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.  

Tullah, Tasmania

The picture below   is an  archival image from the time when I'd just  picked up  film photography again after a 20 year break.  The image was made whilst Suzanne and I were travelling in Tasmania on a holiday  with our standards poodles (Agtet and Ari) in the 1st decade of the 21st century---it was  in late 2006 judging from these  posts on my old Junk for Code blog. 

This was our first trip to Tasmania,  and we were travelling down on the west coast of Tasmania at the time.  There'd been a fire in the hills in the hills around  Tullah,  Lake Rosebery and the MacIntosh Dam.  So I took some photos.  I was rusty judging from the fact that most of the  black and white negatives  from this trip were badly underexposed. 

The camera I was using then was  my old  Leica M4 with an old  Summicron 50mm lens and Tri-X film. The picture  was made  before I'd shifted to using colour film and  Mac computers.  The film was developed  and scanned by a pro lab and it was scanned as a jpeg--a low res scan.   

I didn't know what a  low res scan meant then. I knew nothing about the shift to digital that had been taking place in photography since the 1990s.  I 'd just picked up from where I'd left  photography  20 years earlier- I  was more or less naively starting over again  but without a wet darkroom.  

summer light

This picture of roadside vegetation  was made whilst  I was walking along  a back country road in Waitpinga, on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. It was in the late  summer in 2016 and  I was on an early morning   poodlewalk  with the standard poodles. 

I was forcing myself to take photos of trees and the agricultural landscape around me so as  to keep my  photographic eye hand in. This was the area/locality  in which I now live,  so how can I photograph it? I recall that I didn't have the confidence to  set things up to  do tripod based photography. 

Though film has quickly gone  poof (poor Kodak) as the medium of choice   for photographers,  I am part of that 'bridge generation' between film and digital. Digital, including rangefinder digital,   is simply easier, faster and immediate since the camera  is really a portable computer (with a sets of options,) and a sensor and  lens.   My technique is far slower and more measured with film.  

My doubts  about 35mm film photography are beginning to ease.  I can see that there is still some life in 35mm film photography,  in that  it has a different quality to the digital version.  But it is only for some subject matter, as I'm beginning to discover.  Unfortunately, I cannot predict which one.  

That  filmic quality is hard to pinpoint,  but it  has something along the lines of  providing a more emotional response to what is photographed, as distinct from a technically perfect image that can be quite bland.   Digital images are  unfilm like and so perfect that camera software manufacturers are now adding  adding "grain" enhancement plugins. 

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. 

in the Ballan forest

This image was made in  the Ballan forest, Victoria,  Australia whilst on a photoshoot with Jason Blake and Judith Crispin during the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2015.

This photoshoot took place  late in the afternoon, the clouds were coming over  and the light was fading on the floor of the forest. We didn't have that much time to do more than walk around with handheld camera's. All of us had Leica M rangefinders that were loaded with film: colour for me, black and white for Jason and Judith.  

We had arrived at the location  without much time for photography as  it had  taken us quite a while to find the forest that Judith had explored when she was at  Ballarat International Foto Biennale in 2013.  

Judith and Jason then left for Melbourne  (Judith needed to see her publisher for her book on poety and Jason and to return to work). I went back  to the forest the next afternoon with my   Linhof Technika IV   5x4 field camera. I managed to expose  some large format film  before  the light faded and the rain swept in. Then it was a drive back to Adelaide.


erosion, Hayborough

This  picture was made whilst I was on  a poodle walk  in the early morning. It was made just after sunrise.

It is coastal erosion along the sand dunes  at Hayborough, a suburb of  Victor Harbor in the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia.   The erosion along specific parts of coast east and west of Victor Harbor appears to be increasing and the Council is only concerned withe erosion alonhg the towns's foreshore. 

signs in the desert

The promise of the avant grade in the  first third of the twentieth century (Dada and surrealism) was a rupture with the  art institution and art's autonomy in a world dominated by the means end rationality of capitalism's exchange value. The avant-garde's attack  focused on autonomous art represented by aestheticism as a necessary step in its project to overcome the separation between art and life. 

  Modernism, as it was usually presented in Australia, was a purely internal artistic phenomenon. Modernism's  claims to novelty, negation and non-trivial experimentation in the late 20th century had  finally diminished in their impact as they have become exhausted. The avant-garde’s attack on the art institution had failed. The art  institution had demonstrates its strength by embracing its attackers and assigning them a prominent place in the pantheon of great artists. Avant-garde categories such as rupture and shock gained admittance to the discourse of art, while at the same time concepts such as harmony and coherence  became suspected. The model of heroic transgression against repressive authority has lost its credibility. 

It is  the art  institution, rather than a work’s intrinsic qualities, that defines what counts as art. So artistic genius is not the source of aesthetic value. The art institution only allows a a few  photographers inside the gate it guards. 

We were driving back to a rust bucket Adelaide from Woomera and Andamooka when I saw this tree in the middle of nowhere. It was the Xmas decorations that caught my eye. The decorative signs humanise  the  empty landscape--what many see as the dead heart of Australia.  Hence the snapshot.