One shift happening in how we understand photography within the image sphere of late modernity is the emerging recognition that the photographic image—and the image in general— is not an archetype and it is no longer something immobile like a Platonic Form. The image is not outside history and independent, or floating above its context as held by the modernist formalism of Clement Greenberg. The mythical fixity of the image has been broken.
As Giorgio Agamben notes, in sympathy with Gilles Deleuze, the image is mobile: it is an image-movement in the sense that the image is charged with a dynamic tension; a dynamic tension that embodies the movement of history. Our historical experience is obtained by photographic images and photographic images are expressions of our lived history. The image is a still from history and it enters into a constellation with other images.
Grote St, Adelaide
A corresponding shift is the rupture away from the traditional conception of expression assumed in communication in which all expression is realised by a medium—an image or a word or colour—in which the medium disappears in the fully realised expression. The medium is no longer perceived as such–we no longer notice the medium as it disappears in that which it gives us to see. The expression shines forth.
The shift away from this conception is towards a realisation that the image as medium does not disappear into what it makes visible. The image is seen as an image rather than disappearing; or being utterly dependent on the particularity of its context. The image is a kind of force field that holds together opposing forces.
On my first exploratory photo trip to Canberra I picked up on some work I’d started many years ago with the Cambo 5×7 monorail –photographing in the Murray Mallee and concentrating on the grain silos along the old railway lines. I had an old VW Kombi then and I used to be able to get away from Adelaide and go on road trips with the Cambo in a trunk. I recall a weekend photographing around Mantung in the Murray Mallee, with its old railway line that went from Karoonda to Waikerie. All that stopped when I was doing my PHD in philosophy at Flinders University. I just had no time for large format photography and darkrooms.
silo, SA Mallee
However, the road trip, the Mallee, and silos stayed in the back of my mind.I kept on looking at the few images I had from that time on the computer. When we travelled to and from Ballarat for the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2013 I saw the silos on the Dukes and Western Highway and thought they would make a good subject using the 8×10 Cambo and black and white film. The silo project emerged.
As is well known, the orthodox modernist response to photography’s taking away the responsibility for representational content from painting was an affirmative withdrawal into painterly autonomy through abstraction in the form or spiritual or painterly values. The more radical avant-grade response was the rejection of painting altogether in the the form of the readymade. Photography was seen to have usurped painting’s aspiration to objectivity in painting’s older tradition of the naturalistic representational function. That left photography’s representations as truth telling.
Most of the critical emphasis to this crisis of painting in the 20th century has been on painting and the way that photography is used as a ready-made source for paintings i.e. painting as photo painting. But what if photography starts working with abstractions in the form of painterly values? Does that negation of painting’s specificity signify a failure to reconcile art and politics? Does it imply a turning to high culture and the traditional values of art and a rejection of non art and popular culture where most of today’s photography is situated? Is it a response to the anti-aesthetics of the 1980s and 1990s that celebrated cultural and vernacular forms that denied the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm?; an anti-aesthetic that is willing to discard the aesthetic as an outmoded modernist category in its desire to overcome modernist formalism.
Though Encounter Studio is located in Victor Harbor in South Australia, it has various connections to Melbourne in Victoria.
I am a member of the Melbourne Silver Mine group and exhibit with them in their annual Uncensored exhibitions at the Collingwood Gallery and subsequent books. I also frequently visit Melbourne to make photos and for phototrips, and I work with Stuart Murdoch exploring topographical photography when I am there. In that sense, Stuart, who has started to publish photography books, can be seen as a part of Encounter Studio: ie.–the Melbourne connection.
Footscray, Melbourne, Victoria
One of the topographical projects Stuart and I are working on is Merri Creek. Stuart had photographed around the Northcote area of Merri Creek approximately 11 years ago when he lived nearby, and he was interested in re-exploring it to see what had changed. I was attracted by the nature/urban relationship. So we decided to start scoping it when I was last in Melbourne.
I spent a couple of days in Wellington, New Zealand. I hadn’t been there since I worked in the CBD as an economist and lived in Hataitai on a ridge above the shoreline of Evans Bay in the early 1970s. I was expecting a lot of changes and I was prepared to be rather disorientated.
It was a quick photography trip built around renewing my NZ driving licence and I spent the two days that I had available walking around the CBD and the inner suburbs such as Thorndon; then seeing photography exhibitions and checking out the art hubs/centres when the wind turned into a gale and/or it started raining heavily.
Wellington is a very walkable city, it is easy to get around, and it offers good photographic opportunities due to the CBD being on a narrow coastal plain located between Wellington Harbor and the Wadestown hill face.