La Trobe Valley roadtrip

In the 1980s I started work on an MA consisting of photographs and a dissertation in the philosophy department at Flinders University of South Australia under Brian Medlin. The MA project was a critique of capitalist industrialization, and it was meant to be a politics and art type project  that associated realism with some form of explanatory power or grasp of social truth.

I never completed the MA. I aborted it and upgraded to a PhD in continental philosophy about the need for philosophy to return to, and be a part of, everyday life. The photography was put in cold storage. Returning to the archive now means that this is a photography is looking back at the past from the present—history is always written from the present.

The MA was at a time when modernists celebrated both the liberation of visual art from realist representation as a realisation of art’s true vocation and celebrated the freedom achieved through  art. Modernism replaced the autonomy of Descarte’s thinking subject from nature, society and history with the artistic subject as a fictive being within the play of visual language.

Collapse the difference between signifier and signified– signs are the new reality—condemns the world to textual play, thereby surrendering subjectivity to the prison-house of language and art to textual play. Realism was seen as an exhausted pictorial tradition, and it was reduced to a caricatured ‘straw man’ version of the form and its association with a simple referential naivety – the transparent window on a stable world–with its omniscient photographer as narrator. This was part of the broad drift to problematize or reject photography as a realistic and documentary form towards elaborate photographic constructs or photographic tableaus.   Realism was taboo and documentary could only be deconstructed.

regional Victoria

One strand in the politics and art debate held that art and aesthetic concerns should be subordinated to political imperatives, or indeed that
aesthetic value is reducible to social and political value. Raymond Williams’ literary theory rejects the concepts of ‘the aesthetic’ and ‘aesthetic value’ without replacing them with alternative concepts.  Another strand was held Herbert Marcuse who argued that the subversive potential of art lies only in the ‘aesthetic form’ which liberates Eros and celebrates human subjectivity in a way which transcends every ‘realistic’ political programme.

Within this context the intellectual content of the abandoned MA project was provided by the Romantic, pre-Marxist critique of early industrial capitalism (eg., the British tradition of Coleridge, Carlyle, Ruskin and William Morris that Raymond Williams had recovered in his Culture and Society). Culture was the name for certain pre- capitalist social and cultural values that were lost in industrial capitalism. Lukacs’  early The Theory of the Novel (1916) spells this out. He describes the social world of modernity as confronting its members as a ‘second nature’ of senseless conventions, so that they are, paradoxically, homeless in the world that should be their home. Under capitalism the social world comes to appear as an object externally related to the self living in that world.

The Theory of the Novel is a theorisation of alienation, and it laments the loss of a meaningful human community (represented by ancient Greece), or human society as a ‘totality’. The Greek epic is less a genre among others than it is the expression of a certain social form of life – a ‘people’ – and the poetry of a common world. In modernity, by contrast, forms of intelligibility and meaning are no longer authorised by tradition and custom; there is a disharmony disjunction between form and life; and artistic freedom expresses itself in terms of an ironic subjectivity.

Ours is a secularised, disenchanted modern world  with its fragmented and individualistic (non-) community. The universal primacy of individual experience is the ideology of modern times, in that subjectivity proclaims itself to be the only authentic substance of experience and volition.  Individualism is the hegemonic form of the social in capitalist modernity. 

Most of the English Romantic critics of industrial capitalism were poets and writers, but their sources were the philosophical writings of the  Jena Romantics. The latter’s writings about modern poetry and the novel came to stand in for an idea of modern art in general, with its  freedom from generic conventions and grounded in its newness and individuality. The structure of the modern artwork  is self-determining and autopoietic. 

Lukács held that in modernity the prose of the world becomes specifically the domination of capitalist prose over the inner poetry of human experience. Lukács was concerned with the fate of the novel in modernity not the visual arts. Hence the problem: can the poetry of photography stand in opposition to capital’s prose?

An update on the Bowden project

In this post in 2016 I mentioned that I had started to work on the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia book. In two other posts in 2017 about the Adelaide Art Photographers 1970-2000 book, I indicated that a few of my archival non-Bowden photos would form a portfolio in the book. That book has now been published by Moon Arrow Press in Adelaide.

This leaves the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia project to be completed as a book. It will have 3 sections. The first one is on street photography in Melbourne (circa 1977-9) after I’d finishing studying at the Photography Studies College and snapshots in Adelaide. The middle section will consist of the Bowden photographs. The third section includes photographs made on various road trips around and outside of Adelaide.

The picture below would be part of the third section, if it makes the cut:

Silo, Snowtown (?), South Australia, 1996

I have pulled the Bowden project from being published by Wakefield Press, who will now be publishing the Tasmanian Elegies project. The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia book will be published by Moon Arrow Press in 2021.

topographics

In a previous post on this archival blog I  had mentioned my shift from street photography to topographics during the 1980s. This shift  emerged whilst  I was photographing around Osborne, Gillman  and Outer Harbor  along the Port River estuary on the Le Fevre Peninsula.

