Why I photograph the urban landscape?

Originally posted on another platform I’m re-posting here for prosperity with a minor edit.

Winter light prompted me to get my 5×4 inch monorail camera out.

I have been interested in making pictures in the Urban Landscape since 1988. I began my photography studies in 1987. After 2 years I realised I was mostly interested in photographing the landscape and in the context of art. I spent the next 3 years undertaking a fine art degree. This allowed me to think about the what the why and how of art making. Could I try and make art this way?

In the beginning my career  was influenced by Ansel Adams, and the idea of a sublime landscape. Images made in his style, and of similar subject matter were the kind I aspired to. As an urban dweller most of my life, trips to the ‘wild/sublime’ were infrequent and determined by my free time.

What this meant was it was difficult to really capture imagery that was truly ‘sublime’.   Light in Australia is at its best in the shoulder periods leading up to autumn and spring. Winter light when it shines is also wonderful. Of course light is often best in the magic hour an time of the year. Magic hour in the suburbs is easy to chase, in the outback, not so. Most ‘wild or sublime’ locations in Melbourne are at a minimum one hours drive away. So getting to this kind of location is time consuming and can be difficult, even with a car. The urban landscape is all around me. I can catch public transport there if I need and even on occasion walk.

While at University I was introduced to Joe Deal’s work. In particular the San Andreas Fault series [see image from sofomoma.org below]. The idea that images of a constructed or altered landscape could be valuable and interesting helped me look in other directions. Other Photographers and Artists I was introduced to in this period included, Robert Adams, Frank Gohkle, Hille and Bernd Becher, Lewis Baltz, Henry Wessel Jr.  No photographer worth their salt can neglect to mention the pivotal 1976 exhibitor at George Eastman House, “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” either.

I am involved in several groups on flickr that share pictures in a similar vein. The idea still flourishes to this day and is almost a worldwide movement.

Joe Deal, Brea, California, from the portfolio The Fault Zone, 1979, printed 1981
Brea, California, from the portfolio The Fault Zone, 1979, printed 1981

When I go out to make pictures, mentally I go to a ‘place’. A place that is hard to describe but very beneficial. It engages my brain in a way where I am in the moment like no other activity I engage in. Time disappears. Just a series of small decisions. Left? Right? Up? Down? Looking without thinking and at the same time only looking and thinking? This is my min motivation that almost zenlike stae I enter when alone in the urban landscape with my camera.

Then there are projects. Everyone has a project. Myself included. Some online some tangible objects. Some well formed, some roughly mapped in my head, others complete.  Pictures however are only ever pictures. We attach meaning and substance to them as a kind of construct, loaded with our own biases and prejudices.

On the 5th of July 2019. The light was magnificent, as it often is in Melbourne mid winter. I went outside and made some pictures with both colour and black and white film, in 120mm and large format. Because the light struck me as well as the mood. And because it felt right.

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Author: s2

artist, picture maker, photobook creator

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