Fleurieuscapes as place not landscape

As I mentioned in this post on the poodlewalks  blog,  I have neglected the Fleurieuscapes project because of my focus on other projects.  Though I  have been plugging away  in a desultory and sporadic fashion, but I really unsure of what I am trying to do with this body of work from my coastal-based photographic practice. Photography, I've realised is good at showing and lousy at explaining.  So what an I going to show? 

The project is about place, and it is different to the Littoral Zone, Abstraction and Tree projects, even if it  does incorporate the odd image from these other projects. Place in the sense of the space of the Fleurieu Peninsula, where people live and have  made this space  their home. So  though Fleurieuscapes  incorporates  nature it also looks at the built environment at a specific historical moment.   


One of the dominate features of the coastline of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula is the movement of the southern ocean  along the shoreline. My access to the shoreline is set by the tides and the waves. The sea dumps  the dead birds and  fish,  the seaweed, shells,  and the flotsam on the beach or amongst the granite rock, and it then washes them away.   

It is the sea as well as the winds that represents the flux of the shore, and shifts the sand on the beaches at Petrel Cove and at Dep's Beach.  The sea is also  an ever-present danger.  

 Despite the Fleurieu Peninsula having a long geological history there are no fossils of extinct boneless animals  in the rocks along the granite coast, as is the case amongst the limestone cliffs of the treeless Nullarbor Plain. 

However, the sea has been a crucial in the land-forming process in the Fleurieu Peninsula's  geological history. What  largely accounts for the shape and extent of the Fleurieu Peninsula and its  Inman River catchment was glaciation of Antarctic proportions that occurred about 300 million years ago when the Antarctic continent was welded against southern Australia. The Peninsula was  shaped by the folding and faulting from the Permian  glaciation,  which affected much of Australia around 300 million years ago. 

The ice mass  ground its way across the Fleurieu landscape,  and it was channelled through the pre-glacial bedrock valley, such as  the Inman Trough. The Peninsula and its  Inman River catchment was overridden by a continental ice sheet  from the south west, and it moved in a northwesterly direction carving through and across the bedrock. 

Hindmarsh estuary

Though the  Hindmarsh River doesn't flow during the summer time its  estuary  is still one of my  favourite spots  in Victor Harbor: 

This part of the coast of Victor Harbor has one of its  most popular  beaches:--the Hayborough beach, which is  very popular with families during the summer holidays.  It is also popular for people who enjoy walking along the beach the beginning and the end of the day. 

towards a beach culture

The view that  bush culture has been the dominant culture in colonial Australia overlooks  the culture  of the beach and the coast.The latter is neither land or sea, nature or culture, but partakes of both.  This part of the coast is not the beach--it is between   Depp's Beach and Kings Beach which   are  surf beaches with sandy foreshores.  

This is a coastal environment where are there few people along the rocks. Most people stroll along the path of the Heritage trail along  the cliff top and only a few venture down to the rocks below. 

So there is a sense in which the freedom of the beach (it is public property)  extends to the rock foreshore. The  immediate hinterland behind the path is farming land--private property.  What happens when the farm is eventually sold?

an alienated art

If the Fleurieuscapes  book is to be centred around a  poetics of homecoming---with its associated words of  dwelling, place, region, abiding and building, then  the various words need to be unpacked. 

Firstly, we need to unpack what is  is meant by  poetics. It is broader than poetry in that it implies  a creative act that points to something beyond itself.  This  refers to poiesis or a bringing into being:  an unending creative struggle to express that which conditions and informs our worlds of meaning and yet resists being exhaustively articulated in the terms of these worlds. 

How does this conception of  poetics   relate to visual art including  photography? 

The starting point  would have  to be Kant,  since it was he who first  systematically outlined the logical grammar or conceptual machinery of  aesthetics though his categorical separation of knowledge /truth as in the natural sciences,  morality and aesthetic in modernity into separate domains.   In the Critique of Judgement Kant acknowledges that scientific cognition excludes aspects of ourselves from its view of nature  and that this must be accounted in other than cognitive terms. 

He does this in terms of an aesthetics that is based on the imagination, autonomous art,  intuition, aesthetic ideas, taste  and the lack of concept.  Kant, in other words, in inscribing art with the autonomous domain of the aesthetic relegates art and aesthetics to what is outside truth and goodness. Autonomous art is autonomous from truth and morality. 

the poetics of homecoming

I have tentatively started to develop the idea of photographing the fleeting moments in the ordinary  into a  poetics of homecoming.  What I have in mind is that my photographing humble things--an example is this body of work  by Yamamoto Masao ----- emerges into a concern with homecoming in response to the  state of homelessness in our contemporary world. 

Homecoming can be considered along the lines  of an overcoming of the state of homelessness. The philosophic conception of  the homeless condition has its roots in Nietzsche's discourse on  nihilism in modernity, which he understood in terms of  the emptying out of the highest values hitherto. 

