the Mallee Routes photobook for the December exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery I was also working with Adam Dutkiewicz to complete the Adelaide Art Photographers book –forementioned in blog posts here and here–for Moon Arrow Press. The book is nearly finished. Adam and I visited the printers —Openbook Howden— in Adelaide yesterday to sort out some technical details, obtain a quote, and have a sample print of the cover made to check the blacks and the appearance of the font.

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:

front cover

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.

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Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, topographics

Adelaide Photography 1970-2000: Submissions called

November 17, 2018

I have finally picked up working on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book  with Adam  Dutkiewicz that is to  be published by Moon Arrow Press.  There has been more than a year’s break from the early stages of planning  due to  other book and exhibition commitments by Adam and myself. We have just called for submissions for  the portfolios in the book,  and we are now sitting back and waiting to see what comes in from the call out.  Though it is not really clear at this early stage what kind of  work will be submitted,  the book’s explicit regional  focus  will  fill one of the  gaps in  the art history of Australian photography that has traditionally been  written  around a cumulative teleology of styles and periods.

The design of the book is simple: each photographer will be given 6-8 pages to present their work from this period,  and they will have a text  to describe their work and their biography or profile.   As there are currently around  20 photographers who expressed an interest in submitting a portfolio and there is some text, the book looks to be  around  130 pages.  The launch of the book will be at an exhibition of some of the prints in Adelaide early in 2020.

The year 2000 is a useful cutoff point  for the book because this is when photography started to go global:  the explosion of websites, art fairs, festivals, biennales, travelling museum exhibitions, catalogues, conferences, artist residencies etc associated with the international  transmission of objects,  ideas and photographers operating across the boundaries of nation states. If this meant that the hold that European and North American artists had over the production of contemporary art has been broken, that the art world has become more event-driven with biennials and art fairs in far-flung locations, then it also means the biennales are institutional sites whose ways of seeing  contain an aesthetic regime of experience.

sand dunes, Largs Bay, Adelaide

My own portfolio is structured around  my  shift from street photography to topographics. This would exclude the landscape photographs,  and it foreshadows my turn to,  and latter embrace of,  a topographical approach to still photography. The topographical  turn, which  was made during  this period,  with both the Port Adelaide series and the spatial interpretations  of Adelaide, was largely shaped by using  large format cameras.  It was a foreshadowing in the sense of my not consciously relating this to the New Topographics tradition in the US, even though I was consciously photographing  a  human altered landscape. Continue Reading…

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