I have been thinking about the relationship between climate change and a post-colonial photography of late. I have been asking myself how can still photography address climate change, given the convincing account by climate science with respect to the Anthropocene and the climate heating caused by the use of fossil fuels. If photography is to be relevant to the present, then what could an eco-orientated photography say? What kind of story could it visually narrate? I started a Tumblr blog to begin to explore this, but I have struggled with it and pretty much got nowhere.
I thought that photography could start with addressing the aesthetic concepts established during the Romantic era, and which framed the golden age of landscape painting and the visual arts in the nineteenth century; aesthetic concepts that divided the natural world into the 3 categories of the pastoral, the picturesque, and the sublime. The first two represent nature as a comforting source of physical and spiritual sustenance, whilst the sublime referred to the thrill and danger of confronting untamed nature and its overwhelming forces, such as thunderstorms, alps and deep chasms.
Whilst both the pastoral and picturesque reference human kind’s ability to control the natural world pastoral landscapes celebrate the dominion of mankind over nature. The scenes, which are usually peaceful, often depicting ripe harvests, lovely gardens, manicured lawns with broad vistas, and fattened livestock, are in contrast to those of the court or the city. If the roots of the pastoral lie in a form of poetry that celebrates the pleasures and songs of the herdsmen, then this was steadily expanded to a representation of rural nature that exhibits the ideas and sentiments of those to whom the country affords pleasures and employment. Hence Constable’s landscape paintings of the English countryside.
Human kind in colonial Australia has developed and tamed the landscape – the land yields the necessities we need to live, as well as beauty and safety. If Joseph Lycett established the pastoral landscape tradition in Australia, then Arthur Streeton’s ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ is an iconic example of the representation of the Australian pastoral landscape. In this tradition of the Australian idealisation of settler landscapes — Australia as a Promised Land — Europeans are seen to be in harmony with a fertile land, a land which has been ordered and produced by them and in which they are able to experience leisure. This involved the masking and displacing of environmental pillage and political conquest by nostalgic valuations of the very spaces and biosystems that were being destroyed. This settler pastoralism denies and conceals the colonial exploitation and the dispossession and the genocide of the First Nations people.
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.
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.