about street art

Every piece of street art is temporary. It exists on a  wall for a while then disappears. All that remains are photos that circulate the Internet. It is an example of the precarious in art that signifies a transient, uncertain, state  that is in contrast to established or stable ones.  The ephemeral nature of street art  acts to defy or subvert traditional views of  fine art.   

Thankfully, street art is no longer  seen as vandalism of private property.  Its visual creativity, which is   increasingly being  infused with graphic design, is now recognised to have  emerged  from outside the establishment of  the contemporary art institution. 

CDH in Paint Wars: Graffiti v street art  says that there has been an ever widening gap between street art and graffiti; graffiti has remained oppositional while street art has drifted to become the most mainstream contemporary art practice.

This position holds that street art is increasingly populated with artists whose ambitions are to secure good gallery representation, whilst  graffiti culture has no such aspiration.

CDH's argument is that commercial street art heavily trades on the street cred of the outlaw persona that accompanies it, but writing largely paid the price for this credibility. Writers are the ones breaking into train yards and going to prison, while street artists are putting up legal murals or token stencils in back laneways and occasionally having their work buffed. 

street art opens up new spaces

Adelaide has very few recent urban ruins.  So this does not provide a  fruitful way to explore the past  and the present caused by economic downturn, natural disasters,  environmental accidents, or a rustbelt city's decline.  What it does have is a lot of nineteenth century heritage buildings that stand empty. It is these building that many use to frame  Adelaide   as backward because it rejected “progress" in the form of   post-war architectural internationalism.  Preserving  the old is seen to be  condemning the city to stagnation. 

Adelaide's decaying buildings and empty urban  lots that have been marked by street artists, such as Jules:  

In spite of the the zero tolerance policy of the early 2000s to steet art these sites of architectural decay are empty spaces or vacant lots  often  became a fluid  open air gallery walls for street artists.   In these places in our cities, often  unloved, the street art transforms and creates meaning where perhaps none existed before. This kind of  transitory street art is quite different from the monochromatic tags that appear overnight on your wall or fence  or the practice of capping (ie., disrespectfully defaced works by prominent street artists). 

urban exploration in Adelaide

I started wandering into empty sites, alleyways and empty buildings in Adelaide. It was  a way of getting to know the city that I was living in,  a form of urban exploration into Alt-Adelaide   in a world increasingly marked by the transitory, liquidity  and precariousness. 

Urban exploration is usually associated with  exploring  little-known urban spaces like abandoned buildings, rooftops, construction sites, drains, transit and utility tunnels and more. Michelle Dicinoski in The Future that never took Place: exploring Detroit's Abandoned Buildings  in Meanjin says that:

Urban exploration, or ‘urbex’, can be described as ‘seeking out, visiting and documenting interesting human-made spaces, most typically abandoned buildings, construction sites, active buildings, stormwater drains, utility tunnels and transit tunnels’. That’s the definition given by Jeff Chapman, aka Ninjalicious, a Canadian explorer who literally wrote the book on urbex with his guide Access All Areas. 

The increased interest in urban exploring (or  ‘place hacking’) may well result from  the growth in surveillance technology and the shrinking of public space. 

The photographic style

As photography started to open up to digital imaging technologies  the territory has changed,  rather  than the 'digital' being another artistic practice.  What has emerged from this opening up is the idea of  the photographic style in which images are produced that look like photographs. 

This is work using  digital imaging technologies that is done 'in the manner of photography',  and it represents the marriage of the photographic with the graphic (hence the term 'photographics'). 

A style might be called 'photographic' when the reference to a photographic reality is left intact.  The  photographic style is an image's ability to reference a reality, as it would look in a photograph. Before the advent of image computation, photographic reality could only be represented in photographs, whereas in our digital age photography is no longer a prerequisite for the achievement of photographic reality.

photography as a kind of pictorial readymade

The significance of photography as a medium—or what makes photography a single, unified medium—was a key idea in modernist aesthetics that was centred around formalism and the autonomous art object that was designed to be stored in art galleries/museums as part of  our society’s cultural heritage.   

The shift in critical discourse,  initiated by  postmodernism,   has been away from  photography per se, to the more generic term picture. The latter   term encompasses a range of pictorial arts (including, in principle, moving pictures) and thereby disavows in advance any strong (or narrow) conception of medium specificity.

Associated with this shift away from Greenberg modernism  from the 1960s to the 1980s is the preference for unpretentious snapshot effects, documentary value, and deadpan anti-aesthetic qualities, as well as in their use of photography for appropriating and recycling existing imagery.  This tendency or conceptualism trajectory had  an interest in the photograph as a kind of pictorial readymade that can be appropriated and repurposed in ways that limit authorial control. 

a Leica world

The Leica  camera's  has a classical  minimalist design. For Leica form follows function. This is such a contrast to the computerised digital cameras of today. 

