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.

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