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.
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.
When I was on the Balranald photocamp for the Mallee Routes project exploring the Yanga woolshed and homestead I noticed the dryness of the country was around the Murrumbidgee River that was caused by lack of autumn and winter rainfall, the protracted drought and climate change. As I drove through the Yanga National Park to the red gum forest at Woolpress Bend I noticed that the decline in rainfall meant that none of the little creeks (eg., Uara Creek) were flowing in and around the national park; the wetlands were dry and the trees in the floodplains were dying.I noticed that there were hardly any old mature River Red Gum trees–they’d been logged to fuel river boats, for fencing and other uses. This changed the structure of the forests along the Murrumbidgee River.
The evidence suggests that human-caused climate change is exacerbating drought conditions in parts of Australia, especially in the southeast (and southwest) part of Australia. My assumption is that as climate change is already here, so we need to brace for its impact, and to start learning how to adapt to a warmer world in south eastern Australia.
trees, Yanga Creek, NSW
The lower Murrumbidgee River was historically unknown for the richness of the floodplains due to the natural flow regimes from the melting snow in the Great Dividing Range in the spring. This flow regime has been modified by river regulation that includes building of dams and weirs, diversion of river flow by extraction, alteration of flows on floodplains with levees and structures to allow water storage. Continue Reading…
Despite this conceptual simplicity and clarity it is taking me quite a while to realize the idea behind the project. It started in 2016 on some road trips, but, to my surprise, I have discovered that getting it up and running has proved to be difficult. I initially thought that I would photograph in colour as well as black and white but that approach ended in confusion. I then encountered various problems using the camera, the coverage limitations of the initial lens I was using (a Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 210mm f/5.6), and difficulties developing the 8×10 sheet film without my own darkroom.
silo, Mallee Highway, Victoria
I also thought that I could work on the Silo project whilst simultaneously working on the Mallee Routes one, given that I was frequently travelling up and down the Mallee Highway to go toad from the various Mallee Routes photo camps. However, I found that though I carried the 8×10 Cambo with with me whilst on the Mallee Routes road trips, I would never get around to using it to work on the silo project. I was too caught up in the Mallee Routes project. I eventually came to realise that these were two separate projects that required quite different approaches to photography. Continue Reading…
It is good to see that road trips –as distinct from the expedition, the field trip or travel photography –have started to become popular amongst Australian art photographers as distinct from the American road trip tradition, which largely happened after 1945 with its myths about driving west in the car to The Promised Land.
We can begin to think in terms of a photographic tradition of road trips in Australia as a genre: one that is framed by the modernists as the act of being on the road; the art of individuals–the lone photographer– producing discrete works; and the photograph as a self-contained work of art. The road trip is a part of a dream of being on the open road; the photography is an existential act of wrangling with an alien world, mastering it by anthologising it, and giving unique insights into what lay behind everyday appearances. The road trip genre tends to be biographical and personal.
A starting point for constructing this tradition, given the decline in the curatorial interest in photography in the 21st century, would be the 2014 exhibition, The Road: Photographers on the move 1970-85 exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art, even if it was confused about what constitutes a road trip–Robert Rooney photographing the same car in different locations around Melbourne–with its reference to the serial propositions of Ed Ruscha such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962)—is not a road trip. The 1985 cut off date meant that the exhibition did not include the latter road trip work by Trent Parke, Narelle Autio or the work of David Marks.
I am slowly working away on a road trip project and posting the images on my On the RoadTumblr blog. There are some more from the 1980s on my archival blog. Even though it is envisioned to be a book, this project is based on several trips and it currently has no title or theme. Liquid Moments? Oddly Squared? No Maps, No Plans? Easy Roads? Dark Lies the Road?
The image below of an altered landscape in the South Australian mallee is from the archives, and it one of the earliest of my road trip photos.
There may well be other art photographers who have archives of road trip photos and/or are working on contemporary road trip projects in Australia that I don’t know about. Eric Algra comes to mind. Continue Reading…
This survey style exhibition focused on both new work by emerging artists, by which was meant a new generation of professionals trained in the art schools; as well as recent work by those artists who had began their careers in the mid to late 1970s, and whose work has often addressed more traditional photographic concerns in the 1980s.
Carwarp, Victorian Mallee
In the catalogue Ennis observed that due to the centrality of photography’s position with postmodernism, some photographic work has enjoyed as high profile in exhibitions of contemporary art. However, photographs displaying more traditional concerns, for example, those made in the photo documentary and formalist styles, are rarely considered in the art world.
As an example of exhibitions of contemporary art that gave prominence to photographs Innes mentions Australian Perspecta and the Biennale of Sydney exhibitions held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. These were photos that displayed clear links to works of art rather than photography that seem to be derived from a particular knowledge of the medium and its history. Australian Perspecta, which was a biennial survey show to showcase Australian contemporary art ran from 1981 until 1999 and it is an example of the way in which the State Galleries focused on the big national and international survey exhibitions as well as the block-buster touring shows due to their capacity to generate large amounts of revenue.