tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:/posts rethinking documentary photography 2020-11-04T01:02:01Z Gary Sauer-Thompson tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1612066 2020-11-03T23:40:28Z 2020-11-04T01:02:01Z at Garden Island

On my last trip to Adelaide I decided to  return to exploring the Port Adelaide region. As I was down that way  to see the chiropet with Kayla,   I decided  to spend some time  scoping  around  Garden Island area.  It has been ages since I have been there,  and I wanted to return to the ship graveyard that I photographed in the 1980s. 

Most of the ships in the graveyard can only be accessed by kayak.  I was  in luck that day as  I was able to  access part of the ship graveyard due to  the low  tide.   It was overcast, which is what I'd wanted for the photos.   

What had changed? Surprisingly, not that much. The Sunbeam was still there, even if its hull was more decayed.  The mangroves  were heavily infested with mosquitos so I didn't hang around trying to see if I could access the other ships from the river bank.   

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1587226 2020-08-26T03:45:26Z 2020-10-17T22:34:40Z the Torrens Island Quarantine Station

The previous  post (in May 2020) ended with the  question about how I was going to carry this  project  on,  given that  SA's  borders with  Victoria are closed,  due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the extensive community transmission in Melbourne. The question was:  

"where does that  post-industrial transformation [of Port Adelaide] leave this interlude in the drosscape project? Just wait out the current lockdown in Melbourne? Or continue to explore the Port Adelaide region when I could?" 

I then remembered that I  had started to revisit Port Adelaide. One occasion was  in 2017 when I  participated in an organized  phototrip to both the old Torrens Island Quarantine Station and to the inside of Hart's Mill at Port Adelaide. This was  with a group of friends under the umbrella of the South Australian Maritime Museum at Port Adelaide. 

The photos, which had been made with a medium format film camera, had just sat in the archives on my hard drive of the Mac Pro untouched. What they represent is an exploration of  the history of Port Adelaide region.  The  Maritime Museum's organised tours have been postponed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a sense of  historical déjà vu’, in living through the COVID-19 lockdown with what happened a century ago. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1544764 2020-05-15T01:11:38Z 2020-08-26T03:39:14Z Interlude: reconnecting with Port Adelaide

The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that my  planned  interstate travel in April 2020 to  photograph old industrial Melbourne  had to  be cancelled. SA's borders are closed and Melbourne still has several outbreak Covid-19 hotspots. The national lockdown  has meant very limited travel--initially staying at home, exercising in one's postcode  and photographing  locally.   Once the restrictions started to ease in South Australia to allow limited travel within the state's  borders,   I wondered if I  could introduce something  new  to keep the drosscape project going--ie., I could build on my  old Port Adelaide  photographs, and then link  them to  those  of industrial Melbourne? 

Would that change the nature of this low key  project? Would it become a project about memory: a project haunted by the past. If it was   possible to  photographed the Port anew, then what would that look like and how would it link to the old? 

I had photographed the industrial landscape of old Port Adelaide in the 1980s. Then the Port was characterised by obsolescence, decline and grime.   What of the present Port Adelaide,  which was in the process of being re-branded through an obliteration of the Port's history and its industrial and maritime working class character? 

 I returned to Port Adelaide after stage 1 of the easing  of restrictions,  and  I wandered around some of the areas where I'd photographed over a decade ago.  Though I made  the odd photo whilst I was there, I was more or less reconnecting with, and picking up the traces of the  photographic past. 

The  picture  below of the Port River estuary is from the archives,  and it was the first  location  that I  returned to and checked out.  Had anything changed? If so,  what?  Were there new photographic possibilities? 

Not really was my response. I needed to move on.  

As I wandered around  I kept wondering whether I could re-connect with this archival body of work that was made whilst I was living in Adelaide's CBD. Could I build on the documentary work that I had been doing then? If so,  what would be the  concept behind the  documentary  photography of this  old industrial area and that of Melbourne? Heritage photography? 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1388172 2019-03-21T01:45:50Z 2020-08-26T03:32:38Z 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) 2019 to work on the old industrial Melbourne  project.     

Multipurpose,  as 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 for that length of time.   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  digital images that I  had made on an earlier trip,  and it was one that I had planned to re-photograph with the 5x4 Linhof Technika IV. It was this spot that I was walking to.  

