The Bowden Archives and other Marginalia is the current working title of the book of my archival photographs from the 1980s that I have recently started to work on.
What unfolds in the book is a collage of images and writings. The collage-like writings and accompanying images stand at the margins of being systematically and/or instinctively ordered. Academic convention demands the former but in this case the memories of the past are vague, diffuse or unspecific, slippery, emotional, ephemeral, elusive or indistinct. The remembered changes are like a kaleidoscope in that the memories don’t really have a pattern at all.
The narrative in the book is reinvented, combined in weird assemblages in that the pieces of the past are being superimposed in some new sense.
The reason for this approach is that I don’t have a clear memory of my photographic past, cannot recall my thinking about my photography of that period, ands have no awareness of how I was assessing the material on photography that I was reading. So I have to reconstruct or reassemble my experiences from various materials. The result is that different pieces of things that are gathered into a single context.
The past survives however much one tries to drive it down and away from one’s consciousness. It rears up provoked by something overheard or a scene, a place, an object, a tune, a scent even. It is inescapable. Place and landscape are always centred on the person(al) and articulated differently in each case in a series of connections through remembered/forgotten place-times.
The assemblage approach to the photographic past does suggest metaphors such as mosaic, patchwork, heterogeneity, fluidity, transitory configuration. It also implies an indefiniteness, messiness, a jumbling together. This kind of indeterminacy is okay for reconstructing memories of the past. The book is an assemblage and its status as an assemblage does not prevent it from containing assemblages within itself.
The marginalia in the title refers to being on the margins of art photography–a place of exteriority or alterity from which one might still treat of photography. Art photography at the time was as narrowly defined in terms of being a graduate of the art school, obtaining grants for projects, having exhibitions and a career in the art institution. This public sphere was a controlled space in a specific time that is in tension with what is outside this networked space. Prior to photography become an art form in the early 1970s and the emergence of art photography, cultural cringe was prevalent with regard to Australian photography. It was rarely, if ever, talked about as an art form. Australian photography was still in the hands of the camera clubs and magazines and influenced by those aesthetics.
Modernist photography was obsessed with issues of visuality, creating new vocabularies of vision, and the radical eye.”Look at how I, and the camera, see the world: that is all there is.” This mode of artists using photography privileges the sensibility of the individual photographer or his or hers own unique vision.This is the artist as hero who had the vision to see the form behind modernity’s movement and change; a viewpoint that was obscured for the ordinary person by the specters and phantasmagorias of everyday life. The artist observer is a ‘Seer’.
In Australia in the 70’s this tradition became associated via the art institutions in Melbourne, such as The Photographers Gallery, The Church Street Gallery and the National Gallery of Victoria’s Department of Photography with the American fine art tradition that placed an emphasis on photography as a medium, the formal and expressive qualities of the image, and the technical excellence of their prints. The work circulated in specialist photography galleries which meant that this photographic culture was seen to become insular, limited, a ghetto, and culturally exhausted.