I struggled with my photography on the recent phototrip to the Wimmera-Mallee for the Mallee Routes project I am working on with Eric Algra and Gilbert Roe. Though it involved slow travelling as a way of making sense of a changing world, my method of working –scoping scenes with a digital camera, then re-photographing with film cameras at a latter date—quickly hit its limits.
I was there on the cusp of summer. It was hot and dry and the light was very bright, intense and contrasty. I could only work very early in the morning after sunrise and in the early evening for a very short period of time. The exploring and scoping of material was during the heat of the day the distances involved in travelling from town to town—about 50 km– meant that it was not feasible for me to return to what I had previously sketched in the brief period of time that I was there.
We camped at the Mallee Bush Retreat on the foreshore of Lake Lascelles in Hopetoun, and I mostly photographed around this regional town. This image of the Memorial Hall was made around 8pm on the last night. We had just come out of the pub and I saw the soft light on the building’s facade. I quickly scoped it, but I had no time to re-photograph it with my 5×4 Linhof before the gentle light disappeared. What I have is a photographic document in the form of a digital file.
In our culture of computer-pictures--our society of information is a society of pictures—it is held that with the emergence of computer-generated imagery the very foundation and status of the photographic document is challenged due to the profound undermining of photography’s status as an inherently truthful pictorial form.It is true that digital nature of the image has challenged the essential qualities of analogue photography: its evidential nature, and the identification as a form of visual truth. It is also true that representing the world through a camera lens is giving way to new forms of vision and image with the new digital image technologies associated with the computer.
This image is no deadpan documentation; nor a mummified effigy that is properly housed in a museum; nor a fading memory in a post-photographic culture of what photography once was. Looking at this particular photographic file on my computer screen is to look at the past: this photograph gives me a particular recollection of an experience and it gives me something to hold onto about he Mallee’s history.
The Memorial Hall at Hopetoun was built in 1922 as a memorial to the men of the region who lost their lives fighting in Europe for the British Empire in WW1 and Australia in WW2. The Hall not only helps to keep the memories of these events alive; it also indicates how the Wimmera-Mallee region is not disconnected from the settler past. The region is overlaid with history and memories. The memories of the community are not simply the past, since they are in the present and help to shape it. They help to provide a historical context for the present.
Rather than photography being a set of disconnected images within our culture of digital image technologies, these photos become a part of the ongoing conversation and the dialogue within the community. The photos of people, locations and buildings embody people’s memories of them; especially when the people, locations and buildings change or disappear. The photos then become a way in which we remember what has happened. Often the memory of that moment, event, object, place or person has become a memory circumscribed by the photograph of it.
This is a conversational photography as distinct from a narrative of travel to distant locations; travel narratives as a genre that have been such a foundational element of literature and photography.