The snapshot tradition

The pictures made with the film Leica are snapshots and, and as such, they belong to the tradition of the snapshot image culture. Traditionally, snapshot photography is  one in which the images  are almost always produced for and circulated within,  the private realm, and its meaning and significance are  imbedded in individual and rarely rational affective responses. 

The snapshot  tradition has been interpreted as a form of vernacular photography,  and  this culture  is usually interpreted as  pictures made by everyday  folk about their everyday life;  or more specifically,   "the unself-conscious efforts of common people . . . to create satisfying patterns in the realities of everyday life. 

This results in a gap between the unruly vernacular culture and the modernist,  hermeticizing discourse  of the art institution, with its emphasis on autonomy, authorship, uniqueness and universality.   

 This vernacular culture insists on lived experience, or a rhetoric of authenticity, works within specific social and cultural conventions, and emphasises personal narrative. For most of us, snapshots mean something because they preserve a memory, capture a moment, or depict a friend, family member or loved one. -These are the  same themes that Kodak promoted for decades. From a personal point of view the significance of snapshot aesthetics often revolves around what we see and feel when viewing snapshots, rather than what they mean to art historians, curators, and collectors.  

playground, Andamooka

A picture of the past. A  picture of life in a frontier mining world of Andamooka. 

It's not much of a backyard or  playground is it, at the foot of the  opal mine tailings.  My memory of Andamooka is that the dust  from the mine tailings was everywhere, layered over everything. It was hot and the atmosphere was arid.  

What this photo from the archives does is bring the past--that has been---into the present.    In offering  an image of the past it opens  up history, allowing us to see the past---what  once was; allowing us an insight into the lives that were lived in a frontier mining town; allowing us to imagine a life lived among the dust from  the mine tailings next to the traditional tin houses of old.    

It's a  remnant of the town's past --a different remnant  to  the raditional dugout style houses of old that was  pictured in the previous post. 

miners hut, Andamooka

This picture of  an  opal miners hut  at Andamooka in South Australia, which  is from  my film archives ---  an example of  ordinariness or a deadpan aesthetic that was made whilst  travelling on the margins of modernity.

Like the previous images  the picture was  made with a Leica M4-P, with a 50mm  f.2 Summicron lens and Kodak 400ASA film.   As previously mentioned in an earlier post  I discovered a roll of film I'd exposed whilst I was  visiting  Andamooka circa 2004-5.   My film work at the time--35mm and medium format--- was usually developed and scanned by a pro-lab, but for some reason this roll hadn't been scanned.  This was  several years prior to  buying my first  digital camera. I had no knowledge of digital cameras. 

B.Construction, Andamooka

From the  film archives.  

This  is another  image that I came across when I was going through my film archives. A public sculpture at Andamooka in South Australia. The picture was  made with a Leica M4-P,  a 50mm  f.2 Summicron lens and Kodak 400ASA film:

 As I mentioned in an earlier post I  discovered a roll of film I'd exposed whilst I was  visiting  Andamooka circa 2004-5   My film work at the time--35mm and medium format--- was usually developed and scanned by a pro-lab, but for some reason this roll hadn't been scanned.  This was  several years prior to  buying my first  digital camera.

photographic poetics at the Cotter River

This picture was made whilst I was on a photo trip to the Cotter River when I was in Canberra in mid-2015 whilst on a photoshoot with Judith Crispin:

It was here that I became away that it is  not about the accuracy of  representation  of the optical designs (the way that Leica choose to stay ahead of the competition and carve out a profile of excellence for their image).   Its a move away from   the metaphor of the lens is something we see with (a focusing or fiteringinstrrument), rather than something we look at to being  about the poetics of the situation in the here and now of  making a photo. 

That situation is a junction of acting forces and is in flux, is dynamic, and full of energy.  The poetics is a representation of the intensity and immediacy of our experience of that local moment in the context of the history of  that habitat. 

The Hay Plains

The Hay Plain in NSW is a space that people drive through on their way from Adelaide to Canberra or Sydney. It is treeless with scrubby saltbush, and it is commonly seen by those viewing it through their car windows  as a  flat,  barren, featureless  and bleak space--especially during the day in mid-summer.   I find this space fascinating as it is very atmospheric with the  changing light, clouds and rain.

 Hay is an overnight stop for me on the Adelaide and Canberra trip and I usually stop and take photos. This picture was made on a 2015 trip  to Canberra as I was driving into Hay on the Sturt Highway:   

The light was starting to fade and I only had the time to  quickly make  a couple  of photographs.  I stopped the car and wandered around whilst  the road trains roared past.  I noticed the bits of cotton moving over the  road and along the ground from the  wind and the road trains. I laid down on my stomach on the side of the road and made some snaps before the light went.  

the post digital world

The heyday of the Leica photography  was 1930 to 1980, a period when the Leica M rangefinder  reigned supreme as the best performing 35mm camera-system for snapshots, reportage and street photography that rested on the principles of craft.   Today Leica, as a  small-scale camera maker  in the digital age,  with its shortening of product cycles,  has  become a niche product for the cognoscenti and a select group of professionals.

 Being ‘critically sharp’ is no longer a standard feature of Leica photographs, nor is  the M digital  camera unique in its compactness or unobtrusiveness or ease of use, as these are also characteristics of the Sony Alpha mirrorless  cameras. The latter can also produce the desired qualities of a picture--qualities as tonality, crispness of fine detail in the midtones, separation of highlight and shadow detail and depth preservation-- and they can use the M + R Leica lenses, which are some of the best lenses ever made. Digital gives photographers  more resources and it evens the playing field.

The  cognoscenti and a select group of professionals include art photographers who continue to use old media technology such as 35m film  in reaction to the  in-your-face, super-saturated, super-contrasty glossy imagery that appears to be the digital norm in photography.  Film, it is argued,  has a different aesthetic---a different look that is softer and grainer---  and it remains more craft-based with a slowness of process. Though digital has a different look to film ---its much more crisp and clean---photographic software can mimic the look of film.  Digital has developed an ‘analogue aesthetic.’ 

Continuing to use 35m film in a digital world  is not limited to grandparents and hipsters hooked on retro,   as it is also grounded in nostalgia for a different world; one in which there was a strong tradition in precision engineering, optical technology,  photography and quality cameras.  One aspect of this nostalgic reaction is a flight away from the complex problematics of a period of crisis and toward the cosy certainties of an earlier age;  another is the rejection of the recombinant media strategies of re-use, appropriation, media-critique, re-presentation, cut-up, “deconstruction,” etc. (often all lumped under the umbrella term: “post-modernism”); another strand  is the desire for purity in reaction to consumerism and the slick digital surface.      

Is this the emergence of a post digital aesthetic that attempts to transgress the shiny facade of a technology promising perfection but which has lots of glitches and bugs in practice including the  deficiencies of digital files?  A post digital aesthetic no longer considers digitalness revolutionary,  and the term “post-digital” best functions  as a descriptor of the reaction of arts to the cultural impact of digitization, rather than  implying  only one single moment of a historical break.