Nietzsche's account is that  the erosion of the highest values hitherto means that these values are  losing influence and meaning  for us,  and  that we have fallen out of the traditional stories or grand narratives.   We are uprooted, and live  a nomadic existence in a world without  certainty, value, or purpose. We  have dispensed with all the prevailing ideals, values  and myths that traditionally  provide solace. We  are  no longer at home anywhere, and there is a  longing for a place in which they can be at home. Hence the state of homesickness with its nostalgic aching for a home where we belong.   

Homecoming is an at-homeness,  whilst  the poetics (as poiesis) is a form of mediative thinking about the presence of place.   This is contrast with the  poet/photographer  being in exile, always remaining in the foreign, and in a constant state of exodus ( as held by  Maurice Blanchot and Gilles Deleuze). 

fleeting moments in the ordinary

If  my low key approach to the local Fleurieu  landscape + seascapes  has been one of immersion or absorption within  the remnant scrub, country roads,  and coastal rocks, then the pictures that emerge from this are of the moments in my  ordinary,  everyday world. They are  pictures of vignettes and  moments  that are fleeting and often missed. 

Then it dawned on me.  This is not a project based work.  Therein lies the problem I have been having. I have been trying to make it a project based work and it just hasn't worked.    So I pushed the work into the archives where it lay forgotten.  I felt embarrassed by it.       

They are simple pictures of the present moment of things that are modest and humble--eg., seaweed and rocks as in this picture. They are of   things that are imperfect, impermanent, incomplete, weathered.   These are pictures of the present as the seaweed would have disappeared on the next days walk and the rocks would be covered with seawater.

a visual regime

I realised that my low key approach to the local Fleurieu  landscape has been one of immersion or absorption within  the remnant scrub. An example of this kind of crafting of the image:

This is at odds with the detached, disembodied  neutral observer with an objective and ahistorical vision--what is known as Cartesian perspectivalism----which  has been  common  in, or central to,  mainstream photographic discourse.   This perspectvalism or visual regime combines the Renaissance notions of perspective with  the  Cartesian ideas of a disembodied,  subjective rationality in which the eye and its gaze are foundationally allied with transparency,  operating as the abstract vanishing point of Renaissance perspective.  Subjective rationality underpins photography.  

landscape, writing, photography

I am really struggling with this Fleurieuscapes  project.

 I am not sure what to do with it,  I am not very confident about the project and  progress is very slow:  I have only got as far as dividing the  photo book into two parts---scrub/bush  and coastal.  I continue to make photos in and around my Fleurieu neighbourhood in Victor Harbor--- these currently emerge out of  my scoping whilst on the  poodle walks, but  I am not doing every much with translating these photos  into a photobook.   

I also realise that the project  has become situated in the  landscape, writing and photography nexus,  as  I accept that  the landscape is a kind of text, in that it is 'represented ' in a number of different ways by its inhabitants  and artists. The landscape  is thus a cultural construct with a certain kind of narrative, which in 20th century Australia, has traditionally been one about national identity.  I am comfortable in finding myself working withn the landscape, writing and photography nexus. 

Maybe my lack of confidence is because  whilst  the  accounts of our literary and painted landscapes are common and influential,   photography has tended to be characterised as a footnote to the history of painting. There is also the difficulties involved that result from the differences between a  visual and a written medium--I realise that traditionally words and images are established as not merely different, but antithetical. Thirdly,  photographic landscapes seemed to have been caught up in the old genres---the picturesque,  the pastoral and the aerial.

Sarah Hill has pointed out that  the theoretical complications of the relationship between landscape, writing, and photography  have only been explored in a sketchy fashion.   Maybe that is why I am floundering  with this project/book?  What I do know is  that I am not really sure how to move  away from  the old landscape genres---ie., the picturesque,  the pastoral and the aerial.   

 One possibility that I have come across is the pathway suggested by  Marion Marrison's  1979  Bonnet Hill Bush series, which consists of a number of photographs of  a patch of suburban scrub near where she lived in Tasmania. As Martin Jolly observes:

"Marrison found a microcosmic Australia literally in her own backyard. And rather than imposing a geometry on it, she finds a geometry within it, visually curating the fallen trunks and branches into an order which registers her own personal point of view, and her own presence as an aesthetic appreciator immersed in the environment — however modestly scaled."

The series takes the viewer deep inside the scrub with the  camera  focused on the ground, picking out fragments of fallen branches, twigs  and foliage. So there is no horizon line or clear sense of scale. 

degraded agricultural landscapes

Sadly,  a lot  of Australia's agricultural landscapes are in the grip of a slow death. It's not just the clear felling of the woodlands  or the   loss of life, that is species (plants and animals) extinction either.  There is also drastic loss in life support systems.  

The plagues of rabbits (introduced to the continent with the first fleet) invaded the rangelands, eating all the vegetation and leaving the soils exposed to wind and rain. Overgrazing by cattle and sheep, particularly during periods of drought, exacerbated problems; in areas where rabbits never flourished, cattle seem to have been equally effective in denuding the country.

 Much of the one quarter of Australia that is not rangelands is being intensively farmed. There is salinity, in many places, and acidity in others, both of which are devastating this farm land.