However, the promised cloud cover had  gone by the time I arrived,   and the light  in the mid-afternoon was too sunny and contrasty for me.  I  consequently 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. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1351373 2018-12-08T07:02:47Z 2018-12-11T00:18:12Z 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.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1330710 2018-10-10T05:42:24Z 2018-10-14T11:15:17Z 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.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1307553 2018-07-30T04:43:08Z 2018-08-06T09:11:13Z 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.       

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1304662 2018-07-20T04:59:28Z 2018-07-22T03:37:21Z 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. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1302357 2018-07-12T00:19:44Z 2018-07-16T09:49:29Z 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. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1271689 2018-04-12T05:18:49Z 2018-04-19T23:57:46Z 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. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1238560 2018-01-26T23:25:41Z 2018-07-13T01:51:11Z 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.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1155754 2017-05-21T01:17:43Z 2017-05-21T02:13:33Z 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?  


Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1071412 2016-07-10T07:53:30Z 2016-11-01T12:24:03Z 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. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/858677 2015-05-20T12:51:52Z 2016-07-10T12:49:17Z documentary photography after the global financial crisis

It can be argued that documentary photography is a response to economic crisis--witness the 1930s (the Depression and the FSA in the US)  and in the 1970s  with its critique of the  liberal humanism (eg., Edward Steichen's The Family of Man) of documentary photography by John Tagg, Martha Rosler, and Allan Sekula in the form of  a politics of representation and the social history of art.

Tagg, for instance, in The Burden of Representation: Essays on the Photographies and Histories  was  sceptical about the capacity of social documentary photography to live up to its “act of compassionate looking”, a civic impulse which is, for Tagg, always subsumed into the liberal-capitalist machinery of the state apparatus beset to the right and left by the competing state forms of fascism and communism, before its impact can be registered. Documentary was the product of the continuing problematics of governance --crisis management in a shattered economic reality-- that turned on the management of public opinion to shore up the legitimacy and credibility of state-led solutions.

One  response to this analysis of photography being framed by the dominant economies of images and meanings in the  machinery of capture by New Deal reformism  is the idea of a historical understanding of documentary practices in photography as well as how it is produced and functions in specific historical conjunctures.  If so, then does  the after effects of the economic crisis resulting from the global financial crisis of 2007- 2008 correspond to a new documentary experience?

That economic crisis is not limited to 2008-9 as its after effects continue into the second decade of the 21st century.  By all accounts the global economy is in the worst shape in living memory. Deflation, stagnation, corporate and even government bankruptcy abound. Europe appears to be coming apart before our eyes. Even China has slowed sharply. Struggling to resuscitate growth, central banks have pushed real interest rates in much of the world to lows not seen for a very long time.  The politics of austerity is the response by the  conservative political elite in the US, Europe and Australia. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/693440 2014-05-20T02:27:57Z 2016-11-21T13:03:49Z a documentary style

We can discern a shift away from photography as a medium to photography as style. The shift is part of a movement in the history of photography  away from a recorded image towards its construction; a shift away from the traditional and more restrictive modernist notion of photography as a medium.

In an interview with Katz in 1971 Walker Evans  said: 

"When you say 'documentary,' you have to have a sophisticated ear to receive that word. It should be documentary style, because documentary is police photography of a scene and a murder....That's a real document. You see art is really useless, and a document has use. And therefore art is never a document, but it can adopt that style. I do it. I'm called a documentary photographer. But that presupposes a quite subtle knowledge of this distinction." (Evans W,  1983)

As a 'documentary style' photographer, Walker Evans created images that looked like documents and looked like they had a use, when in fact, according to Evans own definition, they were not documents, since they did not have any use. 

Documentary style, then, is the mode of an image that makes it appear to be a document when it is not. For Evans photographic reality as produced by the photographic apparatus coincided with the underlying reality if the image follows the conventions of realism. Evans and his successors  recognised a coherent aesthetic in the pile of mundane photographs that everyone knew and used, filed, or discarded as the daily occasion required. Walker Evans and others took photography from the streets and into their portfolios.

However, photographic reality and realism are two separate categories, a fact even further underlined when photographs are digitally manipulated. Because the documentary style is uniquely photographic, it becomes the blueprint for a 'photographic style' in general.


