The graffiti in Bowden during the 1980s was often quite blunt and direct with no ambiguity in the message:
I interpreted it as the signs of the increasing emphasis on law and order as a response to the local residents /industry politics, and to the repression directed at those who were thrown on the industrial scrapheap with little hope of finding a job. Continue reading →
In his essay ‘Australian Made’ in Each Wild Idea: Writing , Photography, History (2000) Geoffrey Batchen contests the view that Australian photography after 1945 was a dependent shadow of trends in the United States. He says that this assumption underpins the histories of Australian photography written by Gael Newton in Shades of Light: Photography and Australia, 1839–1988, Anne-Marie Willis’s Picturing Australia: A History of Photography and Helen Ennis in the exhibition catalogue, Australian Photography: The 1980s.
If this dependency was especially the case fortheAustralian art photographers of the 1970s, then according to these texts, the 1980s signalled the beginning of a new era of photographic art practice. Batchen’s main point is that art photography was only one small aspect of developments in Australian photography during the 1980s, and that there is no particular reason to concentrate a historical account of Australian photography in this period exclusively on art production. He says:
There were in fact a number of important debates and incidents specific to Australia during that decade in which photography was a central concern, and yet inexplicably they received little or no coverage in any of the above [historical surveys of art photography] books. Another history of Australian photography in the 1980s remains to be written, one concerned with the medium’s social as well as its aesthetic impact. The aim of this other history would be quite specific: to make visible the local configurations of power and resistance within which photography in Australia operated, then as now.
Batchen then asks: What would be in such a history?
For the sake of argument, he offers some fragments, along the lines of those who managed to stage effective interventions within the very grain of an established circulation of photographic images. He mentions photography by indigenous Australians and the wilderness photography of Peter Elliston and Peter Dombrovskis. Another fragment in the 1980s that Batchen mentions was the work of B.U.G.A. U.P or Billboard Using Graffitists Against Unhealthy Products:
Batchen says during the 1980s this group “regularly terrorized Sydney’s advertising billboards, particularly those devoted to the promotion of cigarettes and beer. Ubiquitous urban billboard images were transformed through a judicious and witty application of spray paint such that their naturalized messages of desire and pleasure were made strange, sometimes on a spectacularly grand scale.” Continue reading →
The empty urban streets of the inner suburb of Bowden bear witness to the slow and steady disappearance of the blue collar, inner suburb working class through the process of de-industralization. The streets are the sites of this trauma and the photography is about absence, void, lacunae.
This is not photography of an event in the sense of photographic reportage; the photographs were not taken in the midst of the action, nor are they documenting any speciﬁc historical moment. These particular photographs alludes to what is not there:
What is not there is the traumatic memory from the closing down of the factories, the loss of jobs, the unemployment and the slow urban decay. The blue collar working class were facing a future of closure. Their old industrial way of life was slowly disappearing as they lived. This closure was a traumatic event. Continue reading →
I only made a few portraits of people in the city of Adelaide during the 1980s.
One place was Valentino’s Restaurant in Gays Arcade, off Adelaide Arcade, near Twin Street. My sister used to work there as a waitress whilst she was studying at Flinders University of South Australia for a social workers degree. I got to know the people working there, as I used to drop in for a quick meal when I’d been strolling around the CBD, reading the street, and photographing in the city as if I were a tourist visiting Adelaide.
The meals were cheap then. $5.50 with a glass of wine. In many ways it was a taken for granted space of a given historical period infused with meanings, experiences and memories; part of the patchwork quilt of traces of human existence that makes a city more than its buildings, transportation networks, rivers, and parks. Continue reading →
Most of the images in the Adelaide section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia come from city strolling with a camera in the company of Fichte, my cream coloured, standard poodle. City strolling is a translation of the French term flânerie, and it is an aimless rambling and drifting in the labyrinth of the big city of modernity that involves a ludic engagement with the city.
Strolling has no goal, and it involves poeticizing what we come across in our aimless drifting. We invest in our power of imagination and attribute meaning to the changing phenomena around us as in the shops in Rundle Mall.
My city strolling through the city crowd was not just a moving through the industrial city, but rather a concentration on the displays exhibited in the store fronts. These form a dreamscape–a mythic, re-enchantmen of the banal city. City strolling is not just a practice of walking and watching but also a way of theorizing and photographing. It is a cultural activity. Continue reading →
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.
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 →
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.
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 →
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 graffiti around the streets of Bowden in the 1980s was done prior to the tagging and the boom in street art in New York in the 1970s-1980s and prior to many councils encouraging street art in the city by designating walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists.
The Bowden graffiti was text based, not visually conceptual as in the work of Keith Haring who painted wall murals in Collingwood, Melbourne in the mid-1980s.
There was no street art scene nor any sense of artists challenging art by situating it in non-art contexts. It was more an expression of the creative impulse to put the writing on the wall that set itself apart from the visual clutter of advertising; a form of expression that has its roots in Arthur Stace chalking out his one-word message “Eternity” half a million times in Sydney between 1932 and 1967.