Blog

Covid-19 + the Mallee

The emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic in Australia killed off my plans to start the solo stage of photographing the old Mallee Routes project– now Eye on the Mallee. The original plan was to spend a bit of time photographing in the Victorian Mallee whilst on my way to Melbourne. That plan was cancelled when South Australia’s border with Victoria was closed after the surge in community transmission in Melbourne from the hotel quarantine debacle. It has become clear that the breach in infection control procedures by security staff contracted by the government to monitor returned international travellers was one of the causes that triggered Victoria’s ave on infections in the community.

With movement within South Australia also restricted for a period of time, my energies went into constructing the online Encounters Gallery, a newsletter, the first online exhibition—-The Covid-19 Exhibition and then the second exhibition— The Walking/photography exhibition. The Victorian border with South Australia remains closed with stage 4 restrictions in Metro Melbourne. The Australian economy is being kept afloat with a huge increase in government spending (eg., Jobkeeper and Jobseeker). National unemployment is expected to hit 10-13%.  

I am planning a new trip as restrictions on movement within South Australia have been eased. However, it is not to Swan Hill via Jung in Victoria as I’d originally planned.

Cambo SC1 5x7 monorail
Little Murray, Swan Hill, Victoria

I will be joining Suzanne’s walking friends at their Lavender Trail camp in Kapunda for six days. Whilst they walk the Lavender Trail each day I will go photographing in the South Australian mallee by crossing the River Murray.

Review of the Murray Bridge Exhibition

As a counter to the concerns in this post Adam Dutkiewicz has reviewed the collaborative Mallee Routes 2019-2020 exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in South Australia. This was the final collaborative exhibition in this long term project. Adam’s review is below.

MALLEE ROUTES

Photographing the Mallee 2019

Gary Sauer-Thompson (SA), Gilbert Roe (SA), Eric Algra (Vic), Lars Heldmann (SA), Stuart Murdoch (Vic)

Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, 7 December 2019 – 12 January 2020

negative, Murrayville, Victoria

This is the last exhibition in a three-year project of photographing the Mallee regions, including the Wimmera, by photographers Gary Sauer-Thompson, Eric Algra and Gilbert Roe. The exhibition was expanded to accommodate all three rooms of the Murray Bridge gallery, and so required an expanded number of contributors, as Lars Heldmann and Stuart Murdoch. Director Fulvia Mantelli provided the extra exhibition space, helped to organize the exhibition, revised the colour of the gallery walls in the main room to dark grey, and devised the new spot lighting system which makes some of the work glow, as if back-lit. The result is a very large exhibition of photography of nearly 120 works, in itself an exceptional and substantial event in the local art calendar.

Eye on the Mallee

On Sunday, January 12th, 2020, with the closure of the Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, the collaborative part of Photographing the Mallee finally comes to an end after 3 years. The 2019/2020 Mallee Routes exhibition is the swan song of the collaborative project; a project which in the end, became non-collaborative.

This picture is of Adam Dutkiewicz in the Jean Sims section of the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery making notes for his review of the exhibition. He kindly agreed to do this, given the current situation of a lack of independent art criticism in Adelaide, which I mentioned in this post. This brief mention of the exhibition by The Adelaide Review is a minor exception.

Adam Dutkiewciz

My previous colleagues were hostile to the theoretical writings about photographing the Mallee: their entrenched position was that they just wanted to take photos, and they implicitly held that text (art theory or academic or literary discourse about the Mallee) was largely irrelevant, on the grounds that their pictures said all that needed to be said. Theory, in the form of the conceptual foundations of their practice, does not benefit photography because aesthetics or theory has nothing to do with, or gets in the way, of taking photos.

On the lack of independent art criticism

The third and last collaborative Mallee Routes exhibition is now showing at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery throughout December and early January. What is so noticeably missing in action is the local review of this body of work. With no catalogue essay the exhibition becomes situated in a critical art vacuum, and it gives rise to a sense of cultural loneliness and isolation–the distance between art’s production and its reception. 

Consequently, the photography in the exhibition has a lack of an existence beyond the temporality of the exhibition given the lack of archive building. There is no funding for the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery to write their own history; even though there ought be; partly out of necessity as no one else is going to do so, and secondly the ethos of self-determination entitles them to carve a historical space in our culture.

The limitations of established art criticism is very marked in Adelaide. The exhibition will not be reviewed by either Artlink or the Adelaide Review, which are the only two art magazines based in Adelaide.

With the demise of the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF), there is no other independent art magazine. ACE Open, which is the amalgam of these two art institutions, stopped publishing the Broadsheet Journal in 2017, and it currently does not review local work. None of the three universities in Adelaide provide financial or in kind support for a magazine of independent art criticism–presumably because the academic value of publishing is clearly weighted in favour of refereed journals.

photobook: its dual character

This limited edition photobook, which was printed by Momento Pro in Sydney, arrived via TNT courier at the studio in Encounter Bay late Tuesday afternoon. This is one form of self-publishing in the age of post-digital publishing. There is a long history to photography coming into books.

The book has been designed to supplement my prints in the forthcoming 2019 Mallee Routes exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery. It has a hard, white cover, the paper stock is Lustre 190gsm and 6 colour printing was used. Though this meant that it was more expensive to produce than the earlier Mallee Routes book, it does look classy and the images do look pretty good.

