at Adelaide airport

I'd flown into Adelaide from spending several days in Wellington,  New Zealand,  on a photo trip and I was waiting  for Suzanne to pick me  up. She had driven up from Victor Harbor to pick me up, but was running late as she  was battling the afternoon commuter traffic that was going to the southern parts of  the city and beyond to the coast.  

So I filled in the time by making some photos around the  airport.  The light was good. 

I was carrying  several different cameras with me from the trip, so I quickly played around with each of them as the  late autumn light was fading.  This is the Leica version. 

photographic poetics

Just when I'd decided to definitely give up using my venerable  Leica M4-P and 35m colour film,   and make  the definite  shift to the cutting technological edge of  hand held digital imaging, up pops this image.  

It is a simple and nondescript  coastal bush growing along the railway line  and the picture  was made on one of my early morning poodle walks at Hayborough, Victor Harbor on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It is what is  usually ignored or a disregarded  aspects of the contemporary coastal  landscape that would  be seen as the "unphotographable"  by many contemporary DSLR photographers. 

What popped up  is photography as poetics. Photography in a quiet voice. 

Therein lies the strength of a film Leica ---whether colour or black and white---in today's digital world where  the global trend is to product differentiation and short product cycles in which  companies  reduce costs by re-using as many components as possible.   We have reached a point where different digital cameras and systems converge to the same level of performance,  and the differences that exist are increasingly irrelevant for the average user.  In this world it is the camera's features that become the crucial markers  for the tech journalists ever on the lookout  for the next big thing to write about.    

Photography as poetics points to the mood, feeling and emotion that an image  creates or produces.  This is a revision of the classical Leica ethos  of a camera  designed to  record daily events as a visual memory: thirty-six memories on one roll of film that are an honest and detailed record of the world.

passing Collingwood

This picture was made  whilst I was travelling on the train to  Fairfield in Melbourne. 

I was going to the Photonet  Gallery to see about an exhibition and book for my Edgelands project. When I travel on the trains in Melbourne I take usually take snaps  of the city through the windows of the train. 

At this stage I had more or less decided to give up using 35m film and switching  to  digital. I was in the process of using up the stock of Kodak Portra 400 ASA that I had stored in the fridge.  Then fini. 

telling a story

By now I  had morphed into a photographer who was straddling the film and digital worlds with little idea  of the digital world was closing in on me,  or was reshaping photography. I was primarily looking at images on the monitor but still thinking  of photography in the old film terms --eg., the snapshot of the Nth Melbourne railway station whilst I was on the road.  

I had  not yet realised that curators  would frame the pushing the boundaries of art photography as  primarily  coming from  the use of computer software to create complex imagery that stood in stark contrast  to the mundane and normal digital photography being produced.  

I was vaguely thinking in terms of self-publishing the best  photographs from my portfolio. Only I didn't really have a portfolio.  Nor was I sure how to go about creating one---other than taking lots of photographs,  selecting the best, and approaching Blurb. 

John Szarkowski challenged the ability of photography to explain large-scale public subjects in both the preface to The Photographer's Eye (1966) and in Mirrors and Windows (1978). In The Photographer's Eye he wrote, "Photography has never been successful at narrative" and he declared the fields of photojournalism and documentary non-effectual in Mirrors and Windows writing, "Photography's failure to explain large public issues has become increasingly clear...Most issues of importance cannot be photographed." He argued that attempts to photograph World War II were unable to explain events without heavy captioning. 

wandering the city

Some hold that there are  two kinds of photographers, collectors and sculptors. Sculptor type photographers are those who set up a scene,  creating it from scratch,  and then take a picture of it.  In contrast, collector type photographers  wander, bringing things home that they find out in the world and they  often have a vague idea or kind of personal fantasy that they look for out in the world.

The process of wandering is central to my Leica snapshots. When I walk the city my route is seldom pre-conceived and I am not looking for very specific things. I did not  have a list of things to photograph  in my notebook.  I would often walk with the standard poodles. 

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).