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:
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.
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.
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.
One of the areas that I did explore that weekend was Mitre Rock, which is an isolated outcrop to the north of Mt Arapiles that looks out onto farmland:
Though I walked around Mitre Rock and went back several times I only made a couple of photos of this western wall of the outcrop. I didn’t make many 5×4 photos that weekend. I was finding my feet, as it were, as I didn’t know the area at all and I was more focused on continuing on to Murtoa in the Wimmera to make 5×4 photos for the Mallee Routes exhibition in December.
As it is still early days in the project, it has no public profile (ie., there is no website) to inform people what is happening. However, a recent update on the state of play of the Our Waters project is on this blog post. This indicates that this photography is not what Rebecca Solnit calls eco-porn: photography that celebrate the ‘untouched beauty’ of nature associated with the nature tourism and calendars that view our land and rivers as a place of wildness and wilderness.
Lake Alexandrina, 2011
It is an opportune time to start such a project given the recent report on the ecological state of the Coorong by the Goyder Institute. The ecological condition of the Coorong has been steadily degrading since European “settlement” due to upstream water extractions, and the Millennium Drought was a major disturbance causing a rapid decline in condition. Whilst the relatively recent increase in natural and managed inflows to the Coorong through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have improved the ecological condition of the North Lagoon, the ecological condition of the South Lagoon has not recovered, or it has continued to decline. As Mary E. White wrote in her Running Down – Water in a Changing Land (Kangaroo Press, 2000):
The continuing saga of the extraction of massive amounts of water from inland rivers to satisfy the escalating demands of the irrigation industry is Australia’s most serious, and ultimately potentially most disastrous water-related issue. It is a battle between two essentially irreconcilable attitudes to land use.
To speak plainly, the Murray-Darling Basin has been, and is being, managed to benefit the irrigators. Continue Reading…
There is a forthcoming conference on Land Dialogues at the Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia. It is an interdisciplinary approach to place/space and human/non-human convergence discourses. The conference blurb says that this involves the following themes:
(1) Analysis or application of existing or emergent dialogues with land in indigenous, pre-colonial, post-colonial and anti-colonial contexts.(2) Explorations of the limits (or perceived limits) of sustainment principles, sustainabilities, ecologies and agriculture.(3) New/Old Frontiers, Land and the Digital and explorations of, or reflections on potentials for new topographies including data visualisations in relationship to land. (4) Experimental or experiential works or non-standard items including exhibition or performance towards dialogue with land.
Currently we have a vacuum about the nature of dialogues with nature in contemporary photography within the gallery system that was once premised on the modernist divide of nature and culture as mutually exclusive. Nature was landscape rather than country, and nature existed in a repressed state in the galleries through the 1980s and early 1990s. So what kind of dialogues with nature are happening in the second decade of the 21st century, given that agricultural industrialisation, which was an early cornerstone of Australian modernity, has left us with parched catchment areas, salt encrusted soil and degraded rivers?
My own work in the Edgelands project —here and here —-can be considered to be a dialogue with the land as opposed to country. This image of the Murrumbidgee River near Hay is an example:
The Murrumbidgee River runs through Wagga Wagga and it is the second largest source of water flows into the Murray-Darling system. The 1,600 km long river is ranked as one of the two least ecologically healthy of 23 tributary rivers in the Basin. Lake Burley Griffin, which is a part of the upper Murrumbidgee, is pretty much a fetid carp pond. By the mid 1970s, almost all of the water in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area had been allocated to irrigators, and today we are seeing an example of river system collapse with the signs of an ecological disaster are all too clear.