I have been thinking about the relationship between climate change and a post-colonial photography of late. I have been asking myself how can still photography address climate change, given the convincing account by climate science with respect to the Anthropocene and the climate heating caused by the use of fossil fuels. If photography is to be relevant to the present, then what could an eco-orientated photography say? What kind of story could it visually narrate? I started a Tumblr blog to begin to explore this, but I have struggled with it and pretty much got nowhere.
I thought that photography could start with addressing the aesthetic concepts established during the Romantic era, and which framed the golden age of landscape painting and the visual arts in the nineteenth century; aesthetic concepts that divided the natural world into the 3 categories of the pastoral, the picturesque, and the sublime. The first two represent nature as a comforting source of physical and spiritual sustenance, whilst the sublime referred to the thrill and danger of confronting untamed nature and its overwhelming forces, such as thunderstorms, alps and deep chasms.
Whilst both the pastoral and picturesque reference human kind’s ability to control the natural world pastoral landscapes celebrate the dominion of mankind over nature. The scenes, which are usually peaceful, often depicting ripe harvests, lovely gardens, manicured lawns with broad vistas, and fattened livestock, are in contrast to those of the court or the city. If the roots of the pastoral lie in a form of poetry that celebrates the pleasures and songs of the herdsmen, then this was steadily expanded to a representation of rural nature that exhibits the ideas and sentiments of those to whom the country affords pleasures and employment. Hence Constable’s landscape paintings of the English countryside.
Human kind in colonial Australia has developed and tamed the landscape – the land yields the necessities we need to live, as well as beauty and safety. If Joseph Lycett established the pastoral landscape tradition in Australia, then Arthur Streeton’s ‘The purple noon’s transparent might’ is an iconic example of the representation of the Australian pastoral landscape. In this tradition of the Australian idealisation of settler landscapes — Australia as a Promised Land — Europeans are seen to be in harmony with a fertile land, a land which has been ordered and produced by them and in which they are able to experience leisure. This involved the masking and displacing of environmental pillage and political conquest by nostalgic valuations of the very spaces and biosystems that were being destroyed. This settler pastoralism denies and conceals the colonial exploitation and the dispossession and the genocide of the First Nations people.
From there I drove a little way up Gap Rd into the Ranges, stopped, then looked back from the eastern edge of the Ranges across the Murray Plains. This was once Mallee country.
This scoped picture looks to be a possibility for some b+w photos using the 5×7 Cambo monorail. This was the camera I was using to photograph with in the 1980s when I lived in Adelaide. Then I entered the Mt Lofty Ranges via Mt Pleasant and Palmer from Adelaide I didn’t really explore the eastern side of the Ranges, or the relationship between the Ranges and the Murraylands or plains. The key problem that I will face in exploring this possibility is the strong winds — the sou’ easterlies and the sou’ westerlies — that make large format photography difficult, if nigh on impossible.
I have a few photos in this multimedia group Rock, Stone, Earth exhibition of rocks from the northern Flinders Ranges to the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. The exhibition is curated by Janine Baker and Stephen Johnson, it is at the Onkaparinga Art Centre in Port Noarlunga, and it is being opened by Vic Waclawik on Sunday 26th September.
The rocks in the northern Flinders Ranges are very old — some dating back to before the lower Cambrian period with its explosion of life after the great glaciation of the planet. The Flinders Ranges contain an exceptional and unique geological heritage. This geological heritage with its Ediacaran fossils is the basis for the nomination of the Flinders Ranges for world heritage listing.
This heritage is based on a depositional system known as the Adelaide Rift Complex or Adelaide Superbasin, which includes the Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island. The latter experienced a mountain building period around 500 million years ago that caused a substantial folding, buckling and faulting of the strata.
The rocks I photographed can be contextualized and linked by the geology of the Adelaide Superbasin in South Australia. The sedimentary rocks of the basin were deposited in a depression during the breakup of the supercontinent of Rodinia. The nature of the rocks suggest they were deposited in a mostly marine environment — a shallow sea — approximately 870 to 500 million years ago.
The picture below was made in the local remnant bushland during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 in the late afternoon. It was made with a Linhof Technika IV using Kodak Portra 160 ASA film.
From memory, during the national lockdown we were able to move up to 5km from our place of residence. This bushland was within that range. I visited it often, in the early morning and afternoon on the poodlewalks. I even made a video using my old iPhone 6.
We were on the return leg of the roadtrip and stayed a couple of nights with the standard poodles at some upmarket seaside cottages near Johanna Beach that overlooked a farm. It was a short walk through the campsite and the sand dunes to the surfing beach, and a small drive across the Great Ocean Road to the edge of the forest along the Old Ocean Rd.