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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two quick observations about recent trends in photography.
Firstly, the euphoria and excitement that came in with the boom in photography in the 1970s-80s isn’t really at the core of art photography now. The social context of photography is social media; social media has actually created and defined the form of art photography and I think, unfortunately, that takes it down the narcissistic route. art photography doesn’t have the importance it once had, and that’s been the case for quite a while. It’s become a facet of social media. Reading photographs consists of people glancing at the work in 10 seconds –instant consumption on literally everything.
Secondly, there is the dramatic decline in camera sales. An example:
We are seeing more declines in 2020, partly due to the pandemic but in reality, this was coming regardless of the Covid 19 pandemic. The virus has caused these decline in sales to fall at a faster rate. The future is one of fewer camera bodies being made and price increases across the board– less demand, less sales, lower profits. The dedicated digital cameras today are already a niche and they are already there due to smartphones. Not all manufacturers will survive as there are not enough people buying cameras to sustain them all.
I am in the process of working on a third newsletter and the third online exhibition, which is one on abstractions in photography. I am a bit behind schedule due to Light Paths.
Light Paths is currently under construction. It is a community orientated website for art photographers in South Australia. It is currently in ‘coming soon’ mode, but it should ‘go live’ sometime during October. It is premised around the idea of encouraging art photographers to publish their work in progress re the current project they are working on (initially on the blog and then in a gallery); to go on 2 field trips per year; and to have an annual exhibition based on the work produced on and around those field trips.