The Tasmanian Exhibition

5x4 Linhof Technika IV

This is an exhibition of images of Tasmania, Australia by Warren Dawson and Gary Sauer-Thompson.

Heidegger’s analysis of technology looks at how technological apparatus’ have changed over time, and, more specifically, how the attitude of the apparatus toward nature has altered. In Heidegger’s view the scientific, (modern) mathematical understanding of space paves the way for modern technology which, in turn, requires a view of space as mappable, controllable and capable of domination.

It was Descartes who provides  the  philosophical justification for demarcated, controllable, calculable space. His geometric understanding of space in terms of extension, in terms of mathematical co-ordinates, marks the shift in that geometry is no longer simply an abstraction from being, but is seen as a generalization of being. This “ Euclidean space” is the foundation on which Newton will raise the structure of his mathematical science of nature.The modern understanding of time and space is fit only for the domination of nature. 

Heidegger  both historicizes space and spatializes history. In The Question Concerning Technology Heidegger compares the old wooden bridge over the Rhine with thenew hydroelectric plant. Whereas the bridge was built into the river, now the river is damned up into the power plant. The river has now become a “water-power supplier”, which derives its essence from the power-plant. It is enframed by technology and becomes a standing reserve to be used (and used as efficiently as possible).  This technology and its calculative thinking, which  is  designed by science to master nature, has increasingly  come to master the wielders of this technology. 

The argument is that  our environmental degradation is the result of a dominating and controlling relation with the other-than-human realm;  and that such a relation is a necessary consequence of our way of ‘knowing’ ourselves and other entities that is implicit in this Western metaphysical tradition.  

For instance, some thinkers have argued that we should save ‘pristine nature’; others that ‘wild nature’ or ‘wilderness’ must be preserved; some suggest that ‘nature’ is a resource that must be conserved . All these connotations of ‘nature’ see it as something that is ‘actual’ and separate and apart from humanity. Heidegger’s thinking enables us to see that what we understand as ‘nature’ is historically, socially and culturally specific,  and that Western metaphysical thinking has produced a particular idea of ‘nature’ that is alienated from humanity.

The images in this exhibition are primarily from the Queenstown, Tasmania are based on several roadtrips I’ve made to Tasmania since the first decade of the 21st century.

The globalised, large scale, or world histories of photography have primarily centred on Western Europe and the United States. Consequently the knowledge of photography outside of this regional photographic centre is fragmentary in spite of the critique of the logic of empires, colonel oppression and capitalist plunder and the postcolonial movement. Even when regional photographic histories have been constructed–eg., Australia–these are seen either in terms of the straitjacket of national history, or ignored by those working within a Eurocentric frame.

Tasmania can be seen in terms of global microhistory, given the routes and networks that linked this place to the British empire; natural resources such as copper that is mined in Tasmania and shipped to the UK; the tourist photographs of Tasmania that persuaded people in the UK to migrate to Tasmania; the use of British troops to dispossess Tasmanian aborigines from their land. This is a world of the movement and mobility of people, commodities, practices and ideas; exchanges between cultures, religions and societies; and about the connections that integrated the lived experience of different religions and empires in the modern world of the 19th century.

Since photographs are micro (they capture a particular time and place) and global (they can travel widely) they are part of a transnational network history, and not just a muddy national Australian one.  

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