abstraction, critical writing, roadtrip

McCaughey on abstract photography

April 13, 2021

I came across some interesting remarks made by Patrick McCaughey in the 1970s about the relationship between photography and abstraction in Mellissa Miles’ text The Language of Light and Dark: Light and Place in Australian Photography. This was in an introduction to Aspects of Australian Photography (ed. Graham Howe, 1974) that McCaughey, a formalist art critic and art historian, wrote. His concern as a formal modernist was that photography, of it wanted to be a serious art, should work with the essential properties of photography as a medium rather than aspire to produce abstractions like painting.

McCaughey said that photographers should stop aspiring to be artists and instead embrace the essential properties of their medium: its ubiquity, accessibility and reproducibility. The more the photographer accepts his (sic) role as a photographer and the less concerned he (sic) is to prove himself as an artist, accepting the habits of artist, exhibiting as an artist and seeking a role and status akin painters sculptors, the better off photography is. Photographers should forget abstraction because it is not suited to the medium. Photography is always photography of something.

This was Greenberg’s position: photography’s essential properties were delimited according to the medium’s supposedly direct relationship to the external visual world and that what the medium is becomes defined via what it is not. The determination of any given medium is partly through negation.

sandstone abstract, Otways

However McCaughey’s modernist purity position is one that says what counts as a medium is a given with determinable criteria thereby  allowing him to identify a medium or judge its value in advance. Consequently, it dismisses abstraction in photography by definition, in spite of there being a tradition of abstract photography and that there is an expanding field in any medium.

An expanding field  in photography in the 1970s opens up the possibility of a whole range of new practices can each count as a photographic medium. It would also highlight different photographic practices moving away from traditional documentary and formalist modernism with the paradigm shift in the art world away from modernism.

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archives, landscape, Victoria

Otways: Archival

March 30, 2021

I have arranged to go on a large format field trip with the Melbourne based Friends of Photography Group (FOPG) in the Great Otway National Park in and around Lorne. Whilst preparing for this field trip by looking at Google maps I remembered that I had photographed in the western edge of the Otway National Park in 2016. This was on an earlier roadtrip that included Canberra, Ballarat and Melbourne.

farm, Johanna

We were on the return leg of the roadtrip and stayed a couple of nights with the standard poodles at some upmarket seaside cottages near Johanna Beach that overlooked a farm. It was a short walk through the campsite and the sand dunes to the surfing beach, and a small drive across the Great Ocean Road to the edge of the forest along the Old Ocean Rd.

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large format, trees, Victoria

Feature: large format #1

March 10, 2021

I have just spent a lot of money on buying film from B+H in New York. It arrived within a week of ordering, which rather surprised me. I thought that it would take at least twice as long with the international border restrictions due to the Covid -19 pandemic. However, film photography, and especially large format colour photography, is becoming increasingly expensive. The costs, such as the ever rising price of film, the various customs/transport/GST charges, and the post processing at a commercial lab such as Atkins in Adelaide, certainly add up over a year. The cost is probably around, or even over, $A2000 a year.

So I have to do something with the large format images, since many of those that are not part of an exhibition, just sit on my computer’s hard drive, and never see the light of the day. I did think of starting a large format blog to justify the expense, time and difficulty in using large format cameras. As I have far too many blogs–and there is the wonderful Australian based view camera blog run by David Tatnall — I have decided to post some of the large format images here on a regular basis.

I plan to post them every now and again and to do so as a feature of the blog. This initial post reaches back into the archives circa 2015. I am not sure if I ever posted these images before. I didn’t really know what to do with them. For some reason I haven’t posted them on my low profile tree or Rhizomes blog.

Ballan Forest, Victoria, Australia, 2015

The picture above was made with a 5×4 Linhof Technika IV several years ago. I was staying at Creswick in Victoria to check out the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2015. Though I don’t remember much about the various exhibitions in the biennale, I do remember photographing in the Ballan eucalyptus forest. Or maybe it was the Bungal State Forest near Ballan.

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Art, critical writing, landscape, photography

Note: Photography as a medium

January 3, 2021

The insistence on medium-specificity in the visual arts arose in the era of modernism has become associated with the art critic Clement Greenberg’s commitment to medium-specificity as a condition of artistic value. This was spelt out in the aesthetics essay in the Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 book published by Moon Arrow Press (Adelaide, 2019). With postmodernism (1980-1990s) and the anti-aesthetic environment the idea of a specific medium became akin to toxic waste, and it was seen as just too ideologically loaded.

Yet photographers continue to make photos in the 21st century, and see themselves as working in a specific photographic medium. Is it then possible to still speak of photography as a medium after the demise of modernism? If so, how can we understand contemporary photography as a medium?

The concept of the artistic medium can be traced back to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1766 essay, Laocoon. Lessing dismantles Horace’s famous claim “ut pictura poesis” (as is painting, so is poetry), arguing that these media are inherently different, because while poetry unfolds in time, painting exists in space. He refers to the media as two equitable and friendly neighbours who should not overstep their respective domains. Lessing contended that an artwork, in order to be successful, needs to adhere to the specific stylistic properties of its own medium.

Redbank cliffs, Kangaroo Island

Clement Greenberg’s influential co-opting of Kant’s aesthetics to buttress modernism in the face of influence of Duchamp and the emergence of Pop, Minimalism and Conceptual Art picks Lessing’s idea of medium up and linked it to taste, aesthetic judgement and value. Modernism, for Greenberg, is a heightened tendency towards aesthetic value. He states that medium-specificity is a characteristic which distinguished Modern Art from the previous art forms. Modernism consists in the emancipation of art from its classical role of pure representation.

Greenberg then defends and celebrates abstract painting as achieving the perfect expression of medium-specificity and purity — purity being the ideal state of medium-specificity, the work as uncontaminated by the influence of other media. By escaping from the chains of recognizable subject matter, the abstract painter became free to focus on the materiality of the medium. Thus, painting became an autonomous force that communicated nothing outside of its own self-contained properties.  Greenberg’s general idea is that it is by virtue of its medium that each art is unique and strictly itself, and that an artwork is defined by the qualities of the materials used.

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coastal, Covid-19,, South Australia

Lockdown

November 19, 2020

There has been an outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in the northern suburbs of Adelaide in South Australia. These new cases are South Australia’s first without a known source of transmission since April 1 2020–7 months ago.  

Known as the Parafields cluster it has been traced back to returned traveller from the UK, to a cleaner, on to two security guards and then into the community. The cleaner worked at a medi-hotel (a quarantine hotel) for Australians returning from overseas, and then transmitted to the cleaner’s extended family, some of whom worked as security guards. The particular strain of this virus is showing no symptoms for people who have become infected; it is highly contagious (it was transmitted from surfaces at the medi-hotel in the city); and the incubation is very short —down to 24 hours.

seaweed + granite, Waitpinga

The state government, in response to this second wave, has instituted a very tough mandatory lockdown of the state at midnight on the 18th of November in an attempt to execute a six day circuit breaker, to get on top of the contact tracing and to get every single person that they can into a quarantine situation as quickly as possible. The lockdown is being used to contain the virus, where as in Europe governments only uses lockdowns when things are out of control 

Basically we cannot leave our house for the next 6 days and only one person per household can leave the home once a day to visit the supermarket, or if they are in an emergency, or if their home is unsafe.  Face masks are advised when in public but they are not mandatory.

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