La Trobe Valley roadtrip

In the 1980s I started work on an MA consisting of photographs and a dissertation in the philosophy department at Flinders University of South Australia under Brian Medlin. The MA project was a critique of capitalist industrialization, and it was meant to be a politics and art type project  that associated realism with some form of explanatory power or grasp of social truth.

I never completed the MA. I aborted it and upgraded to a PhD in continental philosophy about the need for philosophy to return to, and be a part of, everyday life. The photography was put in cold storage. Returning to the archive now means that this is a photography is looking back at the past from the present—history is always written from the present.

The MA was at a time when modernists celebrated both the liberation of visual art from realist representation as a realisation of art’s true vocation and celebrated the freedom achieved through  art. Modernism replaced the autonomy of Descarte’s thinking subject from nature, society and history with the artistic subject as a fictive being within the play of visual language.

Collapse the difference between signifier and signified– signs are the new reality—condemns the world to textual play, thereby surrendering subjectivity to the prison-house of language and art to textual play. Realism was seen as an exhausted pictorial tradition, and it was reduced to a caricatured ‘straw man’ version of the form and its association with a simple referential naivety – the transparent window on a stable world–with its omniscient photographer as narrator. This was part of the broad drift to problematize or reject photography as a realistic and documentary form towards elaborate photographic constructs or photographic tableaus.   Realism was taboo and documentary could only be deconstructed.

regional Victoria

One strand in the politics and art debate held that art and aesthetic concerns should be subordinated to political imperatives, or indeed that
aesthetic value is reducible to social and political value. Raymond Williams’ literary theory rejects the concepts of ‘the aesthetic’ and ‘aesthetic value’ without replacing them with alternative concepts.  Another strand was held Herbert Marcuse who argued that the subversive potential of art lies only in the ‘aesthetic form’ which liberates Eros and celebrates human subjectivity in a way which transcends every ‘realistic’ political programme.

Within this context the intellectual content of the abandoned MA project was provided by the Romantic, pre-Marxist critique of early industrial capitalism (eg., the British tradition of Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin and William Morris that Raymond Williams had recovered in his Culture and Society). Culture was the name for certain pre- capitalist social and cultural values that were lost in industrial capitalism. Lukacs’  early The Theory of the Novel (1916) spells this out. He describes the social world of modernity as confronting its members as a ‘second nature’ of senseless conventions, so that they are, paradoxically, homeless in the world that should be their home. Under capitalism the social world comes to appear as an object externally related to the self living in that world.

The Theory of the Novel is a theorisation of alienation, and it laments the loss of a meaningful human community (represented by ancient Greece), or human society as a ‘totality’. The Greek epic is less a genre among others than it is the expression of a certain social form of life – a ‘people’ – and the poetry of a common world. In modernity, by contrast, forms of intelligibility and meaning are no longer authorised by tradition and custom; there is a disharmony disjunction between form and life; and artistic freedom expresses itself in terms of an ironic subjectivity.

Ours is a secularised, disenchanted modern world  with its fragmented and individualistic (non-) community. The universal primacy of individual experience is the ideology of modern times, in that subjectivity proclaims itself to be the only authentic substance of experience and volition.  Individualism is the hegemonic form of the social in capitalist modernity. 

Most of the English Romantic critics of industrial capitalism were poets and writers, but their sources were the philosophical writings of the  Jena Romantics. The latter’s writings about modern poetry and the novel came to stand in for an idea of modern art in general, with its  freedom from generic conventions and grounded in its newness and individuality. The structure of the modern artwork  is self-determining and autopoietic. 

Lukács held that in modernity the prose of the world becomes specifically the domination of capitalist prose over the inner poetry of human experience. Lukács was concerned with the fate of the novel in modernity not the visual arts. Hence the problem: can the poetry of photography stand in opposition to capital’s prose?

The River Torrens (Karrawirra Parri) near Bowden

When going through my large format archives the other day I came across some images I’d made of the River Torrens (Karrawirra Parri) as it flowed through the Adelaide Parklands near Coopers Brewery on the corner of Port Rd and Park Terrace.

I often wandered around this section of the parklands when I was living in Bowden, as it was just a few minutes walk from the studio in Gibson St, and so much quicker to access than the seaside beaches or Port Adelaide.

River Torrens (Karrawirra Parri) at West End.

