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.
One of the areas that I did explore that weekend was Mitre Rock, which is an isolated outcrop to the north of Mt Arapiles that looks out onto farmland:
Though I walked around Mitre Rock and went back several times I only made a couple of photos of this western wall of the outcrop. I didn’t make many 5×4 photos that weekend. I was finding my feet, as it were, as I didn’t know the area at all and I was more focused on continuing on to Murtoa in the Wimmera to make 5×4 photos for the Mallee Routes exhibition in December.
I am currently reading Rebecca Dagnall’s practice based research PhD entitled, Landscape photography and the imaginary of an Australian Gothic. It was done in 2017 at RMIT, and consists of three photographic projects: In Tenebris, The road trip, and Absence and presence: states of being in the Australian landscape. This blog post refers to Dagnell’s research around Australian road trips.
Dagnall starts the research part with David Campany’s recent The open road — photography and the American road trip; a book that provides a history of photography on the road through featuring the work of twenty photographers to document how artists have pictured America since the decisive work of Robert Frank in the 1950s. She then turns her attention to road trips and photography in Australia.
It appears that the contemporary impetus and centre of the landscape genre of photography has shifted from Tasmania to Melbourne, Victoria. This is largely due to David Tatnall’s influence on nature conservation in Victoria through his landscape photographyand Ellie Young at Gold Street Studios in Trentham East, Victoria hosting the annual get together of large format photographers and offering the alternative process workshops.
Have the conceptual underpinnings of wilderness photography in Australia changed with this shift? In the Tasmanian version (eg., Olegas Truchanas, Peter Dombrovskis and others) of this tradition of wilderness photography was associated with Romanticism, nature as redeeming force, uninhabited places worthy of pilgrimage that are also difficult to access, the European aesthetic tradition of the picturesque and anti-development. Their ethos was that if people could see the beauty of Australia’s wild places then they may be moved to protect them: to save a valuable environment under threat.