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.
GST: Now that we have a broad understanding of your project in relation to Melbourne photography I thought that we might zoom in on some particular photos. Could you select 2-3 photos that are an important/significant to you in this project, and then talk about how you came to see, how you approached making it and why it is significance for your project. The kind of photo that I have in mind is one that represents a hurrah moment—ie., I’ve stopped stumbling around, its coming together and this photo points the way, or gives me confidence to continue working on the project in isolation.
SM: The way I now work means those hurray moments are few and far between. Picture choices in the early days were based on pictorial strengths and merits alone. Dipping back into my archive has proved fruitful and it helps me to look forward to attempt to capture changes before they occur. The subject matter that I pursue has not really changed in 30+ years of working with cameras, only the spaces themselves. Now in the 21st century revisiting these sites is important as they are markers of Melbourne’s development along with my own as a visual creative.
The photo of St Albans (circa 1990) has had a significant impact on my work:
I literally stopped the cab I was driving and pulled my kit out of the boot. I did this on occasion, on weekend day shifts in particular. While this image echoed aspects of Robert Adams’ work, it was for me a uniquely Melbourne suburban picture. By the way the site has radically altered in some way but is still the same in others.
Grass fires in suburban Melbourne, and I’m sure in other large cities too, are a common thing. Especially in parts of the city close to the edge as was St. Albans in those days. So this picture has always held a prominent position in my mind. For all the elements captured, and the signs and signifiers it carried. The burnt grass, the powerlines the vehicular tracks, all these signs/man made marks demonstrated a use of the space and land that was and remains contemporary. It continually draws me back in even after nearly 30 years of looking at it as a contact image. I still on occasion drive past it, the changes are significant, but the space is still empty, and now near a major Arterial road, the M8 ring road.
I have decided to do the odd interview with photographers whose work I find interesting and who are interested in engaging in a conversation about their work. ‘Interviews’ will only be an occasional feature of the Thoughtfactory blog. This, the first in the series, is with Stuart Murdoch.
Thanks for offering to do the interview on your industrial Melbourne photos Stuart. The interview will be posted on the Thoughtfactory blog and it maybe cross posted to the blog of View Camera Australia. My observation of what is happening in photo-land is that most photographers in Australia traditionally talk about a particular print, or about their technique, or their equipment, despite, or in spite of, the art world being conceptually orientated since conceptual art in the 1960s. This traditional photo land approach strikes me as an unhelpful way to make sense of your industrial photos of Melbourne series, which has been ongoing for a decade or more. A more fruitful approach is to shift the emphasis to understanding your series of photos as a project.
Can you describe what this project is (ie., the idea behind the project), what you are trying to do with making this project and how has it evolved over time. If it has evolved over time, how has this changed the way you have have approached photographing industrial Melbourne. Can you describe what photographic and or literary or cultural influences have informed your photography, and how have these shaped the way that have understood both the project and they way you approached the photography.
Stuart Murdoch (SM) Thanks for the invitation Gary, and what a great set of questions to kick off with.
Initially I never set out to photograph the industrial in Melbourne. Like many students starting out I aspired to making work that was considered valuable and usually pictorially conservative subject matter. At University I discovered Robert Adams, and The New Topographic Exhibition in 1977 1. I never looked back and continue working in this way to this day. I have seen enough of each of the photographer’s work, leading up to and after the exhibition, to gain an understanding and appreciation of ideas being put forward by William Jenkins2.
Robert Adams especially has for me been particularly inspiring. I have quite a few of his monographs and other books. His early essays, helped clarify in my own mind something I’d seen around me, since my early days of photography in the late 1980’s, but was unable to articulate, until, as he suggests in one of his essays, I found a map and compass and sent out to find my own way. Adams’ ideas about hope are central to how I approach my photography.
The idea that the urban was worthy of photographing was revelatory. But I wanted more than a dispassionate view that Jenkins espoused to frame the approach to the New Topographics. The question I asked myself was it; or is it ever, possible to photograph one’s own place with “dispassionate neutrality”? 3 I would argue that it is not. Though the New Topographic Photographers like Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz and Joe Deal, may have approached or attempted to approach their work from a neutral and distant style, my own work is more ardent.
I have finally picked up working on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book with Adam Dutkiewicz that is to be published by Moon Arrow Press. There has been more than a year’s break from the early stages of planning due to other book and exhibition commitments by Adam and myself. We have just called for submissions for the portfolios in the book, and we are now sitting back and waiting to see what comes in from the call out. Though it is not really clear at this early stage what kind of work will be submitted, the book’s explicit regional focus will fill one of the gaps in the art history of Australian photography that has traditionally been written around a cumulative teleology of styles and periods.
The design of the book is simple: each photographer will be given 6-8 pages to present their work from this period, and they will have a text to describe their work and their biography or profile. As there are currently around 20 photographers who expressed an interest in submitting a portfolio and there is some text, the book looks to be around 130 pages. The launch of the book will be at an exhibition of some of the prints in Adelaide early in 2020.
The year 2000 is a useful cutoff point for the book because this is when photography started to go global: the explosion of websites, art fairs, festivals, biennales, travelling museum exhibitions, catalogues, conferences, artist residencies etc associated with the international transmission of objects, ideas and photographers operating across the boundaries of nation states. If this meant that the hold that European and North American artists had over the production of contemporary art has been broken, that the art world has become more event-driven with biennials and art fairs in far-flung locations, then it also means the biennales are institutional sites whose ways of seeing contain an aesthetic regime of experience.
Georgina Downey has usefully suggested that the collaborative project of photographing industrial Melbourne by Stuart Murdoch and myself can be usefully framed as belonging to what landscape architects, call drosscapes. We have been photographing in and around waste urbanscapes that are different from edge lands as it is a junkyard that is a by product of industrialisation and is in the process of being redeveloped.
The concept of drosscape was coined by Alan Berger (a landscape architect and associate professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design) in 2006 in his book, Drosscape: Wasting Land in Urban America to refer to the waste landscapes. Berger proposed classifying a differentiation between waste landscapes (places that store, manage or process urban or industrial waste), wasted landscapes (polluted or abandoned sites), and wasteful landscapes (huge extensions of developed land with virtually no use for the community).
wasteland, Nth Melbourne
The idea of drosscape applies to the industrial Melbourne site that Stuart and I have been photographing, as this wasteland is currently being redeveloped as part of the extension of the Melbourne underground. Berger says that a drosscape is:
“the creation of a new condition in which vast, wasted, or wasteful land surfaces are modeled in accordance with new programs or new sets of values that remove or replace real or perceived wasteful aspects of geographical space (i.e., redevelopment, toxic waste removal, tax revenues, etc.)”. As a verb, he sees the ‘drosscaping’ as the practice incorporating social programs and activities into the transformed waste landscape.”
He adds that one must not commit the mistake to call an abandoned train station by itself a drosscape. In this instance, a drosscape would be the integration of new horizons onto the unused site, which by itself it is only dross. Continue Reading…