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critical writing, landscape, large format

Why not eco-photography?

February 4, 2022

(This post was cross posted to View Camera Australia. The post on View Camera Australia includes David Tatnall’s images).

A fascinating and informative interview with David Tatnall by Michéla Griffith in issue 245 of the British based On Landscape magazine about the process of photographing nature with large format cameras raises an interesting question as well as some issues about natural beauty and politics and art. This is a different pathway for photography to that opened up by a poetic photography, and it is one that its roots in the tradition of landscape photography in Australia. It brings a critical perspective into a tradition that suffers from a lack of writing and debate about its raison d’etre  over and above posting images on social media.

The question raised in the interview is: Why is an eco-photography as distinct from landscape photography not widely recognized in photographic culture? Where are photography’s postcards from the Anthropocene that emerge from its encounters with the Anthropocene-in-the-making? The question is asked because there is a recognized eco-philosophy, even if remains marginal in academia; one that in Australia which has its roots in Val and Richard Routley’s The Fight for the Forest (1973) — the book that launched the struggle to protect Australia’s old growth native forests. This environmental philosophy becomes an eco-philosophy that is critical of the nature/culture dualism; explores the revaluing our relationship to nature in the context of an ecological crisis caused by climate heating in the era of the Anthropocene; and recognizes the Whanganui River in NZ as a living being and one that has been granted legal personhood.

Otway National Park, Victoria

So why is there not a recognized ecologically oriented-photography as opposed to landscape photography; an eco-photography that interrogates, expands, understands and influences our relationship with nature in transformation? An eco-photography that has affinities with an eco-philosophy’s recognition of the limitations of economics and its concern to heal a wounded world and is willing to rethink the landscape in the Anthropocene rather than default to a default reading of landscape.

We no longer live in the Holocene or the culture of the nineteenth century when relations between humans and nature seemed clear: nature was separate to humans and it was natural, beautiful, untouched. In the 21st century humans can no longer be defined as separate to the world around us. It is also recognized that a wilderness landscape photography of an uncontaminated and entirely pure nature in Australia was blind to the aboriginal occupation of the land for 50-60,000 thousand years prior to the British colonization in the late 18th century. With the wide recognition that one of the consequences of economic development has been widespread environmental damage to the country and the native old growth forests and the emergence of an Anthropocene or planetary aesthetics, then why no eco-photography?

In his interview Tatnall says that his approach to photographing nature has its roots in his early desire to see more green on the map meaning more national parks that protected the land. He adds that this desire to preserve nature through national parks was strengthened by the campaign to save Lake Pedder in Tasmania in the 1970s and the threats to the native forests in East Gippsland in Victoria in the 1980s.

He adds that the protection of Australia’s unique landscape is important, and that his motivation for his photography is being able to say something about our fragile environment by making a photograph that has an impact and meaning. This “saying something about” is based on an understanding of place that comes from spending time in that place — in Tatnall’s words “going into nature is to be in nature and if I make a photograph, it’s a bonus.”

This implies an awareness that nature has become enmeshed within our understandings of what it is to be human, and it sounds like an eco-photography, rather than a landscape photography. I would suggest that such a distinction is plausible, reasonable and necessary in the light of the body of work produced by Joyce Campbell. An eco-photography that is aware the signature of the Anthropocene appears in the geological strata: in the ice cores of the rapidly melting Arctic, the agricultural sediments accumulating in the Yellow Sea, the shifting of atmospheric gases in Antarctica and the bushfires in Australia and California.

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large format, nature, trees

Photographing during Covid 2021

December 31, 2021

Looking back over 2021 I can see that the Delta strain of the Covid-19 pandemic had a large impact on my large format photography during 2021. South Australia’s borders were closed throughout 2021 and that meant my photo trips had to be within South Australia’s state borders. Even so, apart from a 12 day camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome plus walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, I stayed close to home in Victor Harbor. The exception was a trip to Melbourne and a visit to the Otways between Melbourne’s two lockdowns.

My large format photography in 2021 has been mostly done within my local area, with much of it being representations of the roadside vegetation along the back country roads. These roads are ones that I often walked along with the poodles in the early morning or the late afternoon. An example of the early morning:

roadside vegetation, Waitpinga

The other reason that I didn’t really do that much large format photography throughout 2021 was that the public health restrictions designed to eliminate Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to concentrate on working on the images and text The Bowden Archives and Industrial Modernity project. This mostly involved researching and working on the text of the four sections of the project, and that meant sitting in front of the computer screen for most of the day, day after day.

Xmas 2021 was my self-imposed deadline for finishing the text. Then I could take a holiday break. It happened — just.

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large format, trees, Victoria

Feature: large format #1

March 10, 2021

I have just spent a lot of money on buying film from B+H in New York. It arrived within a week of ordering, which rather surprised me. I thought that it would take at least twice as long with the international border restrictions due to the Covid -19 pandemic. However, film photography, and especially large format colour photography, is becoming increasingly expensive. The costs, such as the ever rising price of film, the various customs/transport/GST charges, and the post processing at a commercial lab such as Atkins in Adelaide, certainly add up over a year. The cost is probably around, or even over, $A2000 a year.

So I have to do something with the large format images, since many of those that are not part of an exhibition, just sit on my computer’s hard drive, and never see the light of the day. I did think of starting a large format blog to justify the expense, time and difficulty in using large format cameras. As I have far too many blogs–and there is the wonderful Australian based view camera blog run by David Tatnall — I have decided to post some of the large format images here on a regular basis.

I plan to post them every now and again and to do so as a feature of the blog. This initial post reaches back into the archives circa 2015. I am not sure if I ever posted these images before. I didn’t really know what to do with them. For some reason I haven’t posted them on my low profile tree or Rhizomes blog.

Ballan Forest, Victoria, Australia, 2015

The picture above was made with a 5×4 Linhof Technika IV several years ago. I was staying at Creswick in Victoria to check out the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2015. Though I don’t remember much about the various exhibitions in the biennale, I do remember photographing in the Ballan eucalyptus forest. Or maybe it was the Bungal State Forest near Ballan.

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