architecture, landscape, Mallee, roadtrip

Returning to the silo project

August 11, 2018

The   conceptually based  and low key Silo project   is taking  me a while to refine and to realize in spite of its simplicity.  It has been refined to  a minimal project  that  consists of  photographing 15 silos on the Mallee Highway from Talem Bend to Piangil  using one camera (an 8×10 Cambo  monorail),   one lens (a Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 300mm f/5.6), one type of film (Ilford FP4 Plus) and one tripod (a Linhof Heavy Duty).The photographs,  like those of the conceptual artists in the  1960s and early 70s (e.g., Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations),   will be  paired with words in the form of titles and published in book form.   There is nothing complicated about this kind of project.

Despite this conceptual simplicity and clarity  it is taking me quite a  while  to realize the idea behind  the  project.   It  started in 2016  on  some road trips,  but, to my surprise,  I have discovered that getting it  up and running has proved to be  difficult.    I initially thought that I would photograph in colour as well as black and white but that approach ended in confusion.  I  then encountered  various problems  using the camera,  the coverage limitations of  the  initial lens I was using (a Schneider-Kreuznach Symmar 210mm f/5.6),  and  difficulties developing the 8×10 sheet film without my own darkroom.

silo, Mallee Highway, Victoria

I also  thought   that I could  work on the Silo project whilst simultaneously working on the   Mallee Routes one,   given that I was  frequently travelling up and down the Mallee Highway to go toad from  the various Mallee Routes photo camps.  However,  I found that though I carried the 8×10 Cambo with with me whilst  on the Mallee Routes road trips,    I would never  get around to using it to work on the silo project.  I was too caught up in the Mallee Routes project. I eventually came to  realise  that these were two separate projects that required quite different approaches to photography.  

The problems  that I have encountered in executing  the concept behind the Silo project  has meant  that it has  been sidelined in favour of  working on the collaborative Mallee Routes one.  Some of the initial photos I made of silos  whilst at the Ouyen photo camp in 2016 were shown in the Weltraum exhibition  during the 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale,  but there has been nothing exhibited since.

The logistics of the silo project is a problem given the length of the Mallee Highway.  What I did in 2016  was to  make some day trips or, as when I was photographing the silo at Carina,  swagging on an  over-night road trip.  These future  road trips with the 8×10 could be done in-between the photo camps for the Mallee Routes project. The days trips would work when  photographing the silos in the lower part of  the South Australia section of the Mallee Highway, eg., from  Talem Bend to Geranium.   The over night road trips needed to photograph around   Pinnaroo  and beyond would involve  swagging  at Murrayville and Walpeup in the Victoria’s  Wimmera section of the Mallee Highway.

silo, Murrayville, Victoria

The understanding of conceptual photography in the Silo project is quite different from that in Conceptual Art.  As Lucy Soutter points out in her essay, The Photographic Idea: Reconsidering Conceptual Photography,   conceptual artists since the 1960s’s (eg., Dennis Oppenheim or Sol LeWitt or John Baldessari)   have denied any interest in photography per se. For these  artists  photography was only useful or interesting to them insofar as it was instrumental in conveying or recording their ideas. Time and again artists describe the photographs themselves as either brute information or uninflected documentation. For many years curators, critics and historians have corroborated this reductive understanding of the role of photography in Conceptual Art.

Soutter points out that the refusal of conceptualists to take photography seriously on its own terms is rooted in the earliest definitions of their project. From the beginning, ideas were prioritized over the material form in which they were conveyed—the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work whilst  the material form of the piece is secondary, as in an “afterthought”. When these  artists use a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.

Though the Silo project preconceives a conceptual project that is  then carried out with photographs, the  execution  is not a perfunctory  affair.  The way the silos are photographed  is an important part of the work. The project also  places an  emphasis on the visual, material aspects of the work of art, and its visual intensity,   as well having an interest in identifying and subverting the conventions of the photojournalism/documentary photographic tradition  in Australia. These conventions  include the transparency of the photographic index,  the artistic subjectivity represented by photojournalism and the narrative legibility and compositional resolution of documentary style journalism.


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