wandering in Port Adelaide

I have scanned a few more archival images from those I made when I wandered around the urban part of the Port Adelaide precinct with a Leica in the late afternoon during winter. The Port had a gritty, grungy, industrial, working class character in the 1980s.

billboard, Port Adelaide

What drastically reduced the need for waterside labour at Port Adelaide’s inner harbour was the development of deep berths at Outer Harbour to accommodate larger ships, coupled with the introduction of bulk handling facilities and containerisation in the 1970s. The 1970s and 80s was also a period of general decline in raw material processing and manufacturing in the Port, with many mills, foundries and factories closing or relocating.

The result was that historic buildings were closed and even vandalized whilst shops in the main streets of the suburb were empty and boarded up. It was becoming a place of social and economic obsolescence, a derelict dockland – stagnant and lifeless.

Melbourne: street + documentary

Some of my black and white Melbourne street photos from the late 1970s/early 1980s have appeared on a couple of previous blog posts–eg., here and here. The picture below is from the same period.

The conventional account holds that street photography positions itself as art whereas documentary photography is more concerned with injustice or narrative. The former tends to be spontaneous and it seeks to capture a moment that would have, without the photographer’s intervention, gone unnoticed. Documentary photography is more considered and ethical in its approach. Street photography is associated with the imagination (the free play of the faculties) and the poetic, whereas documentary photography is associated with truth, matter of fact and empirical knowledge.

alleyway, Fitzroy, Melbourne

Street photography is closely associated with a snapshot aesthetic or more broadly a snapshot culture that breaks down the borders between the private and public realms. A minimal description is a fragmentary photo in space and time with a loose and informal composition that is coupled to the semantic area of a photographer shooting or hunting with a portable, handheld 35mm camera searching for meaningful, memorable moments.

Conventional art history holds that the style of street photography became recognized as a genre in its own right during the early 1930s with figures such as Henri Cartier-BressonBrassaï and André Kertész,  While there are precedents, and areas of overlap with documentary and architectural photography, street photography is associated with the photographer’s skill in capturing something of the mystery and aura of everyday city living. Some hold that the human figure becomes the street photograph’s defining feature. Robert Frank is seen as the central figure in this tradition.

Melbourne: street photos

In the previous post I mentioned that after moving to Adelaide from Melbourne, I would frequently return to Melbourne in the early 1980’s to photograph. I used to catch the overnight Overland train, or hitch hike between Adelaide and Melbourne. I travelled lightly, with just a Leica M4 rangefinder and some 35mm black and white film.

stiletto, Melbourne

These snapshots were mostly photos of various images in shop windows, which I was also doing in Adelaide’s Rundle Mall. Melbourne’s more interesting shop windows had graphic window designs expressing desire, fantasy and consumer dreaming.

The spectacular image culture is the very heart of consumer capitalismThe spectacular image culture is much more than something at which we passively gaze as it increasingly defines our perception of life itself, and the way we relate to others.

Melbourne tramway snapshots

The first snapshot section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia will start with some of the tramway photos. These will build around this one in the previous post, and they will be based on some more of the pictures made in the Kew Depot.

An example:

George, Kew Depot, Kew

The above picture is inside the operational office. This is where you waited until the tram you were working on stopped outside and walked to it to start your shift.

No 4607, Kew Depot

I was based at the Kew Depot when I worked on the tramways. It was all shift work. I worked the early morning (5am start) and the evening (5pm start) shift on alternate weeks rather the broken shifts at the commuter peak in the morning and evenings. I usually walked to work from Fitzroy in the morning.

This kind of shift made me quite tired. I did it so that I could attend the part time courses at the Photography Studies College and take photos during the day for the courses.

Melbourne snapshots

As mentioned in an earlier post of this blog the first section of The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia consists of street photography or snapshots that were made made in Melbourne and Adelaide with 35mm cameras and black and white film. This section has been reframed as part of a snapshot culture or snapshot aesthetic and it leads into the second Bowden section.

In the 1970s, when the American cultural invasion was in full swing, I was living in Fitzroy, working on the Melbourne Trams as a conductor. and studying at Photographic Studies College. Whilst I was working at the Kew Depot I made a few photos of the people I worked with. This is one:

2148, Kew Depot, Melbourne 1976

As is well known the early 1970s saw a revitalisation of art photography in Australia, mirroring similar developments in the US and Britain. This ‘photo boom’, as it is known, witnessed the establishment of a number of specialist galleries with curators dedicated to photography; the establishment of the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney; and the development of photography courses in Australian art schools.

This ‘photo boom’ was part of the broadening of art history in the sense of the shift from art history’s Eurocentric approach to Australian art in the departments of art history as well in the art galleries. Before the 1960s, which saw the first widely accessible book, Bernard Smith’s Australian Painting 1788-1960, there was scarcely any general awareness of Australian art.

greening Bowden

The suburbs west of the city of Adelaide and the parklands, such as Hindmarsh and Bowden,   were earmarked as industrial areas prior to 1945 because they  were  in the vicinity of the road and rail links between Adelaide’s CBD and Port Adelaide. The industrial origins in the 19th century lay in the small cottage industries supported by both residential and industrial expansion.  More noxious industries moved into the area  in the early 20th century and the wealthier residents began to move out.

Though it was still a residential area,  with many  post 1945  European migrants  (Greek, Italian, Yugoslav) being attracted to the area because  of the low cost of housing,  industry expansion quickened  after the 1940s.By the 1980s the official view of  Bowden-Brompton was that these suburbs were  old industrial areas and that industry expansion was premised on purchasing adjoining residential property.

These properties were seen as being on congested sites, to be outworn and obsolete,  as having reached the end of  their economic and useful life,  and  that their low property values encouraged the intrusion of factories and businesses. The substandard  housing was only worthy of demolition. The depressing character of sub-standard dwellings combined with noise, odours, dirt, smoke pollution and heavy traffic meant that  Bowden was defined as a Adelaide’s slum. Slum meant an incidence of disease and delinquency.

The concerns of the  people who lived in the slum  for  better living conditions for themselves could be ignored.

Gibson St, Bowden
Gibson St, Bowden

Even though there was limited room for industrial expansion in Bowden, and  industry was moving to Adelaide’s northern and north western suburbs,  the  old Hindmarsh Council, which had been captured by industry, had little  interest in greening the suburb, the quality of the environment  or  urban renewal. The state government had no conception of urban infill with higher density housing.     Continue reading

graffiti in Bowden

The graffiti in Bowden during the 1980s was  often quite blunt and direct with no ambiguity in the message:

grafitti, Bowden
graffiti, Bowden

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

Portraits

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.

pizza maker, Valentinos
Reno, Valentino’s Restaurant

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

city strolling

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.

Witchery, Rundle Mall
Witchery, 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

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