at Moonee Ponds Creek

I made a quick multipurpose road trip to Melbourne via a short detour through the Wimmera Mallee in mid-March (13-19th).  

 I wanted  to reconnect with the Mallee Routes project;   to spend time with my sister at Safety Beach; continue photographing  around Nth Melbourne;  check out the world of photobooks at both the Melbourne Art Book Fair and the 2018 ANZ Photobook Awards;  and have a look at some possible gallery spaces  at Abbotsford Convent to continue to exhibit the  ongoing collaborative Melbourne drosscape work with Stuart Murdoch. 

 For the drosscape work I  had caught the Metro train to the Nth Melbourne railway station from Frankston. I  then walked around Nth Melbourne with the 5x4 gear in a supermaket trolley for 5-6 hours--the gear is too heavy to carry.  I initially walked along Laurens St, down Arden Street,  then made my way along the Moonnee Ponds Creek  Trail, which is part of the Capital City Trail.  

This is one of the  images that I  had seen on an earlier trip,  and it was one that I had planned to re-photograph with the 5x4 Linhof Technika IV: 

However, the promised cloud cover had  gone,  and the light  in the mid afternoon was too sunny and contrasty for film.  I  continued walking along the Moonnee Ponds Creek  Trail, crossed over a very busy Footscray Rd,  and spent some time  exploring  under and around  City Link in an area  adjacent to Enterprise Road. 

revisiting Nth Melbourne

Whilst we--Suzanne, myself and our  two standard poodles (Kayla and Maleko) --- were  in Melbourne in late November for family reasons I was able  to do a little bit of  photographic scoping around the North Melbourne  drosscapes  before the  cloud cover evaporated.  This scoping was  to find  sites for a future large  format  photo session in the autumn of 2019 so as  to  continue  the topographic photography of old  industrial  Melbourne that  I am working  in association with Stuart Murdoch. 

As it was early summer,  what was substantial early morning cloud cover on the Morning Peninsula, quickly disappeared over the city in the early afternoon.  That meant the end of any photography scoping for the day.    I was wanting to see this Industrial Melbourne Festival so Stuart and I decided to check out The Substation in Newport and the  Trocadero Art Space  in Footscray,   but, unfortunately, we were too late. The Industrial  Festival had been and gone. So we looked at these art spaces as possibilities  for future exhibitions for our industrial Melbourne work in 2019/2020  as we wanted to build on our 2018 exhibition in Adelaide  at Atkins Photo Lab  by exhibiting in  Melbourne.  

reflections on the post documentary

Viewing the various  images of industrial Melbourne in the initial Collaborations exhibition at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide  opened  up  the theoretical  project of  rethinking of documentary photography to the idea that these representations are  a form of industrial archaeology. What appeared  from reading these photos was a sense that  the photos appeared as  an excavation of a forgotten,  industrial Melbourne in that they were a  retrieval of  what has been overlooked as the ruins, detritus or wasteland  of industrial Melbourne.  Though they  enabled us, the viewer,  to form a sense  of  the historical textuality of modernity these  archaeological images would not be seen as art  by the art institution.   

Today the idea of photography as a medium that simply records the world around us seem positively quaint. However, the various images on the white wall of the gallery highlighted  how this  large format,  documentary photography also  placed  an emphasis on the modernist concern with  the   basic form of the art object -- ie., the shapes, colours and lines that make up the art work. The emphasis on the basic form of the image indicate  the aesthetic aspect of this documentary style in a topographic mode.  

Though the pictures are  a form of historical knowledge, the aesthetic dimension  moves this documentary photography  away from  the conventional notions of mechanical representation--capturing the real. This naturalism  continues to define  photojournalism,  the media's  reportage  tendency to reduce photography to illustration, and conventional understandings of  documentary photography.   Photographic images are anything but neutral reflections of the wider world or simple traces of a present past. In this return to the past the photos are a form of history making about the uncanny or the unhomely.     

The rethinking of documentary photography is  also  post modernist in  the sense  that it represents the present as if it were already past--as if it were history.   The exhibition highlighted this topographical photography as a historical practice with its inbuilt tensions (or dialectic) between formalism and historicism.  It indicates  how this photography plays with time and historical distance, representing  a moment in the past only to give it over to new interpretations and modes of seeing in subsequent viewings.

Yet contemporary photography is all about,, “interrogating the medium”, which often means shifting it away from documentary towards other, more conceptually driven art forms – abstract painting, sculpture, performance, video installation in a world of of image overload.  We now live in a  digital world drowning in images with the arrival of the smartphone camera.  The numbers are mind-boggling: 350m photographs a day uploaded on Facebook; 95m photographs and videos shared on Instagram daily. The combined number of images shared uploaded on both platforms now exceeds 290bn, while there are 188m daily active users of Snapchat. Artificial technology is just around the corner. 

