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nature

critical writing, landscape, large format

Why not eco-photography?

February 4, 2022

(This post was cross posted to View Camera Australia. The post on View Camera Australia includes David Tatnall’s images).

A fascinating and informative interview with David Tatnall by Michéla Griffith in issue 245 of the British based On Landscape magazine about the process of photographing nature with large format cameras raises an interesting question as well as some issues about natural beauty and politics and art. This is a different pathway for photography to that opened up by a poetic photography, and it is one that its roots in the tradition of landscape photography in Australia. It brings a critical perspective into a tradition that suffers from a lack of writing and debate about its raison d’etre  over and above posting images on social media.

The question raised in the interview is: Why is an eco-photography as distinct from landscape photography not widely recognized in photographic culture? Where are photography’s postcards from the Anthropocene that emerge from its encounters with the Anthropocene-in-the-making? The question is asked because there is a recognized eco-philosophy, even if remains marginal in academia; one that in Australia which has its roots in Val and Richard Routley’s The Fight for the Forest (1973) — the book that launched the struggle to protect Australia’s old growth native forests. This environmental philosophy becomes an eco-philosophy that is critical of the nature/culture dualism; explores the revaluing our relationship to nature in the context of an ecological crisis caused by climate heating in the era of the Anthropocene; and recognizes the Whanganui River in NZ as a living being and one that has been granted legal personhood.

Otway National Park, Victoria

So why is there not a recognized ecologically oriented-photography as opposed to landscape photography; an eco-photography that interrogates, expands, understands and influences our relationship with nature in transformation? An eco-photography that has affinities with an eco-philosophy’s recognition of the limitations of economics and its concern to heal a wounded world and is willing to rethink the landscape in the Anthropocene rather than default to a default reading of landscape.

We no longer live in the Holocene or the culture of the nineteenth century when relations between humans and nature seemed clear: nature was separate to humans and it was natural, beautiful, untouched. In the 21st century humans can no longer be defined as separate to the world around us. It is also recognized that a wilderness landscape photography of an uncontaminated and entirely pure nature in Australia was blind to the aboriginal occupation of the land for 50-60,000 thousand years prior to the British colonization in the late 18th century. With the wide recognition that one of the consequences of economic development has been widespread environmental damage to the country and the native old growth forests and the emergence of an Anthropocene or planetary aesthetics, then why no eco-photography?

In his interview Tatnall says that his approach to photographing nature has its roots in his early desire to see more green on the map meaning more national parks that protected the land. He adds that this desire to preserve nature through national parks was strengthened by the campaign to save Lake Pedder in Tasmania in the 1970s and the threats to the native forests in East Gippsland in Victoria in the 1980s.

He adds that the protection of Australia’s unique landscape is important, and that his motivation for his photography is being able to say something about our fragile environment by making a photograph that has an impact and meaning. This “saying something about” is based on an understanding of place that comes from spending time in that place — in Tatnall’s words “going into nature is to be in nature and if I make a photograph, it’s a bonus.”

This implies an awareness that nature has become enmeshed within our understandings of what it is to be human, and it sounds like an eco-photography, rather than a landscape photography. I would suggest that such a distinction is plausible, reasonable and necessary in the light of the body of work produced by Joyce Campbell. An eco-photography that is aware the signature of the Anthropocene appears in the geological strata: in the ice cores of the rapidly melting Arctic, the agricultural sediments accumulating in the Yellow Sea, the shifting of atmospheric gases in Antarctica and the bushfires in Australia and California.

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large format, nature, trees

Photographing during Covid 2021

December 31, 2021

Looking back over 2021 I can see that the Delta strain of the Covid-19 pandemic had a large impact on my large format photography during 2021. South Australia’s borders were closed throughout 2021 and that meant my photo trips had to be within South Australia’s state borders. Even so, apart from a 12 day camel trek from Blinman to Lake Frome plus walking in the Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, I stayed close to home in Victor Harbor. The exception was a trip to Melbourne and a visit to the Otways between Melbourne’s two lockdowns.

