This is another image from one of my visits to the Chowilla Flood Plain in South Australia’s Riverland region. This floodplain was listed as a Wetland of International Importance in 1987 under the Ramsar Convention.
river gum, Chowilla, South Australia
The picture was made with a Linhof Technika 70 in the same year as this image. From memory, it was taken a bit earlier the year. It was around 2004-5 when I was working as a staffer for a federal South Australian Senator. We had gone to see how little water there was on the floodplain during the decade long drought. Continue reading
This picture of dead trees on the Chowilla floodplain in South Australia was made during the decade long drought in the Murray-Darling Basin, which ran from around 2000 to 2010. It broke with the emergence of the La Niña weather conditions in 2010. The photo was made about 2003/4 with my old Linhof Technika 70.
What the drought highlighted was the lack of environmental flows in the River Murray. Too much water had been taken by the upstream irrigators in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. So there had to be cutbacks to water extraction in order to ensure increased environmental flows for the river. That is when the politics over water reform in the Murray-Darling Basin erupted around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (2012) that was based around water trading and water buybacks by the Commonwealth. Continue reading
This picture of a melaleuca in the morning light was made on an early trip to the Coorong in South Australia in the late 1990s. We stayed at some cottages at a property called Gemini Downs, which was just north of Salt Creek. I remember that it was very cold at night and that the heating in the cabin was minimal.
This was an edgeland around Salt Creek and it was just outside the Coorong National Park. It used by fishermen to access the water, and from memory, there was a fishermans’ hut nearby. Continue reading
This was one the first colour photographs that I made after my return to photography in the 1990s. I had stopped making photos whilst I was doing my PhD in philosophy at Flinders University of South Australia. I started the doctorate in the late 1980s and finished the PhD around 1998, then started to work as an academic on a casual basis. During the 1990s Suzanne, Fichte and I would sometimes go down to Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula coast on the weekends to stay with Suzanne’s mother (Majorie Heath) at her place in Solway Crescent.
This photos is representation of the granite coast west of Petrel Cove and east of Dep’s Beach at Victor Harbor. It was made with my Linhof Technika 70 using a 6×7 film back. This modest and intermittent photographic restart would have been around the mid 199os before Majorie Heath died in 1997.
sea + granite, Petrel Cove
I had put all my large format cameras in a cupboard, stopped using black and white film for medium format, and only used b+w for 35m until I lost the Leica M4. I was inching back to photography using the old Linhof, a camera, which I am still using over 20 years latter. I was impressed by the coast, thought that it was an interesting location, and a good spot to pick up the pieces and make a modest return to photography. Continue reading
Today I started work in a rather low key way on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book that Adam Dutkiewicz and I will work on together after he finishes Volume 2 of A Visual History: the Royal South Australian Society of Arts 1856-2016. The Adelaide Photography book is to be published by Moon Arrow Press, and hopefully, if all goes well with the contributions from the Adelaide art photographers in this period it will be published in late 2018. The book builds on the Abstract Photography: Re-evaluating Visual Poetics in Australian Modernism and Contemporary Practice book that Adam and I published in 2016.
Low key here means that I contacted several people to see if they were interested in their work being a part of the project; and secondly, I have started to read some tough going texts on aesthetics that I’d borrowed from the Flinders University of South Australia’s Library to help me write an essay on the aesthetics of art photography for the book. The questions I am addressing in the essay are: ‘what are the aesthetic underpinnings for an autonomous art photography after it has been accepted and incorporated into the art institution? Secondly, if art is a form of rationality as is assumed, then how does art’s rationality differ from the rationality of the natural sciences and economic rationality?
As well as the aesthetics essay there will be an art historical essay about the photography of this period. The centre of the book is the portfolios of (approximately) 12 photographers which each photographer has about 4-6 pages for their pictures including an artist statement about their work.