I would often walk Fiche, my standard poodle, there in the morning or in the afternoon. We would usually walk through Park 27A (now known as the John E. Brown Park) across the Railway Bridge, to the weir at the base of Torrens Lake. Sometimes we would skirt around the Adelaide Gaol on our way to the Morphett St Bridge, Elder Park and the Festival Centre.

The 1990’s: turning to colour

I’ve started working on the Bowden Archives book, though in a casual way as I’m slowly easing myself into an earlier draft of the book. The current work so far has primarily been picking up the old texts, starting to rework them into some sort of rough shape, and flicking through my archives.

A initial draft of the Preface has been written, as has an early draft of the text for the first section, which consists of street photography images. In the 70s and 80s I was using a Leica M-4 with black and white film as my main walkabout camera, and the text for this section is on, and briefly about, a snapshot culture. I have basically re-defined the street photography that I did as snapshots, or as photos belonging to the snapshot culture.

The third section of the book is tentatively titled ‘road trips’. It will be thinner than the other two sections, but it will point towards my future photography in the first decade of the 21st century. At this stage I have no idea what kind of text I am going to write for this part of the book.

Wetlands, Kangaroo Island, SA 1995

By the 1990s I no longer had a wet darkroom and I was busy finishing my PhD in philosophy at Flinders University of South Australia. Photography was on the back burner and the photography that I did in the 1990s was basically done whilst Suzanne and I went on various holidays and road trips. The above photos was on one trip to Kangaroo Island, which I’d never been to.

Eastern Mt Lofty Ranges

On my recent Mallee Routes photo trip I returned to sites in the eastern Mt Lofty Ranges that I had briefly photographed in  during the 1980s.   I spent a bit of the on the road time walking around the area on the Tungkillo  to Palmer  section of the Randall Rd, which runs from Mt Pleasant to Walker Flat.

Whilst I was taking some scoping snaps with my digital camera I remembered some of the photos that I’d made in the 1980s in this general location. The image below is one of the images that I remembered making using a Linhof Technika 70:

Eastern Mt Lofty Ranges

I recalled that in the 1980s I was visually attracted by the bareness of this landscape. It was a stripped, overgrazed landscape with just the odd tree hanging on. There was very little in the way of replanting or Landcare.

Continue reading

topographics

In a previous post on this archival blog I  had mentioned my shift from street photography to topographics during the 1980s. This shift  emerged whilst  I was photographing around Osborne, Gillman  and Outer Harbor  along the Port River estuary on the Le Fevre Peninsula.

This is an example of my  topographic approach to industrial type urbanscapes—a wasteland, if you like– that was made  in the 1980s:

Osborne, South Australia

Another version of the topographical approach to this wasteland or ravaged landscape  that was made in the same photo-session is here.

The shift from street photography to topographics is how I have structured  my portfolio in  the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book, which  is to  be published by Moon Arrow Press in 2019.  It is part of the independent photobook  movement.  Continue reading

at Barmah National Park

Whilst I was  going through my archives  looking for some better images to include in my portfolio for the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book— submissions have just been called— I came across a few images of River Red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along the River Murray in Victoria.  I had more or less over forgotten about these mid-1980s images, as they were mixed up with  some of the  sand dune  images of  Adelaide’s coastal beaches in the archive.

Red River Gum, Barmah National Forest

The picture  above was made on a late 1980s road trip in the VW Kombi  along the southern coast of Australia then back along the River Murray. Other images from this road trip— e.g.,  the La Trobe Valley and  the Riverland trunk images —can be found  in this  earlier post about  the Adelaide Photography book.  Continue reading

Mt Lofty Ranges

I have been going through my 35mm archives  looking through  images from the 1980s  to include in  a possible  artist book  for the Mallee Routes project. This would be a book that is associated with the initial Mallee Routes exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab in   2017.

At the exhibition I  left a pile of small prints on a table for people to look at. It wasn’t a very successful mode of presentation. A book would be much better, if I have enough images.

I came across this image of an agricultural landscape in the eastern Mt Lofty Ranges amongst a number of other images of the Murray  Mallee and the Riverland.

Mt Lofty Ranges

From memory, this picture  would have been made with a Leicaflex SLR whilst I was on the road. It would have been a day trip around the eastern Mt Lofty Ranges in the VW Kombi. Continue reading

river gum, Chowilla

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

at the Chowilla floodplain

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.

Chowilla, Riverland

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

Salt Creek, Coorong

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.

Melaleuca, Coorong

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