The exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery has finished, and Gilbert Roe and I decided to add on a photo-camp at Lake Boga when we picked up our prints from the gallery. The photo-camp, even for a few days, would allow us to explore the Mallee region around Swan Hill, and to build on the new beginnings that had we had either briefly scoped or seen whilst we were in Swan Hill for the exhibition opening.
I had two large format scenes lined up from the earlier scoping: a 5×4 of exposed river roots along the River Murray and a 5×7 of an edgelands scene near the Little Murray River on Pental Island. I also wanted to photograph the deserted motels around Lake Boga in the early morning light, and then some of the shops in the township at Nyah West in the late afternoon. That was the plan. The early morning motel photoshoot with a medium format camera went okay, but I just couldn’t get it together at Nyah West in the afternoon. Read More
After seeing how successful the history section worked when it was integrated into the contemporary photos in the 2018 Mallee Routes exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, I remembered that I had some black and white 35mm negatives of the Murray Mallee in my photographic archives. Over the weekend I went back and looked at the contact sheets of the pictures from my initial exploration of the South Australian Mallee country in the late 1980s. I was curious to see these 35mm photos, and to assess if they would be suitable to construct a history section in the Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in early 2019.
I have not seen these 35mm pictures since they had been sleeved and filed away in the 1980s. I had previously only looked at the large format b+w ones that I had made with the 5×7 Cambo on the same road trips, when I was selecting a couple of my images for the history section of the 2018 Swan Hill exhibition. This land had been permanently altered for agricultural production.
From what I could judge from looking at the contact sheets of these 35mm images, these were made on a few day trips to the Mallee in the VW Kombi. I recall that most of them were made with Kodak Tri-X film using a Leicaflex SLR, rather than the 35mm Leica M-4 rangefinder, that I normally used. Surprisingly, I discovered that there were no medium format contact sheets of photos of the Mallee country in the archives. Read More
The post’s title new beginnings refers to me starting to scope work for the 2018 section of the Mallee Routes project whilst I was at Swan Hill for the exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery. This is new work for the upcoming group exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in early 2019. I want to present new work that has been made during 2018, rather than old work made in 2017.
It is a tentative start–exposed tree routes and low water levels along the Little Murray, which is an anabranch of the Murray River, and forms one side of Pental Island. But it is a topical subject, given both the history of over extraction in the Murray-Darling Basin’s rivers, and the Murray-Darling basin plan, which was introduced in 2012 to return water towards the environment ($13bn in funding to recover water diverted to irrigation so as to restore environmental flows) is failing to restore the Murray-Darling rivers’ health. There are not enough environmental flows in these rivers. Read More
Exhibiting Mallee Routes at the wonderful Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery in Victoria opened on Friday the 23rd March, was a great experience. The exhibition was the result of a years work photographing the South Australian and Victorian Mallee by Eric, Gilbert and myself Mallee after our initial exhibition at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide in late 2017.
It was a successful opening with Mark Thomson giving an excellent opening speech based around the Mallee’s contradictions: the harsh, flat country and the resilience of the people who lived and made the Mallee their home. It expressed a sense of place. Eric and Gilbert gave artist talks about their work and the way they approached their photography on the Saturday morning. What was surprising was that neither Eric nor Gilbert offered any insights or responses to each other’s work, even though they would often travel together to photograph on their Mallee trips. Surprising because the Mallee Routes project is a collaborative one.
Eric and Gilbert both exhibited 30 A3 size prints each with Gilbert also providing a map of the Mallee. I exhibited 11 A1 prints along with a book of digital photos that I’d made whilst scoping for the film images in the exhibition. The book was printed by Momento Pro in Wellington, New Zealand, and it was shown at the Photobook/NZ festival, which just prior to going to Swan Hill to help hang the exhibition. The historical section of the exhibition consisted of the 3 Lie of the Land images by Linda Marie Walker that were made in the 1980s, 2 black and white images of mine that were made in the 1980s and 6 images (black and white and colour) made by Eric in the 1990s. Read More
The second exhibition of the Mallee Routes project is coming up. It will be at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery from 23rd of March to the 6th of May 2018. The exhibition represents new work, namely work that has been made by Eric Algra, Gilbert Roe and myself since our initial exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery in late 2017.
The Swan Hill exhibition will include a historical dimension in that there will be a section of photos of the Mallee that were taken prior to our project. This will be a section of photos that I have come across in my research and posted in the history gallery on the website. This historical dimension is designed to indicate that there is a photographic culture with respect to photographing the white settler’s history of the Mallee. Read More
As is well known, the history of the Mallee is one of an extensive clearing of the Mallee scrub woodland and then substantial engineering efforts to pipe water across the semi-arid Wimmera region. Whilst searching for photos for the history gallery, and for the historical section of the forthcoming exhibition at the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery in March 2018, I came across some historical images relating to land clearing and water infrastructure to establish the expansion of rain-fed agriculture into arid lands.
These ‘development’ pictures of the settlement of the wheatlands show a pioneering settler world that has disappeared into the archives of the state and national libraries. The heavy roller (scrub -bashers) and the subsequent stump-jump plough were 19th century technologies associated with heavy, slow hand labour and peasant agriculture.