This is an example of my  topographic approach to industrial type urbanscapes—a wasteland, if you like– that was made  in the 1980s:

Osborne, South Australia

Another version of the topographical approach to this wasteland or ravaged landscape  that was made in the same photo-session is here.

The shift from street photography to topographics is how I have structured  my portfolio in  the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book, which  is to  be published by Moon Arrow Press in 2019.  It is part of the independent photobook  movement.  Continue reading

Hallett Cove, Adelaide

This picture from the 1980s archives represents a change in the way that I had been  photographing. It signifies a shift from the street photography and landscapes I had been doing  previously to a more  topographics style of photography:

Hallett Cove, Adelaide

It was a slow shift, as I was pretty much working blind. At this stage I  was more or less  trying to find suitable subject matter to photograph  with   the  5×7 Cambo view camera.  I was slowly finding my feet photographing Adelaide as a place, and   I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of a topographic photography of altered landscapes  in Adelaide. Continue reading

from street to topographic photography

In looking over the non-Bowden  1980’s  photographic archives  for the proposed book on Adelaide photography  I realised that I was in the process of making  a shift  from  the then  fashionable  street  style photography of the 1970s to  a more topographic approach. Fashionable in the sense that New York in the 1960s was the centre of  photography with  Winogrand, Friedlander and Meyerowitz  laying down  the classic grooves for street photography.

This is an example of the street  photography  in Adelaide’s CBD that was made from a public space in the 1980s:

Franklin St, Adelaide

Street photography  is   candid photography –in this case it is a photo  of an office worker walking west along Franklin St after  leaving  the office in the late afternoon. This was  during an Adelaide  summer and it was a time  when white socks and sandals were the  summer fashion for men.  This fashion was much more practical in 40 degrees heat  than the traditional tie and suit.

Continue reading

suburbia, northern Adelaide

In the previous post I mentioned that I would now concentrate on other images from the archives now that The Bowden Archives  has all the images it needs. I have recently been mulling over what to do with these non-Bowden images,  and I have decided that some will go into the Adelaide book whilst the others will go towards a new book project with Moon Arrow Press.

suburbia, northern Adelaide

This is the independent  press  run by Adam Jan Dutkiewicz and which published my Abstract Photography book in 2016.  Adam and I had a chat about this Adelaide photography book recently,   and we tentatively agreed  to start working on  it next year,  after  he finishes Volume 2 of the Visual History of the Royal South Australia Society of Arts book.    Continue reading

Port Adelaide estuary

A talk with  a publisher about the material in the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia becoming a book, it  was suggested that the proposed book would work  best as a book if it were  cut down to The Bowden Archives. The non-Bowden material will go to the Adelaide book, which has been on the back burner. The focus on Bowden tightens the manuscript,  which was starting to become unwieldy, and the simplification   makes the focus of The Bowden Archives more centred around history and place. I have spent the last week going through the 35mm negatives  of Bowden, and scanning the  best of them.

An example of the pictures in the initial  historical section  of the Adelaide book would be these two pictures of the Port River estuary in this post. The first picture of the mangroves are a reminder  that Port Adelaide  in the early 19th century was once basically a mangrove swamp and marsh surrounding the Port River.   Tides and drainage would continue to be major issues for residents until the first half of the 20th century.

mangroves, Port Adelaide
mangroves, Port Adelaide

The embankments along the river formed a basin within which the early residents worked and lived, but not without some fear. While the embankment kept the River at bay most of the time, the banks could be breached by a high tide. The basin shape meant that any water, even rain, pooled in the town with no drainage outlets.

Continue reading

The Adelaide hills

Once I’d  purchased   a VW Kombi I was able to make little road trips  outside of the city, I started exploring  around the Adelaide Hills and the Mt Lofty Ranges. I was stunned to see how small the city of Adelaide actually was sitting on  the Adelaide plains. It really was an isolated,  provincial city when compared to Melbourne and Sydney. It was easy to see how it was becoming marginalised.

city + plains, Adelaide
city + plains, Adelaide

I was shocked by how barren or stripped the landscape was. The colonial settler society’s ethos of men’s mastery of nature  resulted the  trees being few and far between in many places.  It was a reminder of the significance of agriculture prior to the emergence of manufacturing after 1945. Most land clearing occurred from the turn of the 19th century to the mid-20th century.  The  post World War 2 land development boom has seen the clearance of hundreds of thousands of hectares of native vegetation in the agricultural regions of the State. By the 1980s over 70 per cent of the land had been cleared. The land tax favoured the clearing of native vegetation  not its conservation.      Continue reading