an old water tank and the supplement

Whilst I was on the Morgan photo camp in 2017 I decided to incorporate some 5×4 black and white photography into the Mallee Routes project through photographing this rusty water tank  with the Sinar F2  monorail. I wanted a bit of grittiness and punch,  and I thought that using  a large format  camera and 5×4 black and white sheet film would be suitable for some bleak subject matter. This I thought would suggest  the harsh condition of the Murray Mallee in the 20th century.


My black and white photography was marginal but I  figured that black and white would work well representing the ruins of  the family farms,  soldier settlements and bores of the  20th century  Mallee.  This history was disappearing –eg., most of the older railway branch lines that  had been  used for transporting wheat  had been  pulled up in the 1990s,  and there is little to no  trace of these branch lines  in the  landscape  in  the 2nd decade of the 21st century. They are now different kinds of lines on old railway maps. 

So I  purchased a  light weight  Sinar f2 because it   offered more camera movements and more flexibility than the Linhof Technika IV that I was using for  the colour work.    I had only used it infrequently up until this trip as my eye wasn’t trained for black and white images and I didn’t have the darkroom facilities to process  the 5×4 b+w sheet film at home.

I  decided to experiment with the Sinar  whilst on the  Wallaroo phototrip in 2016,  as well as  when I was exploring the Murray Mallee in 2017.  I subsequently developed the 5×4 sheet  film that  had been exposed in Stuart Murdoch’s darkroom when I was in Melbourne on a recent photo trip. I was  there to make some images  for an exhibition on a changing industrial Melbourne at Atkins Photo Lab during the 2018 SALA festival.

This was a slow start.

Is it worth  taking this 5×4 b+w experiment further in relation to the Mallee Routes project? I  have decided in the affirmative. It would link with the past and to supplement  the 5×4 colour photography. The common assumption is that digital colour photography is complete in itself  and that black and white  film photography is marginal.   To supplement something is to add to it and  to complete it. This implies that the thing being supplemented (colour photography) needs completion. There is an absence in what was supposedly complete or total.

I  slowly stated to upgrade the F2 to a Sinar P2 bit by bit and   started acquiring the Patterson developing  tanks  and the chemicals that would  allow me to  develop the sheet film at home.  I did not want  to go back to a proper  wet darkroom. Constructing a  full blown wet darkroom was not an option. Neither was buying an expensive professional  printer to print my own work for exhibitions an option. The black and white photography was a supplement.

Now way to understand  black and white  film photography as a supplement to digital colour photography is along Derrida’s lines. A supplement  for Derrida is simultaneously something that completes another thing, and something that may replace it, playing the role of substitute for it, and therefore, be a threat for it. The supplement is not an optional add-on to the original: it is the condition of the original.  The supplementary is, behind its assumed peripheral importance, essential to all the ways in which we think.

There is therefore an  unstable equilibrium and thus a constantly shifting relationship which exists between colour and  black and white photography.  Each  both replaces and supplements the other. Derrida uses the idea of the supplement to emphasize that there is no priority in  these oppositions but only difference.  So black and white photography provides the means to disrupt entrenched ways of investigating and representing the Mallee.