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black + white, critical writing, Melbourne, photography, topographics, urban

Interview: Stuart Murdoch

May 7, 2021

I have decided to do the odd interview with photographers whose work I find interesting and who are interested in engaging in a conversation about their work. ‘Interviews’ will only be an occasional feature of the Thoughtfactory blog. This, the first in the series, is with Stuart Murdoch.

Stuart is a Melbourne based photographer. He has adopted a topographic mode of working, continues to run a couple of photography blogs (one on photography and one on Sunshine); is a member of the Melbourne Photobook Collective; and an administrator of the Australian and New Zealand Topographics group on Flickr. He and I have occasionally collaborated around a rethinking documentary photography project.

Gary Sauer-Thompson (GS-T)

Thanks for offering to do the interview on your industrial Melbourne photos  Stuart. The interview  will be posted on the Thoughtfactory blog and it maybe cross posted to the blog of View Camera Australia.  My observation of what is happening in photo-land is that most photographers in Australia traditionally talk about a particular print,  or about their technique,   or their equipment,  despite,  or in spite of,  the art world being conceptually orientated since conceptual art in the 1960s.  This traditional photo land approach strikes me as an unhelpful way to make sense of  your industrial photos of Melbourne series, which has been ongoing for a decade or more. A more fruitful approach is to shift the emphasis  to understanding your series of photos as a project.  

Can you describe what this project is (ie., the idea behind the project),  what you are trying to do with making this project and how has it evolved over time.  If it has evolved over time, how  has this changed the way you have have approached  photographing industrial Melbourne.  Can you describe what  photographic and or  literary or cultural influences  have  informed your photography, and how have these shaped the way that have understood both the project and they way you approached the photography.

Stuart Murdoch (SM) Thanks for the invitation Gary, and what a great set of questions to kick off with.

Initially I never set out to photograph the industrial in Melbourne. Like many students starting out I aspired  to making work that was considered valuable and usually pictorially conservative subject matter. At University I discovered Robert Adams, and The New Topographic Exhibition in 1977 1. I never looked back and continue working in this way to this day. I have seen enough of each of the photographer’s work, leading up to and after the exhibition, to gain an understanding and appreciation of ideas being put forward by William Jenkins2

Stuart Murdoch, Port Melbourne, looking west, 1990

Robert Adams especially has for me been particularly inspiring. I have quite a few of his monographs and other books. His early essays, helped clarify in my own mind something I’d seen around me, since my early days of photography in the late 1980’s, but was unable to articulate, until, as he suggests in one of his essays, I found a map and compass and sent out to find my own way. Adams’ ideas about hope are central to how I approach my photography.

The idea that the urban was worthy of photographing was revelatory. But I wanted more than a dispassionate  view that Jenkins espoused to frame the approach to the New Topographics. The question I asked myself  was it; or is it ever, possible to photograph one’s own place with “dispassionate neutrality”? 3 I would argue that it is not. Though the New Topographic Photographers  like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, may have approached or attempted to approach their work from a neutral and distant style, my own work is more ardent.

Stuart Murdoch, Melbourne, 1989

This place — Melbourne — is my home.

Pages: 1 2

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.

Pages: 1 2

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…

black + white, coastal, Encounter Studio, studio

studio

December 30, 2017

Although I have a rudimentary studio set up at Encounter Studio (with  a 8×10 Sinar P,  a  table and window light)   most of the still life images that I do of the subject matter around the coastal neighbourhood at Victor Harbor are in open air settings. The method of working is simple. The locations and subject matter are selected whilst I am on the morning or evening poodle walks,  I take  some scoping photos with the digital camera (an old  Sony NEX-7)  and,  if they work,  I come back and reshoot them with a film camera.

This kind of  studio work is a break from my  topographic  approach to photography that I do for the Mallee Routes project.    This is  an early example, probably one of the first  images made in an open air,  coastal studio:

bottle + shells, Petrel Cove

The bottle  had been washed on  Dep’s Beach, which is west of Petrel Cove,  and I carried it back to Petrel Cove on the return leg of the poodlewalk. I  set it up amongst some rocks, and made some digital pictures.   I then hid the bottle  amongst some rocks so that people wouldn’t find it and the  high tide wouldn’t carry it back to sea.

Continue Reading…

abstraction, black + white, digital image, rocks

scoping in landscape photography: Fleurieuscapes

October 16, 2017

I really do struggle with  my landscape  photography in and  around Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia,  even though I do a lot of scoping for it.   I struggle in the sense of having both a lots of doubts the value of this working and a lack of confidence in what I am doing —with both the coastal work and the roadside vegetation.   So I don’t get very far with working  the Fleurieuscapes project as I am not sure what I am doing with it.

I only have confidence in the abstraction side of this photographic project. The work process is now routine  and I am quite comfortable with it. I  make a digital study of the object,  sometimes convert the colour digital file to a  black and white one,   and  then  spend some time assessing  the image  for possibilities for  a 5×4 photo session.  Is it worth doing? If so, what is the best way to approach this?  This is an example of the work process –some granite rocks on the beach at Petrel Cove.

granite study for 5×4

I have sat on this image for a couple of months at least.  In fact I scoped it a year ago and I’d left it sitting on the computer. I re-scopped  it earlier this year when I was walking around exploring Petrel Cove whilst  on a poodlewalk.    I remembered that I had previously photographed this bit of rock and that I  wasn’t happy with what I had done, but I had thought that it had possibilities for a black and white 5×4 photoshoot  using the baby Sinar (F2). So  I re-scoped it.   Continue Reading…

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