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critical writing

coastal, critical writing, nature, water

the blog ‘moment’

August 24, 2020

I ran the now defunct junk  for code and public opinion blogs in the first decade of the 21st century, and these blogs were part of the post-20th century  blog ‘moment’, with its hyperlinks, blog rolls and networks. Though this blog moment has long passed, it is worth looking back to  see what has been lost. This is not for nostalgic reasons of looking back to golden times, but to recover some things from that moment that could both help us to address problems that we experience in the present, and to guide us to construct the future in an Australia that continues to devalue culture.

The blogging nexus of online self-publishing was at its most intense and generative for roughly a decade, from 2002 onward.   Blogging  was  easy, it was free,  it  got more readers than you could from a zine and it  sidestepped all the old means of distribution and cultural production.  The energy of the blogosphere  fostered an unofficial, de-commodified  intellectual and visual  culture. DIY book publishing –eg., like many books my Edgelands photobook —emerged out of the writing and photography in the  blogosphere. 

I currently persevere with the blog form in an attempt to keep the concept of the public  alive outside of academia, social media such as Facebook, the commercial televisual mass media, and the decline of the surviving print papers. I also continue to use the photo blog form as a counter to the isolation and the feeling of weakness in the face of neo-liberal,  capitalism’s consumer distractions,  temptations and depressive hedonism.  This isolation and weakness can lead to a particular interior, emotional state — a sort of debilitating emptiness,  despair and resignation.  A nullity if you like, which makes it difficult to continue being a creative artist/photographer.

Encounter Bay

This picture is of an early morning seascape made whilst standing on Rosetta Head in mid-winter. We are  looking across Encounter Bay towards the Coorong National Park. This was the  morning   I was playing around experimenting with fuzzy seascapes learning to see what’s in front of me—what’s actually there, in all its existing complexity– and figuring out how to represent it.

We now live with a digital duality, which suggests that in fact no easy divide can be made between our online and offline lives. These two aspects of our lives  are now so closely enmeshed with each other as to be inseparable.

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abstraction, critical writing, digital image, South Australia

the digital image: a note

December 17, 2019

In this post on the Mallee Routes blog I mentioned the lack of critical writing about local exhibitions in Adelaide and the crisis of independent writing about art in general. An associated problem emerges from the art gallery existing in a digital economy due to the gallery usually having a minimal online presence; a minimal presence that is especially noticeable with respect to their exhibitions. The current Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery is a case in point.

The standard convention is that there is just the odd image from an exhibition online which is primarily used to market the exhibition to the public. This means that an online viewer, in say another state, is unable to gain a sense of, or assess, the exhibition. Secondly, there is little to no engagement, dialogue or conversation with the gallery’s online audience about their exhibitions. This, in turn, means that an exhibition has a limited reach and presence. It’s here today, seen by few, and forgotten tomorrow, unless it is reviewed or there is an exhibition catalogue. The latter only happens to the mega exhibitions of superstars or global artists working in the biennial culture. 

leaves + bark, Encounter Bay

The art gallery’s low digital presence provides an entry point into a problematic about how the nature of photography is changing and the significance of these changes. We can begin to explore this through looking at the functioning of the art gallery in a digital economy. Firstly, the gallery continues its role of curating and collecting photography; a role that is designed to sort the image s to incorporate into the canon through the separation of photography as art and not-art. However, in continuing to champion photography as an art form, the curators downplay photography’s role as a reproductive technology in order to emphasise the creative legitimacy of the photographer who pressed the shutter.

Secondly, art galleries continue to rely on foot traffic to view the staging of a contemporary photograph exhibition in the white cube, grounded in aesthetic modernism. It does appear that the curators in the art galleries currently see digital technologies as either a new tool for artists to express themselves, or as a channel for communications and marketing through which new audiences can be targeted and captured. This approach to digital technology excludes is photography’s diffusion into general computing in a digital economy.  

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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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critical writing, landscape, Victoria

Nature photography at Mt Arapiles

September 12, 2019

As mentioned in this post on the Mallee Routes blog I recently linked up with the Melbourne-based Friends of Photography Group (FoPG) for a weekend photo trip to Mt Arapiles in western Victoria. As mentioned in this post on the Encounter Studio photoblog the FoPG are primarily large format photographers of the natural landscape. In Australia landscape photographers have traditionally understood landscape photography in terms of the tradition of unpeopled or wilderness photography, no doubt due to the historical significance of the Tasmanian wilderness photographers.

It appears that the contemporary impetus and centre of the landscape genre of photography has shifted from Tasmania to Melbourne, Victoria. This is largely due to David Tatnall’s influence on nature conservation in Victoria through his landscape photography and   Ellie Young at Gold Street Studios in Trentham East, Victoria hosting the annual get together of large format photographers  and offering the alternative process workshops.

Castle Craig, Mt Arapiles, Victoria

Have the conceptual underpinnings of wilderness photography in Australia changed with this shift? In the Tasmanian version (eg., Olegas Truchanas, Peter Dombrovskis and others) of this tradition of wilderness photography was associated with Romanticism, nature as redeeming force, uninhabited  places worthy of pilgrimage that are also difficult to access, the European aesthetic tradition of the picturesque and anti-development. Their ethos was that if people could see the beauty of Australia’s wild places then they may be moved to protect them: to save a valuable environment under threat.

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critical writing, Mallee, water

towards a critical climate aesthetics

May 11, 2019

This post on a critical climate aesthetics builds on this one at the Encounter Studio’s photoblog in the light of what has been currently happening in the lower Darling River region. There is some background here about why the Darling River has run dry. The general consensus is that state and federal governments have allowed way too much water to be taken from the system by irrigated agriculture, such as Big Cotton in Queensland and northern NSW.

The idea of a critical climate aesthetics underpins my contribution to the Unknown Futures section of the upcoming Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December 2019.

lower Darling River

Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The argument is that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth; and that there is no foreseeable return to the Holocene Epoch.

This argument would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors in the sense that the Anthropocene references an epoch in which humans are the dominant drivers of geologic change on the globe today.  It wasn’t just drought that has caused the Darling River to dry up. The catastrophe was partly the result of human activity. This suggests that the Kantian sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.

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