Ian Lobb’s black and white landscapes in his Black Range (State Park, Victoria) series opens up the possibility for a contemporary landscape photography in Australia in the early 21st century after the demise of modernism and the decay of postmodernism. Lobb worked on the Black Range series throughout the 1986-1996 market bubble decade. These intimate photographs of the Victorian bush within the image economy of a globalized world were interpreted by Helen Ennis, the then Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Art, as metaphors for psychological and spiritual states. The aesthetic background of the styles, mediums and concerns in Australia in this period is succinctly outlined by Terry Smith in this interview.
My contrasting interpretation of Lobb’s smallscale and localized Black Range landscape series is that it is part of the displacement of the modernist emphasis on photography being part of the grand narrative of the avant-garde breaking new ground in terms of art historical style. It also part of the displacement of the critical postmodernist emphasis on pastiche, parody, appropriation and a free floating simulacral world of signs disconnected from real physical objects. Several diverse strands of contemporary art emerged in the clearing opened up this displacement, and the smallscale and localized artmaking exemplified by Lobb’s modest Black Range photos, was identified by Terry Smith in his What is Contemporary Art? as one of the 3 main currents of contemporary art in the early decades of the 21st century.
My interpretation holds that the significance of Lobb’s contemporary Black Range landscapes is that this series highlights place (topos); place in the sense of Lobb being in a local place that he understood and knew very well from his frequent visits. Place is that within which we are at homeor within which we dwell, and to dwell is to be located in a harmonious relationship with one’s surrounding environment. Lobb’s intimate landscapes shows both that he was at home in the Black Range bushland and that his photography was a form of placemaking. They open up a pathway for others to begin to walk along.
In contrast to many of Melbourne’s art photographers, who relate to Ian Lobb as the master fine printer with his worthy emphasis on the beautifully crafted print, I connected to his smallscale and modest landscape photos of the local Black bush. My interpretation of this body of work as opening up a pathway for a contemporary landscape photography is that it suggests that such a photography is of the present, but one that newly mobilizes the past tradition of landscape photography. A photography that is of the present but is not out of date, doesn’t have a backward looking orientation, nor is it nostalgic.
Lobb’s Black Range series gave me the confidence to go beyond my tentative landscape photos of the local Waitpinga bush on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia by continuing to walk along his pathway and continue with my initial photographs through becoming attached to this place by being at home in the bush. I came to understand that the history of both the Black Range and the Waitpinga bush as a place or topos meant that they are both bounded and open, both singular and plural. I realized that the question of place they raise is also a question of time or history, which can be understood as a history of these specific places coming into being and undergoing change.