Another possible approach is an eco-photography. The photo below is of a wetland in the Overland Corner Reserve that is adjacent to the River Murray in South Australia. The background to this approach is the environmental destruction carried out over generations by the settler colonists seeking to anglicize a country. Their view was that nature was an adversary to be subjugated and that this was a country to loot — a view that still around today with the multinational mining companies. Dried out wetlands are the scar of this landscape destruction:
On this roadtrip I was starting to look for and trace the overland route that had been used by the overlanders to bring stock to South Australia from Sydney in the early 1840s. I was starting to explore the Riverland region around Lake Bonney, connecting the route to known massacre sites. Then Covid happened and the momentum was lost.
Both of these photographic approaches are a critical perspective on the landscape tradition in Australia insofar as they start to trace and explore the negative consequences of colonial settlement on the country.
We have a small space downstairs that’s a storeroom, even though I had thought that I could set it up as a studio space. In this space sits a Cambo studio stand, a 8×10 Sinar P monorail and two background poles that I’d purchased in the 1980s, a fridge for film and dog food, two filing cabinets and a camera trunk for a large format camera. But the photography has not happened, and the studio space has become a storeroom by default. Every time I go into the storeroom I become depressed looking at all that camera gear just sitting there waiting to be used. I keep asking myself: how can I use this setup.
The photography has not happened for several reasons. The studio space only has a small side window and so the exposures are more than 1-2 minutes during the summer months when the afternoon light comes into the room. It is is filtered through the bushes in the garden outside the window and when it is cloudy the exposures are around 4 minutes. During winter the studio is quite dark, and though I did consider some studio lights, I didn’t really want to go down that pathway, or spend money on that kind of equipment. Secondly, though I considered doing still life photography, and experimented a bit, I wasn’t all that interested in that photographic genre. So nothing happened.
Then I came across the above archival portrait of Suzanne that had been made in the large downstairs room with its big window just after we had moved from Adelaide to Encounter Bay on the Fleurieu Peninsula. I started thinking: well, why not portraits? Why not use the potential studio space to photograph our friends? I then remembered that I had initially rejected the studio portrait option as I’d thought that the 2 minute plus minimum exposures would be too long for people to pose.
Then I realised that long exposures incorporate time and the inevitable bodily movement of the sitter during that exposure is a representation of time. The tracing of movement through an extended exposure time is quite distinct from that produced by a series of instantaneous photographs. So why not turn what I’d initially thought to be as a negative into a positive?
This feature is part of an infrequent series of posts of images made with large format cameras. The previous post in the series was Feature #3 of a wetland in the Hindmarsh River in Victor Harbor.
I made the picture below with an 8×10 Cambo monorail in the early morning. It is of the wetlands of the River Murray near the Overland Corner Reserve in the Riverland region of South Australia. I was exploring the area around the Overland Corner tracing the overland route used by the drovers (ie., overlanders) to take stock from New South Wales to Adelaide between 1830 and the early 1840s. This route followed a much older Aboriginal pathway. At the time I was trying to gain a sense of the history of the River Murray in the Riverland region.
I camped overnight in the reserve close to the River Murray and made a number of pictures the following morning. The pictures were for a collaborative project on the River Murray that eventually fell through when the organizer and the lead artist just walked away from the project without saying anything.
There was no water in the wetlands even though the River Murray was just to the right of the picture. The ground was very dry and many of the trees in the “wetland” were dead. The wetlands along the river were dying from lack of water due to there being no flooding in recent years. So much water was being taken out by upstream irrigators that there was nothing left for environmental flows. The decade old Murray-Darling Plan to increase the environmental flows by 450 gigalitres has failed, but the irrigators have increased their allocations. Surprise, surprise.
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.
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.
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.
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.