architecture, colour, history, Mallee, roadtrip

Weltraum outtake

August 14, 2016

This  35mm outtake is one of the exploratory  pictures that I made whilst I was working out how to approach  photographing the 15 silos on the Mallee Highway project. Several work in progress images from this series  form my contribution to the Weltraum exhibition at Magpie Springs  in the 2016 Shimmer Photographic Biennale.

The location of the picture is Murrayville in  the Victorian Mallee,  and I was photographing all the silos on the Mallee Highway whilst making my way to the camp at Ouyen with Gilbert Roe.  I made notes as photographed each silo along the way as to side of the silo provided the best perspective and whether am or pm  was the most suitable time.



The options that I had were: should I stand well back from the silo and make it part of the landscape rather than focus on the silo itself;  should I use backlight to give the landscape a gloomy atmosphere; should I use colour or black and white film; what camera would I use? I decided that I would focus on the silo, use frontal light,  work in black and white,  and photograph  with  the Cambo 8 x10 monorail.

In the light of this straight-on gaze of the large format camera  the  photographic approach of the above 35mm  outtake is sidelined to  become a part of the Mallee Project.

This was a conceptual project  based on using  one  camera, one lens and one film.It was conceptual both in the  historical sense of coming after conceptual art, and also conceptual in that the project  internalises and builds upon the lessons of conceptual art.

The title of  of the project provide a verbal ‘score’ to be filled out by specific photographic realizations or performances. This  practice refers back to the legacy of Marcel Duchamp that stems particularly from his instruction-framed piece, 3 Standard Stoppages. The title is formulated in advance of taking the photographs; in other words, it provided the nub of an instruction which is  then duly carried out along the Mallee Highway.  This suggests that the project is  a very specific kind of artistic activity – that is, following a predetermined route in my  car and systematically photographing just the silos.

One historical strand is  Ed Rushca and  his 1963 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations   (between LA and Oklahoma on Route 66),  which art historians interpret in terms of v humble objects,  deadpan images,  no-style photography, and simple documentation.The work of art is  the book itself, simply but carefully designed, whereas the photographs inside showed no traces of aesthetic decision making at all, as if the artist had merely pointed the camera out the car window in order to fulfill the requirements of the textual phrase.

Anther historical  strand is Bernd and Hilla Becher’s  project of systematically photographing industrial structures—-water towers, blast furnaces, gas tanks, mine heads, grain elevators and the like—- to form a network or series of photographs. They started their typology of industrial structures  or anonymous sculptures’  or Grundformen (basic forms)   in the late 1950s. Their approach   avoids ‘context’ and ‘association. As Blake Stimson states:

Their system is based on a rigorous set of procedural rules: a standardised format and ratio of figure to ground, a uniformly level, full-frontal view, near-identical flat lighting conditions or the approximation of such conditions in the photographic processing, a consistent lack of human presence, a consistent use of the restricted chromatic spectrum offered by black and white photography rather than the broad range given by colour, precise uniformity in print quality, sizing, framing and presentation, and a shared function for all the structures photographed for a given series.

The use of  repetition endows the buildings they photograph with the ‘anonymity’ or basic  forms that  divorces the meanings  of these forms  from original purpose and everyday social function,  and to  allow us to read them ahistorically and extra-socially and appreciate them as autonomous aesthetic objects or ‘sculpture’.

The silos on the Mallee Highway have aged and are now empty of all but the memory of the grain  they once housed and the agricultural progress and utopian thinking they once embodied in the early twentieth century. The silos are  anonymous sculptures’ in the Mallee landscape but these  Grundformen ( or basic forms)  are also an  economic architecture, and as such, they  are the silent  relics of history and represent the failed political desires of the past. These aging agricultural  structures still resonant with the  memory of all their  modern collective  ambitions about progress and the Mallee as a place to live.

If  the political past  needs to be  negotiated within our sense of the present, then  how do we  incorporate the  past into the present and weld that present to a future?


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