My large format photography in 2021 has been mostly done within my local area, with much of it being representations of the roadside vegetation along the back country roads. These roads are ones that I often walked along with the poodles in the early morning or the late afternoon. An example of the early morning:

roadside vegetation, Waitpinga

The other reason that I didn’t really do that much large format photography throughout 2021 was that the public health restrictions designed to eliminate Covid-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to concentrate on working on the images and text The Bowden Archives and Industrial Modernity project. This mostly involved researching and working on the text of the four sections of the project, and that meant sitting in front of the computer screen for most of the day, day after day.

Xmas 2021 was my self-imposed deadline for finishing the text. Then I could take a holiday break. It happened — just.

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coastal, critical writing, nature, water

the blog ‘moment’

August 24, 2020

I ran the now defunct junk  for code and public opinion blogs in the first decade of the 21st century, and these blogs were part of the post-20th century  blog ‘moment’, with its hyperlinks, blog rolls and networks. Though this blog moment has long passed, it is worth looking back to  see what has been lost. This is not for nostalgic reasons of looking back to golden times, but to recover some things from that moment that could both help us to address problems that we experience in the present, and to guide us to construct the future in an Australia that continues to devalue culture.

The blogging nexus of online self-publishing was at its most intense and generative for roughly a decade, from 2002 onward.   Blogging  was  easy, it was free,  it  got more readers than you could from a zine and it  sidestepped all the old means of distribution and cultural production.  The energy of the blogosphere  fostered an unofficial, de-commodified  intellectual and visual  culture. DIY book publishing –eg., like many books my Edgelands photobook —emerged out of the writing and photography in the  blogosphere. 

I currently persevere with the blog form in an attempt to keep the concept of the public  alive outside of academia, social media such as Facebook, the commercial televisual mass media, and the decline of the surviving print papers. I also continue to use the photo blog form as a counter to the isolation and the feeling of weakness in the face of neo-liberal,  capitalism’s consumer distractions,  temptations and depressive hedonism.  This isolation and weakness can lead to a particular interior, emotional state — a sort of debilitating emptiness,  despair and resignation.  A nullity if you like, which makes it difficult to continue being a creative artist/photographer.

Encounter Bay

This picture is of an early morning seascape made whilst standing on Rosetta Head in mid-winter. We are  looking across Encounter Bay towards the Coorong National Park. This was the  morning   I was playing around experimenting with fuzzy seascapes learning to see what’s in front of me—what’s actually there, in all its existing complexity– and figuring out how to represent it.

We now live with a digital duality, which suggests that in fact no easy divide can be made between our online and offline lives. These two aspects of our lives  are now so closely enmeshed with each other as to be inseparable.

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landscape, nature, water

The ‘Our-Waters’ project

November 10, 2018

I have recently become involved in a new project entitled Our-Waters, which is  about the River Murray and the photographic archives of the  Godson Collection  held by the State Library of South Australia.  Some background to the project is here on my  Our Waters  Our Country blog,  which, for now,   is loosely associated with the  Our Waters project.

As it is  still early days in the project,  it has  no  public profile  (ie., there is no website) to inform people what is happening.    However, a   recent update on  the state of play of the  Our Waters project is on this blog post. This indicates that this photography is not what Rebecca Solnit calls eco-porn: photography  that  celebrate the  ‘untouched beauty’ of nature associated with  the nature tourism  and calendars that view our  land and rivers as a place of wildness and wilderness.

 

Lake Alexandrina, 2011

It is an opportune time to start such a project given the recent report on the ecological state of the Coorong by the Goyder Institute.   The  ecological condition of the Coorong has been steadily degrading since European “settlement” due to upstream water extractions, and  the Millennium Drought was a major disturbance causing a rapid decline in condition.   Whilst the relatively recent increase in natural and managed inflows to the Coorong  through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan have improved the ecological condition of the North Lagoon, the ecological condition of the South Lagoon  has  not recovered,  or it has continued to decline.  As Mary E. White wrote in her Running Down – Water in a Changing Land (Kangaroo Press, 2000):

The continuing saga of the extraction of massive amounts of water from inland rivers to satisfy the escalating demands of the irrigation industry is Australia’s most serious, and ultimately potentially most disastrous water-related issue. It is a battle between two essentially irreconcilable attitudes to land use.

To  speak plainly, the Murray-Darling Basin has been, and is being,  managed to  benefit the  irrigators.  Continue Reading…

camel trek, Flinders Ranges, landscape, ruins

degraded-landscape: Flinders Ranges

July 7, 2018

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…

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