My various road trips have highlighted the number of empty houses in both the South Australian and Victorian Mallee due to the de-population of the countryside. People are leaving the countryside and moving to the more prosperous towns and cities. As young people depart, they leave small towns and hamlets of empty houses and shuttered shops, of closed schools and cafes, and a greying population.
What is not happening in the Mallee is that the relatively affluent city folk are leaving their capital city and moving to poorer, rural parts of regional Australia , buying or leasing properties as holiday places or thereand living their full-time or for long periods each year. The relatively affluent city folk are moving to the coastline of eastern and southern Australia, not to the Mallee. Moreover, immigrants tend to head for the towns and cities where jobs are more plentiful and where others from similar ethnic backgrounds have already established themselves. Read More
I made a day trip to the Mallee in mid-February , taking advantage of the weather forecast promising overcast conditions. I stayed on familiar territory by travelling along the Mallee Highway. It was an opportunistic scoping trip. I needed to reconnect with the project after being in Tasmania, to explore the towns along the Mallee Highway, to reconnect with people in Murrayville, and to assess whether I needed to camp for several days to do the large format photography that I had in mind.
One town that I drove around was Parilla in the southern Mallee of South Australia. This town or hamlet is between Lameroo and Pinnaroo, and it is not that far from the South Australian/Victorian border. The farmers in this region of the Mallee grow potatoes and onions using the underground water. There is no water pipeline from the River Murray near Tailem Bend in this region of the Mallee as there is in the Wimmera.
The grain in the Viterra bulk grain silos adjacent to the railway line are now transported out by truck as the branch railway line into this part of the Murray Mallee has been closed. The Canadian based Viterra owns and operates 95% of the grain handling and storage facilities is South Australia after taking over ABB Grain in 2009. Viterra, in turn, was taken over by Glencore, a large commodities trading company (zinc, copper, grain, coal etc), in 2012. The global market has come to the Mallee. Read More
From what I can judge, it looks as if the Ballarat International Foto Biennale 2017 (BIFB17) is starting to come together. It has a online public space as the new website has gone live. However, there is nothing yet about the photographers who comprise the core programme, what the 2017 Biennale is trying to achieve in relation to contemporary Australian photography, or what the issues the symposiums and talks will address. My understanding is that the full program will be released in April, with glimpses and reveals being unravelled from late January.
At this stage, apart from the portrait and icons photographic competitions, there is little public information about either the content or the approach of the biennale. Given that her background is in graphic design and strategic branding, rather than art festival directorships or in photography, it is hard to form a sense of what Fiona Sweet’s first Ballarat International Foto Biennale will be like. Given the emphasis on visual narrative in her design background it will be interesting to see what the core idea of the Biennale’s graphic design and visual campaign will be, and how she will grow the regional and national brand so that it becomes a global centre for the photographic arts.
Registrations for the Fringe Program were recently opened, and we have applied to exhibit work from the Mallee Routes project in one of the Fringe spaces. We want to show some recent work –ie., some of the pictures that we have made since our initial exhibition at the Atkins Photo Lab’s gallery in late 2016 that explore place through the language of loss, land, culture and memory. In this mapping of photography to place the images map critical histories, preserving place and memory by giving voice to the invisible stories. This mapping of photography to place uncovers traces and share experiences of places that transform over time.
One innovative representation of the Victorian Mallee that I came across whilst on the Hopetown phototrip in 2016 was the murals that were being painted on the silos throughout the Victorian north-west Mallee. One notable example was the mural on GrainCorp’s disused silo at Brim, which had been painted by the Brisbane street artist Guido van Helten in collaboration with the local community.
This site has become a tourist icon in the Wimmera, judging by the number of people I saw who were stopping, photographing and talking about it:
The individuals in the mural are unknown as the mural is about place, community and the whole Wimmera region which has been struggling through drought. It suggests that it is still a tough life to keep the farm going. The work represents the struggles pf the people in the Mallee in coming to terms with their place at a time of immense economic pressure and climate change. Read More
The wheat was everywhere whilst I was on the Hopetoun road trip. I took a few 35mm snapshots of the dryland wheat fields with my old film Leica (an M4-P) whilst I was on my way back to our campsite at Hopetoun from Sea Lake. I’d been to Lake Tyrrell that afternoon to look for the remains of an old salt works butI didn’t have much luck. I just couldn’t find it.
The wheat field was somewhere on the road after I’d passed after Woomelang. It was a quick snap because I was hit by a swarm of mosquitos I was taking photos. The mosquitos made it impossible to spend the time setting up a large format camera to photograph this wheat field in the late afternoon light.
It was just on the cusp of harvest time when I was there. It looked as if it was going to a bumper harvest, due to all the winter rain. That probably meant low prices and high rates of on-farm grain storage. A bumper harvest does mean income for famers and that, in turn, means that they are able to pay off debt. Read More
Whilst I was on the Hopetoun road trip in the Victorian Mallee in 2017 I experimented with photographing with black and white medium format film and with making some industrial abstractions. I wanted to broaden the way that I was photographing and I thought that black and white would work quite well with some subject matter in the Mallee.
This is an example from a photoshoot on a trip to Rainbow and Warracknabeal. It was over 40 degrees when I was scoping around Warracknabeal and I ended up wandering around an abandoned flour mill site at midday looking for some subject matter in the shade. I came across a couple of old water tanks and made some abstractions synthroid price.
