GST: Now that we have a broad understanding of your project in relation to Melbourne photography I thought that we might zoom in on some particular photos. Could you select 2-3 photos that are an important/significant to you in this project, and then talk about how you came to see, how you approached making it and why it is significance for your project. The kind of photo that I have in mind is one that represents a hurrah moment—ie., I’ve stopped stumbling around, its coming together and this photo points the way, or gives me confidence to continue working on the project in isolation.
SM: The way I now work means those hurray moments are few and far between. Picture choices in the early days were based on pictorial strengths and merits alone. Dipping back into my archive has proved fruitful and it helps me to look forward to attempt to capture changes before they occur. The subject matter that I pursue has not really changed in 30+ years of working with cameras, only the spaces themselves. Now in the 21st century revisiting these sites is important as they are markers of Melbourne’s development along with my own as a visual creative.
The photo of St Albans (circa 1990) has had a significant impact on my work:
I literally stopped the cab I was driving and pulled my kit out of the boot. I did this on occasion, on weekend day shifts in particular. While this image echoed aspects of Robert Adams’ work, it was for me a uniquely Melbourne suburban picture. By the way the site has radically altered in some way but is still the same in others.
Grass fires in suburban Melbourne, and I’m sure in other large cities too, are a common thing. Especially in parts of the city close to the edge as was St. Albans in those days. So this picture has always held a prominent position in my mind. For all the elements captured, and the signs and signifiers it carried. The burnt grass, the powerlines the vehicular tracks, all these signs/man made marks demonstrated a use of the space and land that was and remains contemporary. It continually draws me back in even after nearly 30 years of looking at it as a contact image. I still on occasion drive past it, the changes are significant, but the space is still empty, and now near a major Arterial road, the M8 ring road.
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.
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. Continue Reading…
Although I have a rudimentary studio set up at Encounter Studio (with a 8×10 Sinar P, a table and window light) most of the still life images that I do of the subject matter around the coastal neighbourhood at Victor Harbor are in open air settings. The method of working is simple. The locations and subject matter are selected whilst I am on the morning or evening poodle walks, I take some scoping photos with the digital camera (an old Sony NEX-7) and, if they work, I come back and reshoot them with a film camera.
This kind of studio work is a break from my topographic approach to photography that I do for the Mallee Routes project. This is an early example, probably one of the first images made in an open air, coastal studio:
bottle + shells, Petrel Cove
The bottle had been washed on Dep’s Beach, which is west of Petrel Cove, and I carried it back to Petrel Cove on the return leg of the poodlewalk. I set it up amongst some rocks, and made some digital pictures. I then hid the bottle amongst some rocks so that people wouldn’t find it and the high tide wouldn’t carry it back to sea.
I really do struggle with my landscape photography in and around Encounter Bay on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia, even though I do a lot of scoping for it. I struggle in the sense of having both a lots of doubts the value of this working and a lack of confidence in what I am doing —with both the coastal work and the roadside vegetation. So I don’t get very far with working the Fleurieuscapes project as I am not sure what I am doing with it.
I only have confidence in the abstraction side of this photographic project. The work process is now routine and I am quite comfortable with it. I make a digital study of the object, sometimes convert the colour digital file to a black and white one, and then spend some time assessing the image for possibilities for a 5×4 photo session. Is it worth doing? If so, what is the best way to approach this? This is an example of the work process –some granite rocks on the beach at Petrel Cove.
granite study for 5×4
I have sat on this image for a couple of months at least. In fact I scoped it a year ago and I’d left it sitting on the computer. I re-scopped it earlier this year when I was walking around exploring Petrel Cove whilst on a poodlewalk. I remembered that I had previously photographed this bit of rock and that I wasn’t happy with what I had done, but I had thought that it had possibilities for a black and white 5×4 photoshoot using the baby Sinar (F2). So I re-scoped it. Continue Reading…