This was domesticating the land— clearing, settling, organising and establishing and agricultural industry on marginal lands by the pioneering settlers. They had high hopes and big dreams for this agricultural frontier after 1918. What enabled the agricultural expansion was a big investment in railway networks, public works and roads in the early 20th century.
Once the marginal land had been settled and the wheat industry established technology in the form of the internal combustion engine (tractors, cars and trucks) and increased mechanisation made life and work easier by the 1940s. It was drought that was the big problem in these arid lands— it occurred in 1914-16, the early 1930s, in 1945-6, in 1957-9, and 1965-66–and resulted in the failure of soldier settlement schemes, farm bankruptcies, foreclosures and widespread soil erosion. Drought, high winds, and constant tillage to increase crop rotation eroded the land and lead to the widespread dust storms. Read More
When I was at the Morgan photo camp with Gilbert Roe in early November I noticed that the stretch of land around Morgan and Waikerie was increasingly being transformed by the ongoing clearing of the original mallee scrub and its replacement by irrigation in the form of irrigated agriculture. This is a landscape is one of red sands, the Murray River and gum trees and the horticultural crops now being grown appear to be primarily critus fruit (mandarins and oranges) and vines. It is an extensive transformation of the land.
This transformation is an indication of the ongoing history of the continual clearing of the Mallee scrub in this region. From what I can gather it started when soldier-settlers returned from World War I and grew grenache and palomino grapes for the big wineries to make generic sherries and ports. In the 1960s and ’70s, the emerging Australian thirst for table wine required huge quantities of sweet white gordo and sultana grapes to fill flagons and casks of fruity moselle. Through the 1990s and early 2000s it was sunshine-in-a-glass chardonnay and shiraz exported to the supermarkets in the UK in bulk.
Even though this part of the South Australian mallee is above Goyder’s Line, the extensive irrigation based on the extraction of water from the River Murray overcomes the lack of rain. The water for irrigation is based on a water entitlement (calculated based on crop area and crop requirement) with the total usage capped by State legislation. Any expansion comes from either buying up properties or water trading. The region has a high vulnerability and high dependence on water whilst the community has limited options and a low ability to cope with a reduction in water allocation.
I leave Encounter Bay tomorrow for a 5 day photocamp at Morgan in South Australia with Gilbert, even though it is a little late in the year to be photographing in the SA Mallee. I haven’t been able to get away on a phototrip to the Mallee as I’d previously planned, due to the need to kickstart the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book.
I am hoping that the weather in early November is reasonably cool (it does not get too hot), the mosquitos are few and far between and there is some cloud cover .
Though I haven’t been able to go on road trips in the Mallee during the late winter and early spring months,. I have been looking at other bodies of work that bear some kind of resemblance to Mallee Routes. One is the Desert Cantos by Richard Misrach, a significant and remarkable body of work of the deserts of the American West, begun in 1979. It is evaluated in this essay by Gerry Badger.
Can trauma be connected to a topographic approach to photographing the Mallee?
I have been mulling over this whilst I put the Mallee Routes project aside for a month or so, so that I could work on the Adelaide Photography 1970-2000 book, which is to be produced by Adam Dutkiewicz and myself for Moon Arrow Press in 2018. The Adelaide Photography project has been kickstarted, as it were, and the break has been beneficial.
The reason I started to think in terms the topographical approach to my photography on the Mallee Routes project is that the topographical approach is roughly seen in the art institution as being observing the word in a sort of detached way, so as to show you something that was always there but that you didn’t see before. This approach is also held to characterise what the art market has called the Düsseldorf School of Photography, even though this photographers are diverse and conceptually orientated. Read More
I briefly explored in and around Birchip during the Hopetoun photo camp in July, looking for material for a large format photoshoot. Birchip is in the Wimmera–Mallee region of Victoria. It is situated in mostly wheat country, and it lies between Donald in the south, Sea Lake in the north, Hopetoun and Warracknabeal in the west and Boort and Wedderburn in the east.
This is a pretty amateurish photo–it was exposed at midday using my Sony NEX-7 digital camera. This is not a good time to photograph using digital technology, especially when photographing into the sun. Hence the flare. However, the composition is okay, the picture suits the 5×7 format, and the softer light of the late afternoon or flat light would work. So the scoping has done its job. I have something to work on and work with.
But how to do this photographically?
The scoping picture is a deadpan image of an unexpressive and repetitive subject that appears impersonal, blank and boring. It repeats the same idea–silos in the landscape— in different ways whilst avoiding the artistic subjectivity and narrativity represented by photojournalism. There is no event in this picture, there is little human interest, and no first hand witness to pain and suffering associated with tragedies. It is not a subjective documentary of the auteur photographers such as Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Gary Winogrand in the US or Carol Jerrems in Australia. Nor is it an architectural photograph that celebrates the building and the style of the master architect.
Instead we have a cool, distanced view of ordinary, everyday subject matter that many would tend to characterise as ‘neutral’ or ‘objective’. For many it is the blank gaze of a deadpan photography –what you see is what you get. This is it. Most would see it as unexciting, emotionless, dull, flat and boring. Mind numbing. Read More