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.

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). 

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. 

a set of dead classics

Traditionally photography does not have, as the saying goes, the ear of those in power in the art institution.  It  has been historically  viewed unfavorably by the art world, and advocates for a photography museum/gallery  did not receive a sympathetic hearing until the last quarter of the 20th century.   Art photography eschewed functional and directly commercial applications of photography (e.g. snapshots, advertising) and defined itself in opposition to this. Its conception of art’s autonomy was generally understood as the distance that art takes from the world and its gestures of rebellion and resistance were few and far between. 

Art photography’s achievements in the lat 20th century were  based largely on an aesthetic of the photographic – meaning that there are distinct inherent properties of the medium itself that give it value as an art-form, and the skilled practitioner can employ these properties in order to produce expressive work. 

 A core tenet of Szarkowski's New York modernist tradition's  outlook on photography is that it, as a specific medium,  is fundamentally different from other picture-making processes in that it is based on selection rather than synthesis: – the photographer takes elements of the real world for his picture, whereas the painter makes the elements of his picture from scratch.  Szarkowski's aesthetic reason  assumed  that the painter selects from their imagination, whereas the photographer must select from the real world.     

The notions of art, autonomy, and progress  in the contemporary art practices of the second half of the 20th century were divorced from the historical European avant-garde's commitment to the project of destroying the false autonomy of bourgeois art. The concern of the art institution and the academic discourses and institutions was to establish a  canon of Australian photography to highlight Australia's modernity. 

We experienced the shock of the new in a set of dead classics. This discourse  identified the avant-garde with a selective canon of modern art, whereby this exclusive canon valorized, furthermore, as an inevitable historical trajectory the move of advanced artistic practice from Europe to the United States then to Australia.