The black and white photos were not that successful as I failed to expose the contrasty subject matter properly, whilst the development of the negatives by Black and White Photographics was overdone. Basically, they overcooked the negatives despite instructions to do the opposite. I realise that if I am to continue to work with medium format black and white film on the Mallee Routes project, then I am going to have to develop the negatives myself. I need greater control. Read More
I ‘ve been in the process of reworking the little speech that I gave at the opening exhibition of Mallee Routes at the Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide in late 2016. It has been posted on the text tab on the website. The speech, which was designed to link photography to the Humanities, was based around a quote by G.W.F. Hegel on philosophy that is towards the end of the Preface to his Philosophy of Right (published in 1821). This is the quote:
“When philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a form of life grown old. Philosophy cannot rejuvenate it, but only understand it. The owl of Minerva begins its flight only with the coming of the dusk.”
In the speech I suggested that if we replace the word philosophy with photography, then we could see some affinities between Hegel’s text and the photography in the Mallee Routes project. The affinities include: the monochrome painting of grey in grey; the Mallee as a form of life grown old; photography cannot rejuvenate this form of life only understand it; photography takes place at the coming off dusk.
The speech then unpacked what this could mean for photographing the Mallee project through interpreting (or a making sense of) Hegel’s quote.
What I wanted to avoid in taking this approach was a melancholy interpretation of Hegel’s quote, and in turn, the photos in Mallee Routes project. On this interpretation photographing the Mallee is a form of nostalgic mourning for a 20th century form of life that is passing away, a late photography is a way of preserving the traces of a life that has passed, whilst finding it difficult to accept what has been lost. Hence there is a mourning for what is being lost. Read More
Whilst I have been working on images to build up my digital and film galleries I have been searching for some Australian antecedents to my documentary approach to photography for the Mallee Routes project. Who has been here before? What approach to documentary photography did they take? Is there a body of work that exists in the archives? Or do the archives mostly consist of vernacular photography as the history gallery is suggesting? What does the Australian documentary tradition look like? In what ways have the tensions in photography’s ambiguous status as art object and documentary information been dealt with?
One of the antecedents that I found was the work of Geoffrey Collings, a designer, film making and photographer who worked in the documentary tradition established by John Grierson, the leader of the British documentary movement, the American filmmaker Robert Flaherty, and the work of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Under Roy Stryker, the latter employed photographers such as Walker Evans, Ben Shahn and Dorothea Lange from 1935 to 1943 to document the impact of the Great Depression on rural America, to show the necessity and effectiveness of New Deal agricultural programs, and to to sway public opinion in favor of the Roosevelt administration’s economic recovery programs. Read More
I took the opportunity to make a side-trip into the Victorian Mallee when I was transporting the prints from the Weltraum and Abstraction x 5 exhibitions to my fellow photographers—Stuart Murdoch, Judith Crispin and Jeff Moorfoot-— to the pick-up points of the Ballarat/Lyonville meet up near Melbourne.
It was a quick side-trip. I drove north-east from Horsham into the Wimmera-Mallee passing through Jung, Murtoa, Rupanyup and Marnoo to St Arnaud, before then driving down to Ballarat and Lyonville on the Sunraysia Highway. St Arnaud is the eastern edge of the Wimmera-Mallee and lies outside it. It is in the north Grampians and just north of the Pyrenees wine district. I didn’t know this area of the Wimmera-Mallee at all.
The reason is that I would normally drive straight to Melbourne from Adelaide via Nhill, Horsham and Stawell along the Western Highway. I would sometimes stop for lunch at Horsham, or stay overnight if I’d left Adelaide late in the day. I never made any side-trips north into the Wimmera-Mallee. Why would you? There’s not much there. It’s the cities that are of interest. I guess this is what a lot of people do when they are travelling between Melbourne and Adelaide:–they stick to the modern highway between the two capital cities and they try to get to their destination quickly with as few stops as possible.
My basic plan was to retrace my steps along the Wimmera Highway on my return journey from Melbourne to Adelaide, if I found interesting subject matter from the exploring these byways, and if there was more cloud cover during the day. I had packed both the 5×4 Linhof Technika and the Rolleiflex SL66 for this purpose. So my fingers were crossed. Read More
With the initial exhibition of the Mallee Routes project Atkins Photo Lab finishing at the end of November I interrupted the archive project I was working on to go on a photo roadtrip to Hopetoun to build up my archive for the next exhibition, which has been planned to take place in 2017. Two overcast days after a big storm provided me with an opportunity to spend several days in the Wimmera Mallee, initially working on the silo project around Murrayville whilst the cloud cover remained. I then linked up with Gilbert and Eric at Hopetoun to explore the north western mallee region of Victoria.
This was the first time on the project that we worked and camped together. We were on the cusp of the summer, and though we only experienced one very hot, dry day with a north westerly wind, the recent heavy spring rains meant that there was a lot of stagnant, standing water lying around the countryside. This meant that it was a good season for the mosquitoes, and we experienced plague proportions of them, which, in turn, made camping at Hopetoun rather difficult.
Though I’d seen the Hopetoun photos of Leanne Cole on the web the area around Hopetoun was new territory for me. This is wheat country in the form of agri-businesses–ie., corporate farming— with its agricultural history one of achieving and celebrating human mastery over an unruly nature. On this road trip the farmers were starting to harvest their crops; the grain silos were being worked on, the wheat trains were on the move and the trucks were coming and going carrying wheat from the individual farms to the various silos. Read More