topographic photography + trauma

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. 

The step I had made during the break is to link a topographical photography as a mapping of place to trauma because  trauma  is a core characteristic of the dying town syndrome in  the South Australia and Victorian Mallee region in the late 20th century.  Traumatic experience is defined by Freud as having such an overwhelming or ungraspable character that it slips past the defences, or protective shield constructed by  consciousness,  to form a reserve of unconscious memory traces, psychical scars that can only be retrieved retrospectively and involuntarily.

The problem  is how to make photos that bear traces of loss and trauma. Old machinery in disused factories? Empty shop fronts? Ruined houses?

2 Responses

  • Have you heard of a West Australian Philosopher, Glenn Albrecht? He has developed the term ‘solastalgia’ [and others]. Solastalgia is essentially the deep longing for the land as it once was. Feeling homesick, when you are still at home. It is used in the context of coal mining [community feeling solastalgia for the land before mining became their landscape] and in drought affected areas as well. I think, also it could be used in your Mallee reflections.

    His writing is quite academic around the subject – but he offers a fascinating extension to our lexicon..

    [I work in Swan Hill for Regional Arts Victoria, and I have heard you are touring your show here in March. So I am having a bit of a poke around your blog. ] 🙂

  • Hi Kim,
    Thanks for that information.

    I did know about ‘solastalgia’. I understood it as a form of existential distress caused by environmental change, rather than a deep longing for the land as it once was. I had, however, forgotten about the term, so thanks for the reminder. I had kinda understood the idea behind “Feeling homesick, when you are still at home” in relation to Martin Heidegger’s latter texts. ‘Solastalgia’ would be very relevant to people in the Mallee as they are/have been exposed to environmental change, would have experienced negative affects from this, and would have developed a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding process of change.

    I did not know about Glenn Albrecht (sad to say), but I will definitely look him up–as I agree with you re his conceptual usefulness with respect to the Mallee Routes project. I do want to link the photographs to the humanities but I have been struggling to find relevant material or texts. So thank you for that help here. It is much appreciated.

    I hope that you enjoy our humble photographs, find the blog to be of some interest to you, and thinks that the project is a worthwhile one. As someone living in South Australia (at Encounter Bay on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula) I am very impressed by both the approach of Creative Victoria and the work being done by Regional Arts Victoria.

    We should catch up when I am in Swan Hill hanging the exhibition and have a chat over a coffee.

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