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.
I made very photos the roadtrip.
Apart from setting up a photography shoot in Murrayville most of my time was spent travelling on the road in the car back and forth along Mallee Highway. I was mostly lining up possibilities for a documentary style photoshoot in early autumn, as well as confirming that Murrayville would be my base camp for this autumn photo trip.
Whilst I was hanging out in Murrayville, waiting for the clouds to reappear, I started reading through Photo Files: an Australian photography reader, that was edited by Blair French. This is a selection of essays from Photofile, the journal published by the Sydney orientated Australian Centre for Photography from 1983.The photography reader was published in 1999 with the core of the text being the photography in the late 1980s and 1990s. How might the essays in the reader help to inform my photographing the ordinariness of the Mallee and its past?
The essay by Scott McQuire on documentary photography is in relation to indigenous photographers, such as Mervyn Bishop, Brenda L. Croft, Ricky Maynard, Lorrie Graham, and Sandy Edwards. The essay is primarily concerned with the ambivalence associated with the crisis of photographic reference. McQuire argues that “the split between the transparency of representation officially espoused by the mass meadia and the rejection of ‘realism’, which has dominated critical discourse around photography for at least a decade, has become increasingly parlayzing. ”
The ambivalence is between the transparency of representation and the camera’s irreducible perspectivism and McQuire says that engaging with ambivalence is vital to addressing the shifting stuff of photography in the present. He explores this engaging through a post colonial art photography that contests the dominant media images to include indigenous people into the narrative of modernity.