Australian Gothic

I've started going though the archives on the hard drive of the Mac-Pro  in the studio to see what I was photographing  when I was using  the Leica. I'm looking back  to see if it was  just  snaps or did I start exploring themes? 

Sadly, most of the images look like happy snaps. The pictorial equivalent of the readymade characterised by unpretentious snapshot effects, documentary value, and deadpan anti aesthetic qualities.    They were not the result of a deliberate abnegation of authorial control in favor of chance, accident, and automatism. 

This picture of a window in Clunes, Victoria, circa 2009 is an exception. It's darker than most of the pictures--and  it expresses a  darker side of the senses and imagination than Australia's blue skies and bright clear light: 

It  represents the experiences  caused by unresolved loss, commonly known as a state of mourning. Mourning refers to what has  passed away, leaving  us with only images. It refers to the trauma that loss evokes--in this picture  the loss of the  way of life of the country towns in regional Australia. 

Historically,   Australia was represented and imagined  by explorers and cartographers  as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. It was a place of darkness and convicts.  Its sense of disorientation and complete isolation from the civilised European world was unnerving. The Antipodes were  held to be a dark and evil place, an unconquered territory overbrimming with dangerous secrets.

the rangefinder experience

For photographers, the digital revolution began in earnest in the early years of the 21st century. This disruption resulted in cameras transitioning from optical and mechanical devices used to expose film to light, to imaging computers that convert light into electrical charges, which are then processed into digital information. 

 Digital makes  photography so much easier. Digital post-production was a  game changer,   since  good software could suddenly fix a lot of issues and anomalies far more cheaply, and in many cases better, than hardware could manage. The emphasis in digital  was on  resolution--- as if resolution is going to provide the content of the picture.  

With the digital revolution the use of Leica's film rangefinders  was reduced to an even smaller  segment of the market than it had been during  the SLR  film days,  and this resulted in Leica facing  the oblivion of bankruptcy.    It looked as if the rangefinder experience ---the camera was small and light,  its shutter was quieter, it was easy to focus in low light,  and it  attracted far less attention from people on the street--could well belong to  photographic history.   

That rangefinder finder experience shapes  how I look at modern digital cameras. I am looking for one that inherits, and builds on, the rangefinder legacy-- rather the SLR tradition.  The rangefinder  legacy -small, unobtrusive, well-designed, modern in concept, affordable, and offering a high quality user experience--- wasn't really  being made, and so there  isn't a new and modern way to pursue rangefinder photography in the digital era.  Leica's digital rangefinders were not affordable. 

hanging in

Digital technology offered a number  of advantages.  It equalled the image quality of 35m film,   it was far more convenient re work flow,  and  it was  far more  cost  effective to use  to making photos on a daily basis. The downside of digital technology is the limited lifespan or built in obsolescence of  the camera body.   These are akin to computers--you can get 3-5 years wear and tear and that is it.  Unlike  the  bodies  of film cameras the bodies of digital cameras are not built to last.   I continued  to use the  Leica M4-P. 

However, since digital  technology  allowed me  to take lots of snapshot photos regularly,  using  a  Sony NEX-7 mirrorless camera  that I could use with my Leica lenses allowed me to use my  snapshot photography to experiment,   play around and  to scope for the large format film photography.   

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.