Evans W,  Walker Evans at Work: 745 Photographs together with Documents Selected from Letters, Memoranda, Interviews, Notes. London: Thames and Hudson, 1983







Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376572 2012-11-13T23:04:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:07Z documentary photography and positivism

 The philosophical underpinning of the realism of documentary photography has been a  positivism that assumes the unproblematic existence of an observable reality, a neutral, detached and unified observing subject, and a form of inductivism derived from sensory experience.  

This is documentary photography's originary and formative way of thinking and it underpins the way that the focus of the camera apparatus  assumes the sovereignty of geometrical perspective--Euclidean geometry  as the cone of vision. This convention of perspective centres everything on the eye of the disembodied beholder standing outside the field of vision.   

This is deemed to be a natural representation, the way things really looked, the way that we see,and  the way things really are. The world is clear and distinct even at the margins, and the entire field of vision is measurable and visible. 

The picture  was objective and truthful. It was the emergence of digital technology that ruptured this mode of knowledge, representation and photographic realism not the philosophical critiques of positivism.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376573 2012-09-04T06:19:00Z 2015-09-09T12:16:19Z on the margins of the art institution

It is commonly accepted that though many artists deploy photography for critical commentary on all sorts of issues in society, the modernist appropriation of documentary photography  within the gallery and museum art context has caused a rethinking of this mode of practice and its traditions and legacy in the 1970s.

The basic line of argument, as articulated by Alan Sekula's volume of early writings and photoworks entitled Photography Against the Grain (1984),   centred around working against those  modernist strategies that succeded in making documentary photography a formalist art.

This form of resistance starts from the view of photographs as common cultural artifacts rather than privileged art objects for the art market, thereby positioning   the photos on the margins of the art institution and highlighting how an image's possible meanings are produced within an economy of statements and discourses.

What emerges is the introduction of a certain fictionality into the work though  images or text fragments there by introducing the  element of the constructed, the edited or  the narrative. For Sekula it is the text that carries the critical weight not the image.The latter is a hindrance to critical knowledge.

So we have taken steps along the pathway to an anti-aesthetic position that has framed art history, photography and aesthetics since the 1970s. This uses photography to challenge the autonomy of art and its functions within our culture.The inference is that the image  can only offer us knowedge at   bargain basement prices.

What emerges is  a  documentary photography as a visual rhetoric, a mode of address that is both a document and a work of art. Hence its uncanny power. The same photograph can move between the contexts of dicument and art work and many more contexts. Notable examples are the work of Eugene Atget and Walker Evans.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376574 2012-05-06T02:22:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:07Z documentary evidence

 Historians often regard documentary photographs as a critical form of documentary evidence that hold up a mirror to past events. Public and scholarly faith in the realism of the photographic image is grounded in a belief that a photograph is a mechanical reproduction of reality.


Susan Sontag captured the essence of that faith in her series of essays entitled  On Photography when she wrote “Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it.”  

 This conception of pieces of  the image as the product of a machine and therefore an objective artifact  does not make sense of the Farm Security Administration (FSA work)  of Walker Evans, whio carefully arranged the position of objects and people when he was using his 8x10 on a tripod.  Jacob Riis did the same before him,  as did Mathew Brady  with his representations of the American civil war. 

Yet the subjectivity of the photographer is not factored in when we look at a documentary image.  Unlike a film or a written history we are unwilling to read documentary photographs  as particular  interpretations of a scene or event.

It appears  to be more important  to hang onto  the assumption of  of photographic realism as pure or unmediated. Yet we don't treat photographic images of consumer products in advertisments this way. We remain comfortable with  the old myth that documentary photographs  don't lie --or tell the truth--even though we know that the pictures  are constructed, are shaped by aesthetic conventions and that photographic meaning is culturally enframed.  The myth is what is important.    

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376575 2012-04-21T08:44:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:07Z boring images

The vast majority of photographic images on Flickr, the photo sharing site,  tend to be predictable, conservative and repetitive in both form and content. As a consequence they do not fit easily in the standard art historical narrative that is still focused, however anxiously and insecurely, on modernism's Romantic ideas of originality, innovation and individualism.

So they are routinely excluded by the art institution as the detritus  or junk of mass culture--- the antithesis of romantic originality and creativity that is so prized by art history. The Romantic idea is one of  the artist as an independent creator rather than a skilled craftsperson; one who creates an art work that is original and exclusive, which the modernist art institution exhibited in a white cube gallery, which is then experienced in terms  of  a specific aesthetic judgment along Kantian lines.     

