Is it possible to describe a photograph without interpreting it? Can a viewer ever be as dispassionate as the mechanism of a camera? And how far can a photographer’s intentions determine responses to their image, decades after it was made? These are just a few questions that David Campany eloquently addresses in On Photographs. In the tradition of Susan Sontag and John Berger, Campany explores the tensions inherent to the photographic medium – between art and document, chance and intention, permanence and malleability of meaning – as well as the significance of authorship, performance, time and reproduction.
I have been thinking a lot of late about Melbourne International Airport lately. I regularly visit there as my wife travels frequently for her job. I often collect her and occasionally drop her off. I also love flying and aeroplanes generally. The history of the creation and development of Melbourne International Airport, or Tullamarine, is well documented. I can add my own history of the place too. I was a young boy when construction wound down. I used to ride my bicycle there and wander around and explore. There was a working model of the airport showing how the ATC operated with moving models, and commentary. Which I have fond memories of.
While I do not currently live in the same postcode as the airport I am very close and can easily get there in a matter of minutes if the light beckons. Sometime in 2019 I decided to start visiting the edges of the airport to try and make interesting pictures, or perhaps document the changes as they occurred. I started the idea using colour. I have shot about six rolls of 120.
A day or two ago I went in search of more pictures near the airport. I took several cameras. But made no pictures on colour film of the edges of the airport. Using a DSLR I managed to scope some good spots that might be worthy of a revisit. One of the ideas that are floating in my mind as I think about this place is the use of the land on the edges of the airport, where does the airpot begin and end, how is it defined.
The edges of the airport are predominantly industrial as the nearest suburb is Gladstone Park on the southern edge. Sunbury is on its north western edge and Avondale Heights on its Southern edge. The industrial land close to the airport is mostly distribution centres with some training and maintenance facilities. These are ordinary concrete structures reminiscent of Lewis Baltz’s work ‘The New Industrial Parks near Irvine California’. I am hoping to avoid making picture of these. I’m more interested in how the land is used in an area that has largely been frozen in terms of development since the airport was constructed in the late 1960s.
The airport has its own postcode. Which makes preplanning visits easy. As I grew up in the area I have a knowledge of the environment that few would recognise. As a cab driver in my mid 20s. I learned all about accessing the airport from every direction too. I am using all this knowledge to visit and revisit areas in and around the publicly accessible areas of the airport. My current process is just wander/drive and see what turns up.
The image above, hosted on flickr is an example of that research.
Lately, my social media habits have drifted away from the big platforms. Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. So my news and information sources has returned to pre-social media tools. Things like email, and their associated newsletters, as well as RSS feeds. One constant for me though since 2004 has been Flickr.
I try to upload one picture a week every week. Sometimes I post more frequently. There is a method to my uploading. Flickr once a hive of social activity now is a far quieter place. There are a handful of groups that are vey engaged. Some even stray a long way from photography which is at the core of what drives flickr. I had reason recently to visit an almost dormant group called the clubhouse. Another member had popped in and left a message to see who else was around. There has been 2 response, one from me and one from Chris. I then started poking around the archives of this group and found some thoughts I had shared there in 2006. As the group is ‘private’ all I can do is copy the post itself.
Here it is
Interrelationships are what I’m finding the most intriguing for me at the moment, form and light have always been a driving force behind my work too, as have the “marks of man”.
Frederick Sommer’s quote, “some speak of a return to nature, I wonder where they could have been”, now rings true even more in my mind now as I wander the streets and suburbs of Melbourne, perhaps it’s an age thing?
However a question that may never get answered is what of the photograph as an ‘object’ unto itself, in this day and age of LCD’s CRT”s and bits and bytes, combined with the wonderfully democratic process of digital capture and global encompassing online communities such as this one?
The future is indeed bright.
Well here we are all these years later and I still have no answer for that question. There has however been reams of literature written exploring the idea.
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 work 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 any 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.
When I’m out to making 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 main motivation that almost zenlike state I enter when alone in the urban landscape with my cameras.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
Recently I had call to revisit some of my receipts for taxation purposes. I was reminded immediately of a couple of purchases that I had not delved that deeply into in the 2 years I had owned them. One book required little more than a flip through the contents page to reveal useful but not burning questions buried within it. I was looking for idea and inspiration for my classes as well you see. This book entitled , ‘Rethinking Digital Photography Making & Using Traditional & Contemporary Photo Tools’ by John Neel will come in handy for exploring bespoke and handmade image making classes.
The other book, ‘The Camera Essence And Apparatus’ by Victor Burgin will hopefully float on or around my desk at home for a while. It may even get dragged to work. Burgin is a renowned Artist, Marxist and Theoretician. I have on loan from the RMIT library a copy of his photobook ‘Between’ published in 1986. ‘Between’ is a kind of retrospective catalogue, but is also a photobook unto itself, predominantly about the pictures with in it.
I am going to assume that both my readers know of my long interest in photobooks. They will also appreciate that I own the 3 volume set of the ‘History of the Photobook‘, by Martin Parr and Gerry Badger.
Reading the Burgin book, ‘Between’ got me wondering. Was it listed in the 3 volume set by Parr and Badger? Well the short answer is no. At least not in the index of any of the books. Another author/critic whose writings I admire is John Berger. He has co-published a photobook that is also very interesting, ‘Another Way of Telling’. This too is not listed in any of the 3 volumes. My question then to Mr Parr and Mr Badger. Why are these two Artists and their books omitted from your histories? Even though Martin Parr talks about the size of the task and the impossibility to include every photobook ever made in the introduction to Volume 1. Surely including ‘Between’, and ‘A Different Way Of Telling’ should have been a no-brainer?