The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to my planned travels to both Lorne and the Great Otway National Park with the Friends of Photography Group in April, and to Melbourne’s CBD to continue working on the drossscape project with Stuart Murdoch in June. I found it astounding that a neo-liberal government committed to austerity and financial orthodoxy locked down whole sections of economic activity knowing that this turn to public health restrictions meant jumping over the cliff edge of the sharpest recession in modern history.
Melbourne has become a no go destination due to the city becoming a hotspot with an outbreak of community transmission in a number of suburbs; those areas in Melbourne with high rates of household overcrowding, homelessness, housing affordability stress and financial hardship. A crucial source for the community transmission of Covid-19 was the security guard fiasco at the Melbourne quarantine hotels for those Australians returning from being overseas. The public health response to the failures in hotel quarantine infection control protocols was to reimpose restrictions on family and outdoor gatherings; a widespread testing blitz in the hotspot suburbs assisted by Australian defence force personnel; then a stage three lockdown of Melbourne itself.
A common argument in photographic theory is that the triumph of the digital image as the contemporary form of photography forces a reevaluation of the traditional assumption of correspondence between the image and some form of reality of which it is said to be an imprint. The argument is that digital images that begin their life as binary data and are driven by algorithms cannot be comprehended through the conventional trinity of representation, the index and the punctum. A major shift has taken place with the emergence of the networked image.
As a photographer I understand the digital image to be an evolution from analogue photography: to all intents and purposes a digital image made with a digital camera is little different to the one that is made with an analogue camera. I situate myself in the world in the act of photographing, and then I use these working tools to construct visual representations. The Sony a7R111 digital camera is an automated, computational and pre-programmed tool compared to the entirely manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera that was made in the 1970s. The trajectory in digital photography is towards the expensive professional high end. This means increased automation, a pre-programmed apparatus, and more and more AI being built into the post processing software in order to counter the competition from the increasingly sophisticated cameras in smart phones.
Here is a digital image made with a digital Sony-a7 R111 camera:
Here is the analogue photograph made with the all manual Leica M 4-P analogue camera. The negative has been scanned into a digital file and then processed in Lightroom.
The differences between the two technologies within this logic of representation are minimal when they are viewed on a computer screen after being edited with Lightroom software. The object —ie., the quartz and creek in the two images –is known to us as a representation of the object. Photography is a process that mediates the world with the agency of light to produce legible images.
From my perspective as a working photographer the main difference between the two technologies is evolutionary. The digital technology is more convenient to use and it offers greater flexibility for hand held photograph in low light situations–eg., at dawn. As a photographer I continue to work within the trinity of representation, the index and the punctum, with both digital and analogue cameras. However, I do realise that the image on the computer screen made with a digital camera resembles the look of a traditional photograph because the computational processes are currently designed by the manufacturers to make these data packages look familiar to those working within the photograhic tradition.
On my first night camping on the camel trek in the northern Flinders Ranges I experienced a culture shock due to the degraded-landscape around me. Our camp at Bend Well (a water point) was west of Arkaroola and just outside the edge of the northern tip of the Gammon Ranges and I was stunned at just how degraded the ecology of this landscape of this part of the northern Flinders was. It wasn’t the dryness of the landscape that shocked me. This is a semi-arid landscape given the minimal rainfall (roughly around 150mm) that is highly variable and the hot, dry desert climate with cool to cold winters, and the periods of drought.
We were camped on Umberatana Station south of the dingo or dog fence that runs roughly east-west across South Australia. To the south of the fence, dingoes (wild dogs) have been destroyed It is north of the dog fence sheep that grazing is unviable due to dingo predation. The main grazing pressure south of the dog fence is from sheep, a few cattle and unknown number of rabbits and kangaroos.
trough, Bend Well, Umberatana Station
What really shocked me was the condition of the land—the ecological devastation–that had been caused by the long history over stocking by the pastoralists, drought and the plagues of rabbits since the mid-nineteenth century with little signs of contemporary landcare. I couldn’t help but notice the loss of vegetation and the subsequent destruction of the soil surface. This is certainly a human altered landscape that had been changed by the pastoral industry.
I appreciate that these pioneer settlers underpinned the general prosperity of South Australia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries since the various attempts at mining in the Flinders Ranges usually fizzled out quite quickly. The pastoralists also opened up the interior of the continent. Continue Reading…
In early March I spent a week walking Wellington, New Zealand as well as photographing in the city, whilst Suzanne walked the Grand Traverse, Queenstown way with her Adelaide walking friends. I had studio apartment in the Aro Valley courtesy of Air bnb, and I spent about 8 hours a day walking the city in a Situationist mode. I drifted through central Wellington with two camera bags on my shoulders: one containing a Rolleiflex (TLR) a Leica M4-P rangefinder whilst the other held my newly acquired Sony Alpha A7r111, which I was slowly learning how to use.
2 houses, Wellington
I loved Wellington. It’s a funky, vibrant cultured city. I was so at home being there. Even though Wellington is a much smaller city than Adelaide in population terms, it is so much more alive in an urban sense. Despite the revitalisation since 2013 of the central city and the liquor-licensing reforms Adelaide remains a doughnut city. Wellington was much more alive than it was when I worked there in the 1970s as an economist in the public service. Then it was empty of life at the centre with little in the way of depth of character. The central city is a much better place these days.
Wellington also has a strong art photography culture which, unlike Australia, is connected to, and a part of, a literay culture. There is also a vibrant café culture with excellent coffee scattered amongst the Wellington ‘walkability’. The funky changes in the urban culture happened in the 1990s apparently, but I am not sure what the driving forces for the city’s transformation were, given that Wellington is largely a public service town. Was the emergence of a lively urban culture caused by the acceleration of diverse migration flows? Continue Reading…
I have been reading Ming Thein’s recent post on The Rise and Decline of Popular Photography and connecting it to my recent experiences in continuing with my urban documentary style of photography in Melbourne. His observations on the current shifts in popular photography are interesting, and they help to put this low profile project of mine into a market and cultural context and, in doing so, highlights what is needed to continue to work on projects such as this.
A core point in Thein’s post is his insight that simple economics means that the business model of the professional photographer isn’t what it used to be, and that the incentive to invest in skill is lower. He says that we are seeing a number of studios going out of business and pros switching to doing other (non-photographic) things. The contemporary visual saturation means that as there are more images being made than ever, so it’s difficult to make an individual image stand out or to justify the time and effort (and cost) invested in its creation.
I am finding this to be the case with the 3 year+ Mallee Routes project. It requires a lot of time, effort and money to make the images for this project and then to exhibit them in a gallery. Similarly with the road trips project or the low key urban documentary work project in Melbourne:
Moonee Ponds Creek, West Melbourne
Take the latter as an example. The recent roadtrip to Melbourne and stay coincided with a spike in the summer temperatures. It was hot (40 degrees Centigrade), very humid and the light was terrible when I was out scoping the remains of industrial Melbourne in the West Melbourne area. So I was limited to scoping for a future session, even though I had the large format gear in the car. This meant that the scoping on this trip was just location searching–much like someone whose job it is to go out and scout or look for good locations for a movie film shoot. Having found the gritty, grimy location in West Melbourne I now need to make a return trip to Melbourne in the autumn. This is time, effort and money with no exhibition or book in sight. Continue Reading…