In contrast the industrial Melbourne project is very modest and slow.  It works in terms of a series --bridges or freeways or creeks ---so that the images of these found object are connected to one another in an archivalist sense. Seriality can be understood in terms of difference as opposed to sameness, and photographic projects can be seen in terms of longevity as opposed to the instantaneous.  As Susan James argues in her Common Ground: German Photographic Cultures Across the Iron Curtain  the  linking of images in a series  forces the establishing of connections and relations. It bounces the gaze from one site to another, to build up meanings across time, thereby giving  us a sense  of our own  industrial history,  as well as  a perspective on the spaces that we currently inhabit.

Collaboration exhibition in Adelaide

The SALA  Festival exhibition referred to in the previous posts of the blog (hereherehere and here)  has a title. It is  called Collaboration: Interrogating Melbourne's changing urban landscape and it can be seen  at Atkins Photo Lab. The exhibition's opening night was August 3rd,  and the exhibition runs from  August 4th to September 7th  during  the state wide 2018 SALA festival.  

This  exhibition is the first step in a project based on  large format photography (both black and white and colour)  interpreting  the changing urbanscape in Melbourne's  CBD, its industrial suburbs such as North Melbourne, Footscray and Sunshine,  and  the ever expanding western suburban edges  from a topographical perspective.  

Paul Atkins opened the exhibition and he talked about the transformative changes in the cities that we live in.  Then Stuart gave an artist talk about how he approaches his photography.  Stuart  highlighted how the has been working on this part of industrial Melbourne  for over a decade as a film photographer,   and he has an extensive archive of 5x4 black and white negatives.  This archive is a form of remembering  of what once was.       

photographing the industrial sublime

As mentioned in this earlier post on this low key blog about documentary  photography Stuart Murdoch and myself are having  a collaborative  exhibition  at the Atkins Photo Lab for South Australia's 2018  SALA  festival.   Two  outtakes for the  SALA exhibition from  Stuart's extensive archive  can be seen here on his blog.  The exhibition is  about an old industrial Melbourne that is rapidly disappearing in a post-industrial world.  

The large format  black and white and colour photographs in the Collaborations exhibition  are  underpinned by the conceptual framework of the industrial sublime rather than the industrial picturesque.  An  issue that comes to the fore with presenting these photographs of the industrial sublime is:  'how can a topographical approach to photography represent the industrial sublime'? How can photography represent the whole social context of capitalism's industrial  modernity in Melbourne,  after the demise of the long shadow cast by Greenbergian formalist modernism?

Though the sublime is a traditional category of aesthetics, it has recently seen a resurgence of interest beyond the passing whims of artistic fashion.  The sublime flashes up when confronted by an experience that is immense,  its scope is difficult to comprehend,  and the disparities allow the  emergence of new voices.  The sublime indicates a breakdown and an inability to represent. 

documentary photography in North Melbourne

This  photo of my  old Cambo 5x7 was taken by Stuart Murdoch  whilst we were on location in North Melbourne in the late afternoon in May 2018. At this particular moment of the photo session  I had briefly wandered over to the other side of the railway bridge  to scope the old  bridge and the city  with my Sony digital camera. 

At the time we  were in the process of making some photos for our  forthcoming  exhibition  at the Atkins Photo Lab for the 2018  SALA  festival about old industrial Melbourne.  The exhibition now has a title: Collaborations: Interrogating Melbourne's Changing Urban Landscape. This is collaboration in a substantive sense: subject matter, documentary photography of the object   as interpretation rather than depiction,  and  helping to develop an Australian tradition of a topographical understanding of  the human/nature relationship.  

 I have decided to  include some of my older Melbourne photographs in the exhibition, such as this one:  

The groups name  for the purposes of SALA is Australian Topographics with its references back to the American large format photography of the 1860s and the 1970s. The Australian reference is to David Stephenson's   photographs of Tasmanian dams  starting in  the 1980s,  which he interpreted in terms of the  technological sublime.  This interpretation of the sublime builds on, and works within, this body of work about the American construction of awesome technology--eg., railroads, pipelines, bridges and rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. 

Counterpath: returning to Melbourne

In an earlier post I mentioned that some of my documentary style photographs of  industrial Melbourne would be exhibited with those by Stuart Murdoch at Atkins Photo Lab during the SALA festival in August 2018.  The exhibition is about making things in the urbanscape visible, rather than a form of seeing what is already seen and noted. Photography is invested in the visible, but  the making visible is the sense of  making visible what is  ignored or overlooked. What people are blind to.    