Boring images are not just amateur snapshots---or tourist snaps--- many  documentary pictures are boring, especially when they are a part of a series.  Even when they do  more than illustrate, documentary photographs are seen to be visual cliches, that is they are trite, hackneyed and formulaic.  They deny individuality. 

It is true that photographs typically remain secondary as we continue to enact a hierarchy that places words above pictures and locates the written word at the centre of our critical thinking about our visual culture. 

Could we not think with photos when they are a  picturing of place? Think with photos in terms of what goes around the photograph as well as what takes place within it, even when they are commonplaces.  After all our  visual commonplaces or pictorial conventions are often containers of memory and embody history.

Though I have lived in many cities in both New Zealand and Australia Adelaide is my home and it has been so for severl decades. It is a place I know even though I have not known  it from childhood  like Christchurch in New Zealand. I knew Christchurch  in a bodily way, where my tacit  knowledge and understanding was built up slowly from an accretion of bodily memories over time. 

 I  know Adelaide differently  to  Melbourne.  I know Melbourne from working on the trams for several years --my body has a sense of the urban  rhythms of the  inner city. Adelaide is different. It's more a sense of fragmented memories of different sounds, the way the light shaped a building during the different seasons, the intensity of the summer heat, walking the dogs and so on.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376576 2012-02-28T03:58:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:07Z conceptual documentary

Melissa Miles in The Drive to Archive Conceptual documentary photobook design  in Photographies (Volume 3, Issue 1, 2010)  says that there is an international trend in contemporary photography that is known as Conceptual Documentary. This is characterized by a desire to explore a single, often banal idea from many different angles and it seeks out and frames its subject according to a pre-determined idea or scheme.

Conceptual documentary can be understood as a symptom of the larger “archival impulse” that pervades contemporary culture. Conceptual Documentary’s emphasis upon seriality and its framing of documentary photographs according to a pre-determined scheme attest to a rejection of the decisive moment that is spontaneously “captured” by the documentary photographer, and a comparable distrust in the notion of singular, authentic or original photographic meanings.

Miles says that  this appreciation for the contingency of photographic meaning owes a great debt to 1960s conceptual photography, and in particular to the use of seriality as a means of undermining the fetishization of the singular or discrete photograph. However,

Miles says that:

there is an important difference between 1960s conceptual photography and contemporary Conceptual Documentary. Like postmodernism, conceptual photography has been accused of treating the camera as a discursively neutral aperture through which the subject enters language. The conceptual artists Ed Ruscha and Robert Rooney both describe the camera as simply a tool for recording their serial photographs. Rooney famously described the camera as a “dumb recording device”.... In 1981, Ruscha similarly said of Twenty-six Gasoline Stations that: “The photography by itself doesn’t mean anything to me; it’s the gas stations, that’s the important thing.

Miles goes onto say that conceptual documentary is importantly distinguished from these earlier traditions because it is centred on a new self- awareness about the limits and possibilities of photographic technologies and their impact upon Conceptual Documentary projects.

The latter's emphasis on the viewer or receiving subject in Conceptual Documentary also counters conceptual art’s tendency towards emphasizing the power of institutions and systems of global capitalism in shaping mean ing, and points to another important distinction between 1960s conceptual photography with its asssumption of  the photographer as an expressive source of meaning  and contemporary Conceptual Documentary photography.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376577 2012-02-27T05:01:00Z 2018-10-11T23:08:04Z the "return" of documentary photography

It is commonly accepted that  in Australia and the US documentary photography's  attachment to the real world was essentially dismantled by post-modernism bent on the deconstruction of  the values of  modernist formalism in its Greenbergian form in the name of the anti-aesthetic.  Documentary photography's commitment to realism and the objects of photography  was usually understood in terms of  transparency in that the photographic image was simply reflecting (ie., copying, mirroring) the properties of the real.  

This homelessness of documentary  photography in a digital world opens up a space in which it  could interpret aspects of the world. It could, for instance, show things that cannot be shown and reveal that which cannot be seen. Examples are the traces of an event, the remains of a story that is difficult to tell,  or of lives whose experience and existence are written as a mere palimpsest into the surface of the city.

