I was absent from the book launch and the exhibition opening of Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 at the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in Adelaide. It took place just after Australia had put in place the Covid-19 restrictions for social distancing and social gatherings. I was in New Zealand at the time trying to return to Australia before New Zealand closed its borders. After I returned to Adelaide I went into the 14 day mandatory quarantine. After the quarantine finished we entered a world of lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections to prevent overloading the health system. The lockdown tempo was set by NSW and Victoria, the two worst affected states.
I have yet to see the exhibition and the books are largely unsold.
The background to the Adelaide Art Photographer’s project is here.
Due to the Covid -19 restrictions the opening was sparsely attended, the book launch was minimal, and the exhibition was opened only for a few hours. Then everything was closed down. However, the exhibition does have some online presence. There are the exhibition images, a walk through of the exhibition images by Paul Atkins and Adam Dutkiewicz and the exhibition opening address by Paul Atkins. Meanwhile the pandemic rages on, many lives are on pause, while many others end.
I have finally picked up working on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book with Adam Dutkiewicz that is to be published by Moon Arrow Press. There has been more than a year’s break from the early stages of planning due to other book and exhibition commitments by Adam and myself. We have just called for submissions for the portfolios in the book, and we are now sitting back and waiting to see what comes in from the call out. Though it is not really clear at this early stage what kind of work will be submitted, the book’s explicit regional focus will fill one of the gaps in the art history of Australian photography that has traditionally been written around a cumulative teleology of styles and periods.
The design of the book is simple: each photographer will be given 6-8 pages to present their work from this period, and they will have a text to describe their work and their biography or profile. As there are currently around 20 photographers who expressed an interest in submitting a portfolio and there is some text, the book looks to be around 130 pages. The launch of the book will be at an exhibition of some of the prints in Adelaide early in 2020.
The year 2000 is a useful cutoff point for the book because this is when photography started to go global: the explosion of websites, art fairs, festivals, biennales, travelling museum exhibitions, catalogues, conferences, artist residencies etc associated with the international transmission of objects, ideas and photographers operating across the boundaries of nation states. If this meant that the hold that European and North American artists had over the production of contemporary art has been broken, that the art world has become more event-driven with biennials and art fairs in far-flung locations, then it also means the biennales are institutional sites whose ways of seeing contain an aesthetic regime of experience.
One of the more noticeable characteristics of the contemporary photographic culture in Australia is the dearth of independent critical-writing or public criticism that endeavours to convince the wider public of the worth of art photography through the process of explicating, encouraging, elevating, supporting, critiquing. There is next to nothing icy way of photo criticism in Adelaide:—the Broadsheet Journal has closed down, whilst The Adelaide Review, Artlink and Tulpa basically overlook/ignore photographic exhibitions The consequence of this lack of cultural building blocks is that art photographers working on long term projects live in a critical vacuum, despite the shift online to a networked digital world.
Many traditional photographers would not be concerned about this vacuum in photography’s critical discourse as they have no real love for art criticism, but it is a depressing situation that we find ourselves in. Criticism is a crucial part of making and enabling a photographic culture, and photography has been at the centre of critical debates and themes throughout late twentieth and 21st century art photography’s and it has had a crucial impact on contemporary art in this period.
Royal Adelaide Hospital
This lack of a critical impulse and discourse about contemporary photography is reinforced by the lack of value around the arts in mainstream media and among the public more generally. The entire journalism industry has been going through a major phase of disruption, and arts coverage has been the first to go in the mainstream media. It has been decimated over the last decade, which makes the newspapers irrelevant.
The primary reason for this is that the arts are no longer a priority for the mainstream media that is still dependent on advertising and sales revenue. The shift to digital means that the emphasis is now all about what rates online in terms of the most clicks from readers. Since the reviews of exhibitions are not being read, other than by those immediately connected to them, so the media publishers stop publishing art reviews. As his well known, the advertising model is broken and people do not want to subscribe to the mainstream media. Arts coverage in the mainstream media is directly commensurate with the advertising dollars it brings in re the page’s profitability. This means that arts coverage is in its own silo – it survives off the strength of art-related advertisers only. Continue Reading…
I have spent some time in the last week or so contacting people to invite them to participate in the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book that is to be produced by Adam Dutkiewicz and myself for Moon Arrow Press. This book builds on, or is a development from, the Abstract Photography book that we published in 2016, which recovered what was left of the abstract modernist work produced in the 1960s. These are companion volumes so to speak.
The result to the initial email that has been sent out has been positive, in that the people who have been contacted so far have all said yes. Several others are rather slow in responding to that email. However, the main problem that I have encountered at this stage has been finding the contact details for some of the names of the relevant people that have mentioned. As a result some people who made art photographs during that period will not be included. They disappear from our visual history.
Harts Mill, Port Adelaide
Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 is designed to fill in one of the many gaps of the national histories and timelines of art photography in Australia that leave out Adelaide. This gap, silence or absence gives the wrong impression, as it implies that nothing of interest happened in South Australia in art photography during the last quarter of the 20th century. The inference is that South Australia is just a fly over state, and if any photographic work happened during this period, it is provincial, and so of little interest with respect to the national canon. Hence the idea of alternate histories–namely a rethinking of Australian photographic history that questions our understanding and interpretation of the past.
The Bowden Archives is is now in publication. I took the image files to the publisher–Wakefield Press— on Monday, the 17th July. I still have the text, or rather the three texts, to finish. I am currently struggling to get them into some short of shape. The overall argument is still very implicit and fuzzy, and the arguments of each of the texts are still hazy. I have another month to get the texts to flow, and once that is done I will finally have a draft of the book .
A book is the next stage after publishing the images online in Flickr and then a WordPress blog. It is very much a DIY project at a time when there is a substantial attack on knowledge, inquiry and, cultural memory caused by the austerity regime imposed by conservatives. This has seen ongoing public funding cuts to science authorities, universities, research programs, museums, archives, galleries and the public broadcaster along with a general dismissal of photography as a naïve, indulgent or downright irresponsible way to spend one’s time and energy.
Bowden kids, Adelaide
At this stage the preface is entitled ‘Living in Bowden‘, the second essay is entitled ‘Alternate Photographic Histories’ and the third text is entitled ‘Photography, Memory, Place’. The idea behind the book is to give a grounding to this style of regional photography; one that breaks with the positivist conception of documentary photography in the art institution by making the shift to hermeneutics and interpretation. This means that the photos are made rather than taken. It is a small and modest step to helping create a strong, critical visual culture to counter the latent anti-intellectualism directed at those people who want to talk/write about the ideas on which photography rests, as well as making images. Continue Reading…