Like the exhibition itself the book is divided into 3 sections: absent history, space/place and unknown futures. The text has been downplayed as the book has been designed to place the emphasis on the photos. As part of the exhibition it is another way of presenting my photos to the conventional model of framed or unframed prints on a gallery wall.

Mallee Routes exhibition 2019

As mentioned in this previous blog post the last collaborative exhibition of the 3 year Mallee Routes project will be held at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery. It involves the 3 original photographers– Eric Algra, Gilbert Roe and myself— plus two extra photographers— Stuart Murdoch and Lars Heldmann. I will have a limited edition photobook in the exhibition which supplements my prints.

The exhibition opens on December 8th 2019 and it closes on January 13th 2020. The opening speech will be given by Melinda Rankin, the ex-director of the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, and now Director of Fabrik Arts & Heritage at Lobethal. Fulvia Mantelli, the current director of the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, will take the artists through their work from 1-2pm.

Balranald, NSW Mallee

The exhibition uses the 3 gallery spaces of the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery–the Jean Simms Gallery, the main gallery and the Sculpture Court gallery. The work in these spaces is organised along the lines Absent History, Space/place and Unknown Futures.

2019 Mallee Routes photo-book

I have finally put together a pdf of a new limited edition Mallee Routes photobook in collaboration with Paul Atkins from Atkins Lab. Paul’s knowledge and help with the book design and the editing of the images was crucial the production of the pdf. The pdf has been sent to Sydney to be printed by Momento Pro and a quote has been received and accepted.

Entitled Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2019, the book consists of a series of scoping images made with small, handheld cameras. It is designed to supplement my framed prints in the upcoming collaborative exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery in December. It is similar in style to the earlier 2018 book, but unlike that one, it is divided into three sections–‘absent history’, ‘space/place’ and ‘unknown futures’. These are the sections in the exhibition and they correspond to the 3 galleries.

This picture of a door of a deserted house on the Mallee Highway in Victoria is an out-take from the central space/place section of the book:

door, Cowangie, Victoria, 2019

The limited edition Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee 2019 is a concertina style book with minimal text about the Mallee country. The quality has been improved: the book has a hard cover, better paper and improved colour. It is more of a traditional photobook–a book of photos– than an artist book, as the latter is basically an art object in the form of a book.

at Murtoa

Surprisingly, the Wimmera Mallee trip turned out to be an addition to the Mt Arapiles photo-session with the Melbourne-based Friends of Photography Group, rather than the reverse. The reverse was what I’d mapped out prior to going on the photo trip.

My time and energy was taken up grappling with the nature photography at Mt Arapiles, rather than actually spending lots of time photographing in the Wimmera Mallee. The latter is what I’d initially set out to do.

One of the Wimmera images that I wanted to rephotograph in the late afternoon light for the space /place section in the forthcoming exhibition at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery was this old flour mill in Murtoa:

Murtoa, Wimmera, Victoria

I wanted to represent the boundedness or enclosing around of place, rather than understanding place in terms of a nodal point that gathers various spatial trajectories and flows. Boundedness–or rather, a bounded openness– is what is primary in the concept of place.

The weather was against me staying any longer in the Wimmera Mallee after my overnight stay at Lake Marma at Murtoa. The weather quickly became bright and sunny after the wet, windy weather that I experienced over the weekend camp at Mt Arapiles.

returning to the Wimmera Mallee

I am planning to make a quick return to the Jung and Murtoa region in the Wimmera Mallee whilst Suzanne is walking in Lord Howe Island. I am piggybacking on spending a weekend (6th-8th September) with the Friends of Photography Group (FOPG) at Mt Arapiles in Victoria’s Wimmera plains.

FOPG are a Melbourne-based large format film landscape photography group who make a number of day excursions together during the year as well as a couple of weekend ones. They also have frequent print viewings and a yearly exhibition. The FOPG group was formed in 2015, and it is led/facilitated by David Tatnall, who also writes the very impressive View Camera Australia blog.

water tower, Jung, Wimmera

Sadly, there is no such volunteer group in Adelaide. Adelaide’s photographic culture is currently dominated by the South Australian branch of the commercially orientated AIPP photographers.

Hence my interest in linking up with those large format photographers in Melbourne who are working outside the photographic industry; even though I am on the margins of the FOGP group, as I am not a wilderness orientated landscape photographer and I don’t print my negatives in a wet darkroom.

At Tanunda: space/place

I have taken the opportunity kindly offered by a group of people who are walking the Lavender Trail to join them for a 5 day camp at Tanunda in the Barossa Valley this weekend (22nd-27th August). My designation is a non-walking member of the group, which means that instead of walking the different parts of the Lavender Trail each day like the others, I will be out photographing in the Murray Mallee.

The plan is to travel each day from the Lavender camp at Tanunda over the Mt Lofty Ranges, across the agricultural plains (via Kyneton and Sedan) to Swan Reach on the River Murray. I then drive into the country on the eastern side of the river to photograph within the western region of the Murray Mallee.

Murray Mallee landscape

Initially, I will be endeavouring to complete the work which I was unable to do on the earlier trip to Galga and Copeville. I will photograph some landscapes to construct a Murray Mallee suite to be included in the Mallee Spaces/Places section in the main gallery of Murray Bridge Regional Gallery for the 2019 December exhibition.

Some might say that this photography is journeying through space to undertake some mapping. But it is more a writing, or a photographing, of place; or at least an attempt to adopt a topological approach.