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.

Website | Flickr | Instagram | Photography links | Twitter | Tumblr

Stony Creek Backwash, Urban reserve.

This post originally was written on a different platform. I’m posting it here for posterity’s sake.

Stony Creek Backwash reserve 2020-03-30 13:58:15

As I sat at my desk looking out onto our newly landscaped yard, on my fist day of term break. I was enranced by the light.  I also had recently seen a fellow photographers work in and around the base of the West Gate Bridge on flickr and decided to investigate the location. I eventually found an urban park created by Maribyrnong Council and the friends of Stony Creek Inc.. I was surprised I had not investigated this space earlier? I look down on it ofen as I traverse the West Gate Bridge. It has always fascinated me as a passenger from that view.

The Stony Creek Backwash Urban Reserve is a well looked after green spot adjacent to several oil storage facilities. Nestled between the facilities and the West Gate Bridge it is a pleasant oasis. The park had many people wandering and bike riding though in and around it, despite restrictions in place for the Corona Virus.

I spent the amount of time I did here because as a location seen from above as I so often it appears intriguing. It is one of those places that has been through a series of uses. Despite some of which are detrimental to the vegetation. This vegetation has bounced back. Walking through the space and reading the signage placed at various points gives a sense of what the community aspires the space to be. Closer examination may contradict this, looking and walking beyond the established paths. It is apparent that while the vegetation is abundant it may not be as vibrant as expected. These kinds of spaces make me curious and are somewhat of a metaphor for my own existence. Geographically, metaphorically and metaphysically. They are the kinds of places I have photographed in and around for my entire career as a visual artist.

In my early days I only used black and white film. Now I pack  colour and black and white film with me in my camera case as well as one or two digital capture devices when heading out to make pictures.

In the end I spent several hours there only leaving around 3:00pm as the light had turned too harsh for my liking.

The sign in the middle ground reads:-

Stony creek Back Wash

In the 1850s, Stony Creek was an important route for labourers heading upstream to quarries located north and south of the creek. Th labourers quarried bluestone which was used to supply material for some of Melbourne’s earliest public buildings such as Pentridge Prison and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The leftover bluestone, used as ballast, was collected by ballast lighters and delivered to sailing ships at anchor waiting in Hobsons Bay.

To accommodate the growing industries and local businesses around the Yarra River port, a multitude of industrial rail siding were established in the Spotswood aerate connect the railway terminals at Hobsons Bay. The sidings were constructed between 1880 and 1930 and served numerous purposes throughout these 50 years. Th speak period of use for the sidings was from the 1920’s to World War II.

In 1927, the branch railway sidings were utilised to serve the Newport Oil Wharf berths along the Yarra river. The branch railway sidings served Shell, BP, Ampol an other oil terminals between Hall Street and Douglas Parade, while a circuitous line looped from Yarraville round along the West Bank of he Yarra River, over Stony Creek via a trestle bridge then on to the Vacuum Oil terminal, now Mobil.

The majority of the railway sidings have been decommissioned and the track s Ince removed. Remnants of the old Branch Railway sidings can be found in the eastern side of the backwash, running parallel with the Yarra River.”

Stony Creek Trestle Bridge
The stony creek footbridge extends across the breakwater enabling pedestrian and bicycle traffic access to the banks of the Yarra river. The view from the footbridge provides a unique perspective of the West Gate Bridge which is spectacular when lit up at night.

From the Oxbridge you can see the wreck of the historic barge used to transport shell grit to the nearby bottle works. Also visible are the remains of the former railway line that once traveled from Spotswood, along the edge of the Yarra river to the Yarraville oil wharf, as well as the footings of temporary peers used in the construction of the West Gate Bridge.

Pre-European settlement

Prior to dispossession three adjoining Koori clans probably used the area as a meeting place and for gathering food along its embankments and wetlands. The Koories managed the creek environment to ensure that these resources would be adequate for their needs and succeeding generations. Midden sites were recorded at the creek’s mouth where the Koori’s feasted on shellfish. Evidence of other activities in the region include stone tool sites, silcrete quaries, scarred trees and burial places.

