Browsing Category

topographics

black + white, critical writing, Melbourne, photography, topographics, urban

Interview: Stuart Murdoch

May 7, 2021

I have decided to do the odd interview with photographers whose work I find interesting and who are interested in engaging in a conversation about their work. ‘Interviews’ will only be an occasional feature of the Thoughtfactory blog. This, the first in the series, is with Stuart Murdoch.

Stuart is a Melbourne based photographer. He has adopted a topographic mode of working, continues to run a couple of photography blogs (one on photography and one on Sunshine); is a member of the Melbourne Photobook Collective; and an administrator of the Australian and New Zealand Topographics group on Flickr. He and I have occasionally collaborated around a rethinking documentary photography project.

Gary Sauer-Thompson (GS-T)

Thanks for offering to do the interview on your industrial Melbourne photos  Stuart. The interview  will be posted on the Thoughtfactory blog and it maybe cross posted to the blog of View Camera Australia.  My observation of what is happening in photo-land is that most photographers in Australia traditionally talk about a particular print,  or about their technique,   or their equipment,  despite,  or in spite of,  the art world being conceptually orientated since conceptual art in the 1960s.  This traditional photo land approach strikes me as an unhelpful way to make sense of  your industrial photos of Melbourne series, which has been ongoing for a decade or more. A more fruitful approach is to shift the emphasis  to understanding your series of photos as a project.  

Can you describe what this project is (ie., the idea behind the project),  what you are trying to do with making this project and how has it evolved over time.  If it has evolved over time, how  has this changed the way you have have approached  photographing industrial Melbourne.  Can you describe what  photographic and or  literary or cultural influences  have  informed your photography, and how have these shaped the way that have understood both the project and they way you approached the photography.

Stuart Murdoch (SM) Thanks for the invitation Gary, and what a great set of questions to kick off with.

Initially I never set out to photograph the industrial in Melbourne. Like many students starting out I aspired  to making work that was considered valuable and usually pictorially conservative subject matter. At University I discovered Robert Adams, and The New Topographic Exhibition in 1977 1. I never looked back and continue working in this way to this day. I have seen enough of each of the photographer’s work, leading up to and after the exhibition, to gain an understanding and appreciation of ideas being put forward by William Jenkins2

Stuart Murdoch, Port Melbourne, looking west, 1990

Robert Adams especially has for me been particularly inspiring. I have quite a few of his monographs and other books. His early essays, helped clarify in my own mind something I’d seen around me, since my early days of photography in the late 1980’s, but was unable to articulate, until, as he suggests in one of his essays, I found a map and compass and sent out to find my own way. Adams’ ideas about hope are central to how I approach my photography.

The idea that the urban was worthy of photographing was revelatory. But I wanted more than a dispassionate  view that Jenkins espoused to frame the approach to the New Topographics. The question I asked myself  was it; or is it ever, possible to photograph one’s own place with “dispassionate neutrality”? 3 I would argue that it is not. Though the New Topographic Photographers  like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, may have approached or attempted to approach their work from a neutral and distant style, my own work is more ardent.

Stuart Murdoch, Melbourne, 1989

This place — Melbourne — is my home.

Pages: 1 2

landscape, roadtrip, topographics

the production of space

April 16, 2019

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.

Dukes Highway, South Australia

But it is more than this, Trevor Paglen describes this idea in the following way:

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.

Pages: 1 2

Adelaide, archives, black + white, film, topographics

Adelaide Photography 1970-2000: Submissions called

November 17, 2018

I have finally picked up working on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book  with Adam  Dutkiewicz that is to  be published by Moon Arrow Press.  There has been more than a year’s break from the early stages of planning  due to  other book and exhibition commitments by Adam and myself. We have just called for submissions for  the portfolios in the book,  and we are now sitting back and waiting to see what comes in from the call out.  Though it is not really clear at this early stage what kind of  work will be submitted,  the book’s explicit regional  focus  will  fill one of the  gaps in  the art history of Australian photography that has traditionally been  written  around a cumulative teleology of styles and periods.

The design of the book is simple: each photographer will be given 6-8 pages to present their work from this period,  and they will have a text  to describe their work and their biography or profile.   As there are currently around  20 photographers who expressed an interest in submitting a portfolio and there is some text, the book looks to be  around  130 pages.  The launch of the book will be at an exhibition of some of the prints in Adelaide early in 2020.

The year 2000 is a useful cutoff point  for the book because this is when photography started to go global:  the explosion of websites, art fairs, festivals, biennales, travelling museum exhibitions, catalogues, conferences, artist residencies etc associated with the international  transmission of objects,  ideas and photographers operating across the boundaries of nation states. If this meant that the hold that European and North American artists had over the production of contemporary art has been broken, that the art world has become more event-driven with biennials and art fairs in far-flung locations, then it also means the biennales are institutional sites whose ways of seeing  contain an aesthetic regime of experience.

sand dunes, Largs Bay, Adelaide

My own portfolio is structured around  my  shift from street photography to topographics. This would exclude the landscape photographs,  and it foreshadows my turn to,  and latter embrace of,  a topographical approach to still photography. The topographical  turn, which  was made during  this period,  with both the Port Adelaide series and the spatial interpretations  of Adelaide, was largely shaped by using  large format cameras.  It was a foreshadowing in the sense of my not consciously relating this to the New Topographics tradition in the US, even though I was consciously photographing  a  human altered landscape. Continue Reading…

architecture, landscape, Melbourne, ruins, topographics

drosscapes

October 12, 2018

Georgina Downey has usefully suggested that the collaborative   project of  photographing industrial Melbourne by  Stuart Murdoch and myself can be usefully framed as belonging to what landscape architects,  call drosscapes.  We have been photographing in and around waste urbanscapes that are different from edge lands  as it is a junkyard that is a by product of industrialisation and is in the process of being redeveloped.

The  concept of  drosscape was coined by Alan Berger (a landscape architect and associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design)  in 2006 in his book, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America to refer to the waste landscapes. Berger proposed classifying a differentiation between waste landscapes (places that store, manage or process urban or industrial waste), wasted landscapes (polluted or abandoned sites), and wasteful landscapes (huge extensions of developed land with virtually no use for the community).

wasteland, Nth Melbourne

The idea of  drosscape applies to the industrial Melbourne site that Stuart and I have been photographing,  as this wasteland is currently being redeveloped as part of the extension of the Melbourne underground. Berger says that a  drosscape is:

“the creation of a new condition in which vast, wasted, or wasteful land surfaces are modeled in accordance with new programs or new sets of values that remove or replace real or perceived wasteful aspects of geographical space (i.e., redevelopment, toxic waste removal, tax revenues, etc.)”. As a verb, he sees the ‘drosscaping’ as the practice incorporating social programs and activities into the transformed waste landscape.”

He adds  that one must not commit the mistake to call an abandoned train station by itself a drosscape. In this instance, a drosscape would be the integration of new horizons onto the unused site, which by itself it is only dross. Continue Reading…

history, Melbourne, roadtrip, topographics, urban

Topographics and a changing Melbourne

April 20, 2018

As mentioned in  the posts here and here on my  low key  Rethinking  Documentary photography blog  I am involved in  a collaborative photographic project  with Stuart Murdoch on changing Melbourne. An exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery in Adelaide  during South Australia’s 2018 SALA Festival is the first public showing of this  collaborative body of work.

Linfox, Footscray,  Melbourne

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…

error: Content is protected !!