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.
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.
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.