destroying the old, creating the new

The late 198os and early 1990s in Adelaide was a period after the 1980s property boom and during ‘the recession we had to have’.  I was living alone and working long hours  tutoring and cleaning (early morning and evening) in order  to keep  up the mortgage payments on the cottage.  The high interest rates meant that the good times were no longer rolling.   Keeping the cottage during the recession meant the end of my photography as  I had neither the time nor the money for it.

older man, Adelaide
older man, Adelaide

One aftermath of  the  1990s recession in South Australia was that many workers who had become unemployed during the recession were unable to be re-employed in their old, or in a similar,  job.   Over time many of these people simply gave up any hope of ever finding appropriate employment and slowly slipped into the  ranks of the hidden unemployed.  Continue reading

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the “rust belt” state

The deregulatory  financial reforms of the Hawke/Keating  government from 1983 that saw the globalisation of the Australian economy helped to advance the speculative boom that occurred in the late 1980s. In Adelaide, insurance companies, superannuation funds and government financial institutions  joined large development companies and individual developers in property investment even before the major share market downturn of 1987, and more intensely thereafter.

The South Australian state government promoted the ASER project in North Terrace, the State Bank Centre in Currie St and the REMM-Myer project at Rundle Mall to encourage economic growth, create employment, increase revenue and modernise the CBD.

ASER, Nth Terrace
ASER, Nth Terrace

The boom was finance driven,  and it ended by 1991 primarily because of an oversupply of office space that lowered property values and secondarily because of rising interest rates and foreclosures as speculators defaulted. The financial excesses of the 1980s reached such a scale that the 1990 recession was inevitable. monetary policy responded to the overheating of the economy and the asset price boom of 1988 and 1989. In the event, the cash rate reached 18 per cent in the second half of 1989, the mortgage rate 17 per cent, and many loans to businesses well in excess of 20 per cent.

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a point of departure

As the  social relationships between people were becoming increasingly mediated by images,  and the symbols of consumption such as cars, neon signs, and shops became ever more seductive and signs of social status and personal identity, the process of  deindustrialisation continued to spread  slowly throughout  the manufacturing highways of  South Australia.  For the blue collar, white  working class  in Adelaide who were losing their jobs a result,   consumer society’s promised land of a better  middle class life for all seemed to move further away into the distance.

The  process  of deindustrialization meant that the realities of the world experienced by ordinary people stood in  marked contrast to the glossy spectacle  image-text  world of commodified experience. If there was a space for a weighing of the actual against the promised, there was  yet no popular reaction to the neo-liberal globalisation.

Rundle Mall
Rundle Mall

There was, however,  a cultural tradition of a  poetic and sensual desire to be intensely  living in the world, feeling its most intimate reality, through a turning away from the cultural, moral, intellectual, and political values of the prevailing social order  to  the world of play,  creativity within the functional drudgery of contemporary urban life.

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not the most exciting place to live

One way the boredom and dissatisfactions from living in Adelaide could be relieved was  through  gestures of rebellion and revolt. Another   was through  hanging out in the shopping precincts, arcades  and going shopping in Rundle Mall. Leisure time, freedom, and choice was increasingly expressed  through consumption. Everyday life was becoming a realm of bland consumption.

My experience of drifting (dérive with its flow of acts and encounters) through these spaces of consumption was that  the mall or arcade cuts us off from one another by encouraging the individual pursuit of stuff as well as  cutting us off from the world. The street in contrast is about connecting people with one another and that  is  what turns space into place.

woman+pram
woman+pram

There were very few spaces  in Adelaide the 1980s that  became  gathering places. Placemaking was not part of the urban designers at the Adelaide City Council.   So the arcade becomes  a consumer bubble, a way where  people waste time doing little but watching each other. Or being  lost in their own thoughts and emotions.  Frozen moments in everyday life.   Continue reading

empty streets

One of the most striking characteristics of  Adelaide’s  CBD  in the 1980s was the empty streets outside of the weekday’s  9-5  working hours. During the weekend the streets were more or less empty,  and apart from the tumbleweeds in Rundle Street the city was dead with respect to urban street life.  The urban life of this provincial, colonial  capital city was desolate and depressing. People worked in the CBD and lived and loved  in the suburbs.

The CBD had  been emptying  out from the 1950s, when families with children  moving to new housing in the suburbs.  Post-war migrants lived in the inner city areas and  young professionals joined the migrants in central Adelaide and North Adelaide in the 1960s and 1970s. The CBD was still all about business, commerce  and profit,  not inner city living, or the protection  of the traditional built  character of the city.

 

Currie St
Currie St

This emptiness  on the streets was in marked contrast  to the flux and flow of the image-texts in  a  corporate consumer culture or the rapidly changing built environment as a result of the Bannon Government’s strategy of  using major building projects to kickstart  economic growth in a crane-led recovery from economic recession.  Continue reading

office girls, Bowden

The  Australian photographic context or reference point for the street work in the  Bowden project  is probably the  Candid Camera: Australian Photography 1950s-1970s exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia  in 2010. This  was  curated by Julie Robinson, the Art Gallery’s Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs. Candid in this context presumably  means the  photography  is done in such a way that the subjects are not aware they are being photographed at the exact moment the image is being made.

The exhibition included work by familiar photographers: Max Dupain, David Moore, Jeff Carter, Max Pam,  Robert McFarlane, Mervyn Bishop, Rennie Ellis, Carol Jerrems and Roger Scott. It covered the photojournalism of the 1960s,  social documentary,  as well as  subjective personal street photography of the 1970s. Marcus Bunyan’s wonderful  Art Blart  blog has some  of the images in the exhibition.

Bowden’s factories and warehouses were still in existence in the 1980s,  and the lunch hour between 12 and 1pm saw a fairly active street life as people walked to and from  the local corner deli to buy their lunch. Representing this  everydayness in terms of cultural value  is what commercial imagery would ignore, flatten and  dismiss. Cultural value means that the photography  has benefit for people  in some way,  or engages them in some way regardless of whether it’s sellable.

office girls, Bowden
office girls, Bowden

The Bowden street photography  was  black and white,  straight images and  traditional analog.    It was fairly straight forward in its realist approach  and rhetoric to representing a decaying, vanishing Australia.  It concern with memories  of this inner suburb  meant that the project didn’t buy into  two central strands   of common understanding of documentary in the 1930s or 1940s. This was  the “universal language” myth (photography constitutes a language in its own right that can communicate to all  the people on the planet), and the transparency of representation myth (a photograph “was what it was” and it had a direct relationship with seeing.) Continue reading

Bowden girls

These are the girls  being left behind by the  process of deindustrialization that started in the 1970s in South Australia.The process of deindustrialization took place behind the recessions in the mid-1970s, the early 1980s and the early 1990s that destroyed much of Australia’s manufacturing base the oldest inner city-based plants where little new investment had occurred.

 The future  of south Australia looked to be one of working class job losses, economic stagnation,  poor job prospects for the working-class youth,   poor educational qualifications, high illiteracy and innumeracy rates,  increasing unemployment and poverty,  and young people leaving the state for work in Melbourne and Sydney.
Bowden girls
Bowden girls

In the 1980s deindustrialization in South Australia  looked as if it was going to be  a protracted and painful experience.There was a sense  that these  working class girls  were going to be  left behind and forgotten amidst the economic decay.

Deindustrialization in South Australia  looked as if it was going to be  a protracted and painful experience. First the white goods industry goes offshore then the automobile industry. There  was a sense of a failure to transition away from the decliing manufacturing economy  to knowledge industries and the service sector even though the options for South Australia  were stark: change or decay. Continue reading