The German tradition that emerged out of the Dusseldorf School works with an understanding of a documentary form of photography that incorporates the documentary, conceptual and aesthetic. It is an authored photography in that  it goes beyond a singular photograph, and can only be understood in the greater context of a photographer’s oeuvre; remains remained committed to the visual language of photography itself,  and open to the  possibilities of  photography''s  capacity for truth and objectivity.

Donna MF Brett in The Uncanny Return:  Documenting place in post-war German photography in Photographies refers to documentary photography as returning in a variety of ways: as  the return home, the return to the street and the return to the past. The photographers considered in this text are  Friedrich Seidenstücker (1882–1962), Rudolf Schäfer, Thomas Struth  and Dirk Reinartz.  In this text Brett  explores:

 the notion of the return in terms of the “photographic return” to places and sites of historical unease and to an urban topography as a site of alienation – erased and empty. This idea of the return will be considered in terms of Sigmund Freud’s analysis of the “uncanny” or “unhomely” as that which is familiar yet becomes strange and Siegfried Kracauer’s “homeless” image in as much as the images themselves reference a history of place that is estranged from contemporary experience and from the place it records.

Such a documentary photography stares into the abyss of the past and yet  is propelled towards the future.

In this space the documentary photographer captures a photograph of something such as a place, but the real action, the event, is actually not in view. It represents that which is the process of disappearing, of coming into ruin.The return to the past and to that which is disappearing is a return to  the hisorical world in which we live. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:documentaryfoto.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376578 2012-02-26T22:48:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:07Z photographic anxiety

The recent transformation of photography’s technical and cultural form is deeply significant; not only for those who want to anticipate the future and understand the present, but also for those concerned with photography’s pre-digital past. This disruption by digital technogical has seen some talk in terms of post-photography or photography being over; others embrace a nostalgia for quaint obsolesence that we associate with daguerrotypes and other such antique chemnical processes.  

Since the nineteenth century that past  has  been deeply influenced by documentary photography; even when its ethos of documenting contemporary life (ie., social criticism)  was rejected by the tradition of modernist formalism, which placed such great emphasis on photography as a particular art, where art  is understood as a  particular medium. Hence the phrase art photography.

Since the 1970s, photographers and writers such as  Allan Sekula, Martha Rosler, Susan Sontag and Abigail Solomon-Godeau have been critical about the power of documentary photography to wrest subjects from their political and social milieus. Over the last thirty years, documentary photographers’ claims for objectivity and neutrality have been challenged as the product of power, discourse and ideology. The emotive qualities of humanist documentary photography have been reread in terms of a double violence in which the victims of traumatic events also become the victims of the photographers’ and spectators’ voyeuristic gaze.

Thus we have the crisis in humanist and heroic documentary photography coupled to widespread cynicism towards the power of photography to generate real social change. There has been a shift away from humanist documentary traditions in an era of compassion fatigue.

This sense of crisis in documentary photography is deepened by the  photographic present, which is clearly digital. This reinforces the critique of the  ethos of photography as a represention of the  truth of a situation, process, event or  state of affairs. Both the indexicality of photography and  the visual expectations governed by conventions of photographic realism have been ruptured (the loss of the real). Moreover, the digital image is not necessarily photographic.

We now live in a digital world with  its creative potential of digitalized  data to generate a multiplicity of forms of visualizations.This decoupling of the photographic image from its indexical ground says goodbye documentary photography. This is now seen as belonging to photography's digital past. This in turn creates anxiety about the loss of the real (or indexicality).  

Can we address this anxiety by rethinking documentary photography in a digital world?

Surely we can for photography, like all things disruped by technogy it is changing a lot right now, if we sidestep the well worn discussions about the "rhetoric of the image" or the "politics of representation." Photography's distinctive value could lie in its humble documentary function, its intimate examination abd commenoration of every life. 

This photobook  book explores this possibility; a photobook that is an art object in its own right,  rather than a document or record of art that exists in its "original form"  on the gallery wall. What is over with the massive shifts now occuring in our image making culture is the art gallery's status as the construction of  the old photo silos within modern art museums whose mandate is the institution educating its public  with reasurringly complete and hernetically sealed gallery expereiences. The art gallery/museum is unable to respond meaninglfully to the energy of print on demand by a public who have a better grasp on photography as a creative tool. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson