Another possible approach is an eco-photography. The photo below is of a wetland in the Overland Corner Reserve that is adjacent to the River Murray in South Australia. The background to this approach is the environmental destruction carried out over generations by the settler colonists seeking to anglicize a country. Their view was that nature was an adversary to be subjugated and that this was a country to loot — a view that still around today with the multinational mining companies. Dried out wetlands are the scar of this landscape destruction:
On this roadtrip I was starting to look for and trace the overland route that had been used by the overlanders to bring stock to South Australia from Sydney in the early 1840s. I was starting to explore the Riverland region around Lake Bonney, connecting the route to known massacre sites. Then Covid happened and the momentum was lost.
Both of these photographic approaches are a critical perspective on the landscape tradition in Australia insofar as they start to trace and explore the negative consequences of colonial settlement on the country.
I have been looking at some recent scans of the seascapes that I made during 2022 with my vintage RolleiflexF TLR. This is a 60 year old camera and so it is no surprise that the elements of its Planar 75m lens that were joined with balsam glue have recently separated. Apparently the issue of lens separation is often associated with the camera having been exposed to high heat situations during its life. It can be repaired through baking the lens to de-glue the elements, but there is a risk of the elements cracking from the baking process. I decided to go ahead with the repair.
The 2022 seascape images that I made with this Rolleiflex TLR looked quite different to what I’d expected. From the traditional perspective of the quality of the image that is produced by a digital camera you could say that these are degraded images and so failures. That is how I saw them when I’d scanned the negatives and then compared them in Lightroom to the digital images made at the same time. I had initially thought that the degraded images resulted from the lens being salt damaged like the Leica M4-P due to by a rogue wave sweeping over me — but it was lens separation not a salt ladened camera.
I put the scans to one side and forgot about them. Some time later I went back and re-looked at Gustave Le Gray’s mid-19th century coastal photography of Normandy and the western coast of the Mediterranean. I concentrated on his seascapes, that were made using the wet-collodion process and from different negatives (one for the sea and another one for the sky) being combined to produce an image that showed both sky and sea in one unified, double-structured picture. He produced an album of sepia brown toned seascapes of albumen prints called Vistas del Mar. These are images from the prehistory of an instantaneous photography, or pictorial instantaneity, which emerged after 1878.
I found these images created by the combination of two different negatives taken at different moments with different exposure times stunning. They also raised the issues of how does photography represent time? How does photography figure the temporal nature of the medium? What kind of philosophy of time, if any, can be found in photography?
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.
We are back in Australia in mandatory self-isolation after our time in New Zealand. We are in a bunker–a pleasant one- and we remain here for 14 days in response to the coronavirus pandemic.We now live in a world where, in the short run, we must live as if we are infected. Every social interaction contains the possibility of death. Dodging bullets in public. It appears that the culture of progressive modernity, that we have only unending development and improvement to look forward to, has been upended. . The masked figures everywhere on our news feeds constantly remind us of the LNP’s appalling fiasco of letting infected passengers from cruise ships go unchecked into the community; the evidence of a biosecurity collapse at airports and the way that Border Force and federal quarantine authorities dropped the ball. The LNP was the political party whose 10 years political rhetoric was ‘stop the boats’ and they couldn’t stop the one boat–a cruise ship– that mattered.
The first part of the trip in New Zealand was for me continue to photograph in Wellington and then to attend PhotoBook/NZ 2020. The second part was a two week holiday with Suzanne in the lower half of the South Island. Apart from walking inWellington I walked around the cities of Dunedin and Oamaru and then day walks around Lake Manapouri and on both the Hump Ridge Track and the Kepler Track when we were exploring Fiordland.
We arrived back in the midst of a Convid-19 pandemic with a vaccine over a year away and the LNP government belated jettisoning everything it ever believed about free markets, “sound” public finances, efficiency dividends and austerity to reduce the deficit to assume command economy powers to deal with the public health crisis it was slow to address. Too little, too late.
The walking in Wellington, Dunedin and Oamaru took the form of urban drifting—a dérive-poetics without goal or horizon, even though my time in acacia of these cities was short. The urban walks were made in the spirit of Walter Benjamin (who advised travellers to foreign cities to learn to lose their ways) with drifting, being something akin to a non-logocentric way of mapping and understanding the world.
This post on a critical climate aesthetics builds on this one at the Encounter Studio’s photoblog in the light of what has been currently happening in the lower Darling River region. There is some background here about why the Darling River has run dry. The general consensus is that state and federal governments have allowed way too much water to be taken from the system by irrigated agriculture, such as Big Cotton in Queensland and northern NSW.
The idea of a critical climate aesthetics underpins my contribution to the Unknown Futures section of the upcoming Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December 2019.
Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The argument is that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth; and that there is no foreseeable return to the Holocene Epoch.
This argument would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors in the sense that the Anthropocene references an epoch in which humans are the dominant drivers of geologic change on the globe today. It wasn’t just drought that has caused the Darling River to dry up. The catastrophe was partly the result of human activity. This suggests that the Kantian sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.