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 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.

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.

Road trip: 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

The Bowden Archives: a draft

Thanks to the  generous help  of my friends, Judith Crispin, Stuart Murdoch, Paul Atkins at Atkins Photo Lab and Adam Dutkiewicz at Moon Arrow Press  I now have a first draft of the Bowden Archives: Memory,  Text,  Place. The pictures have  a narrative of their own now and some sort of coherence. That was something I could not do on my own, as I was too close to the pictures.

Warehouse, Bowden

The next step for me is to  follow Adam’s advice and do a dummy book  using  BookWright,  Blurb’s free desktop software, in order  to see what  the draft with images and text looks like as a book— as opposed to an idea in my head, or Stuart’s step—   rough prints on sheets of folded up paper to have an tactile object in my hand as opposed to images on a computer screen.   Continue reading

Bowden: the Kelly Dance

After talking to a prospective publisher, the title of the manuscript  has been changed from Bowden Archives and other Marginalia to The Bowden Archives.  This  cut  down means that the book will be about Bowden as  the non-Bowden images–eg., the coastal beaches, Port Adelaide, Adelaide hills  etc– have now been pruned from the draft manuscript. They have been shifted to the historical section of the proposed Adelaide book.

I have been going through and scanning the 35mm negatives in the archive.   The picture below  is from the Kelly Dance–an evening of jigs and reels —  that was put on by  The Bush Dance Theatre:

boy at Kelly Dance
boy at Kelly Dance

This evening was sometimes in the 1980s. Unfortunately,  I cannot recall where the musical evening  was held or when.   Continue reading

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.


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

keep calm and carry on

There are now millions of photographers and billions of photographs around the globe,  and the accumulation of photographic images in the institutional and online archives  is staggering,  if not astounding. The aggressive and voracious appetite of the photographic eye accelerates apace in our consumption-based society, or what the Situationists called the society of the spectacle.

We now live in a society dominated by pictorial images and visual simulations. Our visual experience is one of a pictorial turn taking place and the emergence of the image text as a composite art form. The consumer mixed media images in everyday life goes so far as to constitute a “common culture” that is an international corporate culture) that values achievement, image, popularity and financial success. The world of images in a consumer society becomes more real than than reality itself.

Rundle Mall, Adelaide

This common,  corporate  culture of the global market, which now  defines our  popular visual culture, is very liquid,  with its  fast circulating seductive images of the mass media, advertising, and the publicity   industries.  All  the flux and flow melts away what was once solid and stable in our culture. We become uncertain of the solidity of the ground beneath our feet.

The Situationists held that the society of the spectacle perpetuates itself by compensating those denied the opportunity to make history with more and more commodities, all of which are fundamentally unsatisfying because the ideology of survival remains coded within them. Capitalism has created “pseudo-needs” to increase consumption. The society of the spectacle implies that a spectacle can only be watched  and enjoyed at a distance.  It appears glamorous and desirable.

Continue reading


The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia  is constructed from my unruly 1980s photographic archives,  and  it primarily consists of photos that I made in  Adelaide during the 1980s; a decade that saw the melting away of all that was once solid and stable and the emergence  of flux and flow  in  Australia’s culture.  These archives  provide a space for exploring the liquidity of culture without become lost  in its fast-moving currents,  and the book is a form of memory work that adopts  an interpretive and reconstructive approach to the everyday of the past through a process of  weaving together the public and private.

I had left Melbourne  for the historically conservative city of  Adelaide because I  wanted to establish a critical distance from  the American fine art print tradition  and formalist modernism that were then circulating  through the various  public and private photographic galleries in Melbourne. At that stage I wasn’t aware of postmodernism’s critique of the frozen assumptions of US style American modernist formalism and its deconstruction of of the legacy of modernist photography as a fine art.

I still held firmly to the  Enlightenment understanding of progress. This  assumes  the possibility that the future will be fundamentally different from the past, because new ways of understanding the world create future possibilities that are conceived as new in a way that cannot be entirely derived from previous experience. In the 1970s Dunstan’s Labor  government, was leading the way  in Australia with social reform, debating Aboriginal rights, challenging the White Australia Policy and legislating to decriminalise homosexuality.

The progressive thinking and sense of fun were trademarks of the “Dunstan era’s” conception of  the darkness and light of Australian modernity and photography appeared to be onside with the progressive thinking of the 1970s.

self-portrait with mannequin
self-portrait with mannequin

I had a studio in Bowden and  worked part time at Conroys  Smallgoods factory in Bowden  to finance the  photography.  These black and white pictures  are fragments  of the suburb of Bowden inAdelaide,   Adelaide’s CBD,  and,  after I purchased a Kombi, the city’s  beaches and the countryside.

The rationale for the book is an observation by Gael Newton in her Preface to Photo Files: an Australian Photography Reader in 1999  that:

Currently there is a dearth of books in print on the most obvious topics. Huge amounts of work needs to be done in standard publishing of historical and contemporary research of a sustained nature.

The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia is situated in that empty space–a  silence of history   in that the art photography or photo art in Adelaide has been consistently  overlooked by  the  art historians.  The current book,   in building on an earlier one,  Abstract Photography: Re-evaluating Visual Poetics in Australian Modernism and Contemporary Practice by Gary Sauer-Thompson and Adam Dutkiewicz, is a contribution to a critical history of photography in Australia.  Continue reading

The Bowden Archives and other Marginalia

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 turning point
The turning point

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.

Continue reading