This will be the first time the Melbourne work is exhibited. I don't have that much work in the archive of the reinventing documentary project--about 40 images.  This SALA  exhibition requires more phototrips to Melbourne  in order to  build up a portfolio of the remnants of industrial Melbourne. This will be after  the Mallee Routes exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery finishes in early May.

One  reason  for this lack of images  is that since 2012   I haven't been to Melbourne all that often to make photos.  Other projects, such as the Mallee Routes one,   took priority,  and the Melbourne project ended up  on the back burner.   It required a lot of  reading about Melbourne's urban development   and I didn't have the time. 

interpreting old industrial Melbourne

Whilst on a trip to Melbourne in early 2018 I was able to  briefly photograph around West Melbourne with Stuart Murdoch   in spite of the humidity and the intense heat. I was basically using a digital camera to scope images  for an exhibition with Stuart  at Atkins Photo Lab  in Adelaide during the SALA Festival in South Australia. This  festival is  around August 2018.

Whilst scoping the area in the railyards the will be transformed by the $11bn Metro underground railway project I  recalled that I had photographed in this area of North Melbourne  under the Citylink freeway and along the Moonee Ponds Creek with Stuart Murdoch.  At the time I couldn't recall what year that was. I just recognised the area,  remembered walking around the area,  and I recalled some of the images from that documentary photography photo session.  When I started to go through the archives  upon my  return to Adelaide I could see that I had been photographing around this area  in 2012.

I also realised that I didn't really know what I was trying to do with this documentary/topographic  style of photography in Melbourne. I just filed it under road trips,  and then forgot about it,  other than conceptualising it as reinventing a documentary style of photography in the 21st century.  

Why documentary photography is not art

I have come to realise that in Australia there is a division between documentary photography and art photography. Documentary photography is collected by the state libraries whilst art photography is collected by the art institutions. This is how curating is done in Australia.  

There are exceptions  to this, as always.  

Martin Jolly  has observed  that  the tradition in which the photograph as a historical and social information, and an aesthetic art object and exemplar of a tradition had co-existed within the formulations  for most of the 20th century  ruptured in the last part of that century was finally separated between libraries and galleries. This was when the primary aim of photography curating in the 1970s was to establish photography as art within the  ethos of the modernism whose histories of photography invariably privilege individual figures as geniuses.  

Today, photography is  photography is now deeply embedded in the art gallery/museum. Jolly says: 

"Over the intervening 40 years, since the establishment of various departments and the ACP, the boundaries of photography have expanded. However, galleries have largely kept to the historical trajectories inaugurated in the 1970s. In the 1980s, photographic reproductive processes became central to postmodern art, which had the flow-on effect of boosting photography’s place in the art museum (Tracey Moffatt, Bill Henson, Anne Zahalka, etc.). But postmodernism did not fundamentally alter the increasing focus of departments of photography on ‘art photography’."
Jolly goes to observe that  the mere integration of photography into the newly contemporary art museum all too easily elides is that photography’s place there has always been unstable, its ambiguous status as object and information continually threatening the grounds of the art museum’s hierarchies and collection policies.This 
 instability manifests itself in different ways in different periods, but as we have already hinted at, one of the underlying themes in photography in the museum is the constant exclusion of the vernacular and of reproducibility itself.We have seen this in Australia in relation to the location of photography between the library and the art museum, in terms of a split between information and aesthetics, a documentary database versus an aesthetic object. Photography’s recent insertion into digital networks reveals these tensions yet again, in a new guise. Within a modernist logic, the networked digital image, circulating as reproducible information, is guaranteed to be excluded. The potential for different kinds of photography in the art museum goes largely unnoticed.
As we know establishment of the canon of Australian  art photography  is based on a series of exclusions and documentary photogprahy is one of those exclusions.   These exclusions make it difficult  for documentary photography to  be a part of art photography. Maybe it could be done through collaboration?  


 


just getting by

The  fissures in Australia are deepening and broadening after the global financial crisis due to the  growing geographical inequality,  the changing nature of work in a neo-liberal society--the re-emergence of the precariat-- and the politics of austerity.  

Globalisation for many means the ongoing de-industrialization, which has seen the emergence of  a dispossessed and marginalizaed section of the working class,   the lack of secure and paid employment, the lack of affordable housing in the overheated Sydney and Melbourne housing markets, and people’s basic needs no longer being securely met.  

For many working poor families it is increasingly a case of getting by whilst being stigmatised   for excluding themselves  from society with their “wrongness”, their bad culture and bad practices; or for being leaners getting a free ride on welfare benefits. The poorest and the most vulnerable people in our society are deemed to be worthless by the successful lifters.