The bottom line of the Leica camera (film based or filmless) is that  it is grounded in the great German tradition of solid engineering. The film based products, like those from Linhof,  last forever and do not bring repeat business. 

During the 20th century Leica developed excellent technical solutions, supplied reliable goods and created long-lasting relationships with the customers. The main qualities - over-engineering, obsession with detail and an extreme emphasis on durability - demand a price: the products last a lifetime  and do not bring repeat business. 

The  M4-P (1981)  was primitive technology compared to the Cannon and Nikon DSLR's that other photographers were using. Leica is a conservative company--the single lens reflex  film cameras had  eclipsed rangefinders in the 1970s! 

The  M4-P  did not add much to the progress of the rangefinder camera. It  is a manual-focus camera and it  did not add automatic exposure metering with manual selection of either shutter speed or aperture that was very accurate. I still  had to use a hand held light meter or guess the exposure.  It was primitive technology compared to the Cannon and Nikon DSLR's that other photographers were using. Leica was a conservative company. 

travelling through time

The  picture below was made on  the A32 somewhere near Peterbourough. The landscape----the cliche is that of a desolate and austere country with an empty centre--- is seen through the window of the car travelling towards Adelaide.  In this part of the South Australian landscape the pastoral lands were becoming farmland. Wind farms in the mid-north of the state would soon appear.  

The word from Canberra was that mining iron ore was Australia's future and  that the mining boom was eternal. Cornucopia was Australia's destiny.  Big Mining ruled the country and it's rule represented the triumph of global neo-liberalism.  

Despite making  the shift  to digital technology to make snapshots  I decided to keep using  the rangefinder film Leica.  I was unsure of what photography was for; how it works to engage the viewer's interest and passion; what kind of work it performs upon the viewer; or how something in the image calls for a response. 

The reasons are primarily  technological ones.   Digital cameras are more unserviceable or to expensive to repair if and when the spare parts are available. The lifetime of a digital Leica camera has not yet been established, but my M4-P body and lens has a working life between 50 and 75 years with very modest service.  The reason is that spare parts are easy to find and any competent repair person can service this type of camera. Digital camera bodies are dumped as obsolete.   

snapshots on the A32

The A32 is the highway from Adelaide to Sydney via Broken Hill.  Travelling on it is stepping back into history and  away from tourist photographic activity.  

We were tourists in our own country.  We had a few days holiday  in Mildura and had gone onto  explore Broken Hill for a few more days.  We then returned  to Adelaide on  the A32,  or the Barrier Highway. Taking everyday pictures for tourists is associated with holidays and travel and then linked to memory.   

This picture was made near Olary 

By now I'd bought a digital camera--a Sony DSC R1,  Adobe Lightroom, and an Epson V700 scanner.  The Sony  became my main everyday  point and shoot camera,  and I started using the film Leica less.  The main film work was being done with medium format cameras. Going digital did not alter  the stereotypical character of snapshot photography---they continue an already existing practice but allow for a vastly greater quantity.  

a state of flux

Launceston is one of my favourite towns in Tasmania. We were staying with family at Evandale  for a couple of days and so it was easy to pop into Launceston for the day. There were pieces  of street art in the more industrial area that caught my eye.  

 I was still trying to find my feet as a photographer. I had no projects to work on. I was still taking snapshot photos as I moved through the world.  This style of snapshot often is predictable, conservative and repetitive. The  sense of banality and cliches of visual culture was reinforced by the  feeling  that I was in an in-between place. It was a state of flux between paid work and being a photographer.  An independent photographer. 

travelling around

Suzanne's mother's family  came from Tasmania and her sister and husband had  purchased  a property in Tunbridge, in the Midlands. So we decided to have a week's  holiday in Tasmania. I'd never bee, even though the tourist pictures that I'd seen reminded me of the South Island of New Zealand. Tasmania,  like the South Island, was an iconic wilderness destination in the global tourism market. 

This abstract  of the wall of a shed was made at Fingal on the Esk Highway   whilst we were on our way back to Launceston from St Helens. It's a cliche  of minimalism that avoids the art photography  tendency to use the "snapshot aesthetic" with a ironic wit  at loose in the phenomenal world to achieve the accidental effects of the unthinking snapped camera image (eg., the headless grandma, off lighting, poor focus, blurred images, awkward poses, harsh shadow etc ) made with a point and shoot camera. 

In contrast, Adelaide  in the era of the global market,  was becoming a city of empty shops, throw away food, angry posters and homeless people sleeping out in the parklands rather than a tourist Mecca.