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

still life

I had a rudimentary studio setup whilst I was living and photographing in Bowden in the 1980s. There was a a table, a dark cloth as  a background,  available window light,  a 5×7 Cambo monorail,  the odd prop,  and a solid Linhof tripod.

However,  I didn’t do much with the setup. I made a  few portraits  and some still lives,  such as this one of a  banksia, which  I’d  purchased at the Adelaide Central Market and then a lowed to dry:

banksia still life

The results were okay,  and  I realised that I could do the studio stuff, even though the studio situation wasn’t ideal.  The available window light was minimal,  the exposures for the 5×7 Cambo monorail where very  long (several hours), and  the house shook if a truck went past on Gibson Street.  So  I’d have to start the photo shoot again.  It was all too difficult really.  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

Bowden’s commercial architecture

I photographed a lot of the  commercial architecture around  Bowden-Brompton. The photography  was before the rejuvenation of the area  started to reverse the continual decline in the population from  1947 to the 1980s,  due to the intrusion of new industries and warehousing from the city  of Adelaide sites. You could see traces  of  the industrial and commercial premises that had sustained the populous working class community that was close-knit, self-supporting between  1918 and  1945 and a sense that relatively little new housing was built after the First World War.

Most of the commercial architecture  was basic and utilitarian, designed for small businesses.  Artica, for instance,  was a furniture workshop in First Street near South Rd  in Brompton that made furniture to order.

Artica, Bowden
Artica, First St, Bowden

By the 1980s the decline  in population was counter to the increasing population of inner suburban areas in other capital citiesIt was only in the mid-1980s that planners started to think in terms of compact cities and to  revitalising existing cities. The Dunstan State government  realised  that in planning terms urban consolidation  made sense, that is it made sense  to  encourage people to live in the inner western suburban area of Adelaide  because of the lower costs and greater quality of service delivery.

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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

Bowden’s residential architecture

The residential architecture in industrial Bowden prior to its recent gentrification consisted of cheaply built working class cottages. They were dark inside, full of salt damp during the winter and hothouses in the summer.  This housing  had no insulation and there were few street trees tom provide some shade from the summer heat.  Bowden baked  during Adelaide’s  long hot summer.

working class cottage, Bowden
working class cottage, Bowden

In the 1980s these cottages were situated amongst plastics factory, three foundries,  building companies that specialised in building panels, warehouses, and delis. The suburb was dumpy and dingy,  the  foundries were a very dirty, polluting  industry, and  a lot of the land in Brompton was contaminated.   Continue reading

Bowden portraits

These are a couple more  Bowden portraits  that  supplement  the ones currently  in  the  Bowden portfolio on my  website. I didn’t do many formal portraits.

As I mentioned in the Preface I worked part time at Conroys Smallgoods  in Bowden to buy the  camera equipment to photograph Bowden.  I recall making  several portraits in the factory after we  had finished  working on Saturday morning.

Joe, Conroys Smallgoods
Joe, Conroys Smallgoods

Joe was the production foreman. He lived  in the Salisbury/Elizabeth area of the northern suburbs of Adelaide. He worked  long hours in the factory. It was a tough hard job.

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towards another photographic history

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  for the Australian 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:

Marlboro, Bowden
Marlboro, Bowden

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

An empty urbanscape

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:

empty streets
urbanscape, Bowden

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