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.
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.
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…
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…
I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. Continue Reading…