The Stony Creek belonged to the Marin bulluk clan, who occupied the area between Kororoit Creek and Maribyrnong River. This clan was part of the Woi wurrung, the tribal group which owned most of Melbourne. Bungarin was the head man of the Marin bulluk clan. He was also a guardian of the famous axe quarry at Mt William. Bungarin’s name appears as one of the ‘chiefs’ on John Batman’s so-called deed of purchase.

European Heritage

Stony Creek has a long and varied European history which has left a marked impression on the creek and its surrounds. The European heritage is summarised below and documented on the friends of stony creek website. A former Geocities webpage no less!

Summary

December 1803 A party from the schooner Cumberland follows the creek for one and a half miles. “It was salt and ended in a swamp.”

 

  • 1835 Batman searching for pasture drops anchor opposite Stony Creek backwash.
  • 1848 Creek briefly known as Murderer’s Creek after the discovery of Lucke’s battered corpse!
  • 1850s Quarries opened up for ballast and building
  • 1870s Noxious industries established: tannery, meat processing and glue works.
  • 1919 Alfred Luizzi drowns attempting to cross in a flood.
  • 1920s Market gardens established.
  • 1940s Urbanisation spreads.
  • 1970 West Gate Bridge collapses killing 35 workers.
  • 1987 Ink spill into backwash kills mangroves.
  • 1993 Friends of Stony Creek formed.
  • 2001 Allied Containers constructed a bridge across Stony Creek without regulatory approval and Meadow Lea spill.
  • 2002 Pivot Fertiliser Spill
  • 2006 Fire destroys revegetated area at Hyde Street Reserve
  • 2011 Stony Creek Future Directions Plan released
  • 2013 Detergent spill

Website | Flickr | Instagram | Photography links | Twitter | Tumblr

Wordless Wednesday #20200513

Melbourne's skyline from West Melbourne in 2005
Melbourne’s skyline from West Melbourne in 2005. This view no longer accessible. As the Metro tunnel work s have repuposed the land and denied public access generally.

Website | Flickr | Instagram | Photography links | Twitter | Tumblr

More distractions in the time of the pandemic

Sunset over Melbourne in 2000
Sunset over Melbourne in 2000

Website | Tumblr | Flickr | Twitter | Instagram | Photography links

Wordless Wednesday pandemic edition #202004290700

New light industry development 2005
New light industry development 2005-12-23 17:30:13

TyYAT[Twenty Years Ago Today]

P0002125 Version 2I was experimenting with my first point and shoot digital camera.

Trying to make art.
Website | Tumblr | Flickr | Twitter | Instagram | Photography links

Throwback Thursday [Pandemic Edition #2]

An film shot image from nearly 10 years ago says a lot about where I was at in my image making
Highly designed urban living in the Docklands. A source of fascination for me in the early 2000s.

In 2009, it seems I was working in and around the Docklands precinct of Melbourne. Using colour film and my Hasselbald. This work is likely to sit in my archive its use undetermined. I had begun working there as early as 1993 or so. In those days the site was still a lingering industrial wasteland. See image below shot on 5×4 and black and white film.

The Doclands circa 1993
An area of the docklands undergoing reclamation. This time shot on 5 x 4 black and white film.

Website | Tumblr | Flickr | Twitter | Instagram | Photography links

Wordless Wednesday [Pandemic Edition #1]

Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.  2010-04-15, 18:12:42

Website | Tumblr | Flickr | Twitter | Instagram | Photography links

Street Art?

abstraction #20200117105431

I listened to this ABC broadcast about Street and and Graffiti. this morning

“Street artists, advertising agencies and the authorities are in the middle of a space race.

It’s a lot less about little green men and much more about spray paint and stencils. But the stakes are still sky high. Artists are busy commandeering as many city surfaces as their paints will allow, authorities are trying to neutralise the threat, while advertising agencies are keen to clone the potency of hand painted art.”

I have a small series of work that looks at much more ephemeral art of peeling advertising posters. Which is a kind of street art.

Website | Tumblr | Flickr | Twitter | Instagram | photography links