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.

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

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.

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.

mannequin + mirrors

mannequin + mirrors

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.

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Preface

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.

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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