McCaughey said that photographers should stop aspiring to be artists and instead embrace the essential properties of their medium: its ubiquity, accessibility and reproducibility. The more the photographer accepts his (sic) role as a photographer and the less concerned he (sic) is to prove himself as an artist, accepting the habits of artist, exhibiting as an artist and seeking a role and status akin painters sculptors, the better off photography is. Photographers should forget abstraction because it is not suited to the medium. Photography is always photography of something.
This was Greenberg’s position: photography’s essential properties were delimited according to the medium’s supposedly direct relationship to the external visual world and that what the medium is becomes deﬁned via what it is not. The determination of any given medium is partly through negation.
However McCaughey’s modernist purity position is one that says what counts as a medium is a given with determinable criteria thereby allowing him to identify a medium or judge its value in advance. Consequently, it dismisses abstraction in photography by definition, in spite of there being a tradition of abstract photography and that there is an expanding field in any medium.
An expanding ﬁeld in photography in the 1970s opens up the possibility of a whole range of new practices can each count as a photographic medium. It would also highlight different photographic practices moving away from traditional documentary and formalist modernism with the paradigm shift in the art world away from modernism.
I am currently reading Rebecca Dagnall’s practice based research PhD entitled, Landscape photography and the imaginary of an Australian Gothic. It was done in 2017 at RMIT, and consists of three photographic projects: In Tenebris, The road trip, and Absence and presence: states of being in the Australian landscape. This blog post refers to Dagnell’s research around Australian road trips.
Dagnall starts the research part with David Campany’s recent The open road — photography and the American road trip; a book that provides a history of photography on the road through featuring the work of twenty photographers to document how artists have pictured America since the decisive work of Robert Frank in the 1950s. She then turns her attention to road trips and photography in Australia.
One way to think about history in relationship to the landscape, such as the Mallee landscape, is to adopt a geographical perspective, as geography is concerned with space and it has been informed by the idea of the production of space. This latter refers to how space has been made or produced in order to satisfy and expand human needs and possibilities. The key is to make or to produce space, rather than just to conceive it.
In a nutshell, the production of space says that humans create the world around them and that humans are, in turn, created by the world around them. In other words, the human condition is characterized by a feedback loop between human activity and our material surroundings. In this view, space is not a container for human activities to take place within, but is actively “produced” through human activity. The spaces humans produce, in turn, set powerful constraints upon subsequent activity.
The production of space takes us beyond seeing nature in terms of the impact of human habitation: ie., nature as ‘tamed’, ‘interpreted’ and ‘framed’, and as something deeply impregnated with metaphorical and poetic meaning.
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…
Melbourne, like New York in the 1930s, is changing very fast and the currently existing parts of the historical, industrial Melbourne will be gone tomorrow. These are the familiar things a city that are overlooked until they are gone. Bernice Abbott’s well known 1930s large format photo project, Changing New York, is a historical reference point in spite of the truncated nature of the 1939 book. Many of Abbott’s photographs from this body of work are now in the public domain, as they have been made available online by the New York Public Library. These photos are a reference point for our photographing a changing Melbourne, even though there are big differences between the two cities and the photographic projects. Continue Reading…