Robert McFarlane has agreed to contribute to the book, and his work makes an ideal start to the book’s portfolio section. In an essay written for Robert McFarlane’s Received Moments: Photography 1961-2009 (circa 2009) travelling exhibition Gael Newton addressed one of the many gaps in her influential historical survey, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988, which was published in 1988. She says that McFarlane was:
a significant member of the somewhat neglected generation of Australian photographers whose careers began in the late fifties and early sixties. They slip between pre-war modernists and pioneer photojournalists like David Moore, and the ‘baby boomer’ personal documentary photographers of the 1970s who claimed photography as their medium and dismissed photographers of the recent past. The young photographers of the seventies – mostly using modern 35mm reflex cameras – redefined documentary photography as a subjective form of witness. Their preference was to show their work in books and art exhibitions rather than in mass market picture magazines.
In a footnote Newton mentioned that this “neglected group includes classic landscape photographers: John Cato (Melbourne), Richard Woldendorp (Perth), Wesley Stacey (all over Australia) and architecture and topographical artists John Gollings (Melbourne and Asia), and Richard Stringer (Queensland). The group includes documentary photographers Jeff Carter (South Coast, New South Wales) and John Williams (Tasmania). ”
It is good to see the acknowledgment of topographical photography. It’s recognition in the Australian art institution is long overdue. Continue reading
In looking over the non-Bowden 1980’s photographic archives for the proposed book on Adelaide photography I realised that I was in the process of making a shift from the then fashionable street style photography of the 1970s to a more topographic approach. Fashionable in the sense that New York in the 1960s was the centre of photography with Winogrand, Friedlander and Meyerowitz laying down the classic grooves for street photography.
This is an example of the street photography in Adelaide’s CBD that was made from a public space in the 1980s:
Franklin St, Adelaide
Street photography is candid photography –in this case it is a photo of an office worker walking west along Franklin St after leaving the office in the late afternoon. This was during an Adelaide summer and it was a time when white socks and sandals were the summer fashion for men. This fashion was much more practical in 40 degrees heat than the traditional tie and suit.
In the early part of the 1970-2000 period photography in Adelaide overcame its traditional banishment by the art institution. It was finally recognised as potentially being a medium in its own right as an art form that had its own intrinsic qualities and capital value, which could be collected and subject to critical and art historical scrutiny. Photography, for instance, made a modest appearance in Christopher Allen’s 1997 text Art in Australia: From Colonisation to Postmodernism, where Sue Ford, Ponch Hawkes and Carol Jerrems were mentioned in relation to the women’s art movement in the 1970s and Anne Zahalka, Fiona Hall and Bill Henson were mentioned in relation to postmodernism in the 1980s.
Art photography became a part of the culture of the modernist art institution (largely shaped by MOMA) where art is framed and appears as autonomous; both as something apart from the everyday world and only referring to its own history, dynamics and language. What underpins this is the modernist idea of art as an uninterrupted continuum laid out in a suite of connected rooms in an art gallery that functions as a museum.
Dry Creek, Adelaide
Photography became incorporated into aesthetic concerns that were over and above its traditional documentary and vernacular status in popular culture premised on its close association through the referent with the real. So it traditionally points to a world outside itself, not just to itself or its own history, even as its mechanical reproduceability undermined the aura of painting. When photography is collected and exhibited in the art institution the outside world becomes inside the art gallery, thereby undercutting the art institution’s formalist construction of the autonomy of art. The rhetoric of aesthetic autonomy and subjectivity were transferred to photography, albeit uneasily, given the exhaustion of a formalist modernism that framed art’s autonomy by removing it from any social context and presenting it as outstanding works of fine art. Photography exceeds the boundaries of the traditional discourse of the art institution.
This was a period of the rupture with modernism, in which postmodern art practices (especially feminist) after the 1980s were predominantly supported by a body of theory derived from a poststructuralist assemblage of semiotics, psychoanalysis and identity politics; or alternatively by a re-inscription of the photographic into a critique of postmodern media culture general. Art was no longer a matter of taste. The marginalisation of work by women and aboriginal people by the art institution was the significant point of departure for the creation of alternative practices that were critical of a conservative culture and politics that separates aesthetics from politics. Continue reading