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.

intimate landscapes

This photo is made from an  ecological perspective on the landscapes that have been produced by the economic development of settler capitalism.    Today there is only scattered remnant vegetation left from the clearance  for agricultural production in the Fleurieu Peninsula. It's not  a pretty picture. 

The photo of an intimate landscape --dead  roadside vegetation--  is the opposite of a nostalgic picture of a cosy,  rural life  to a  harmonious settlement that has its roots in the yeoman tradition in the form of soldier settlements.  The state government,  as a  promoter of economic development,  in the early 20th century  was  also the architect of a desired cultural landscape and social class  that emphasised the virtues of small-scale family owned and operated yeoman farms. 

The ‘ pioneer legend’---which saw white settlement as a battle to win the land, in which humans were evenly pitted against nature---is  now a  form of myth making, given the emergence of agri-businesses and the family farm  becoming all but obsolete.   The pioneer idea, in pitting settlers against the land was not only fruitless, in leading to the ruin of the settlers, but self-defeating in ultimately ruining the land itself.

Sellicks Beach + empire

 The picture below is from a 2015  autumn  photoshoot at Sellicks Beach, a southern coastal beach in Adelaide: 

Photographing the coast is an example of how photography has appropriated the language of  painting---in this case the landscape, in which nature is seen for its own sake.  The  pictorial representation of the landscape in painting  emerges in the 17th century in Europe and reaches its peak in nineteenth century  with Romanticism. The  genre 'landscape' is a way of seeing and there are different views of the land--eg., those of the aboriginal people, white settlers, tourists etc. 

an aboriginal absence

The settler's clearing of the Australian landscape during the white settlement made this land the white man’s.  What is forgotten is the terrible violence meted out to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at – and after – white settlement. There is a refusal, eg., by the Australian War Memorial,   to  tell the story of the violence that raged across the Australian colonial frontier after British invasion and occupation in 1788. That the violence took the form of  a frontier war is often denied. 

The ‘clearing’ of the landscape by the first European settlers forced Indigenous people off their traditional lands and into small Christian missions and government reserves. 

What is noticeable about this landscape is the contemporary absence of Australian Aboriginal culture within the Australian landscape and the impact of European colonisation. You wouldn't know  the history from looking at the pasture land and the scrubland. 

the landscape as the ground of nationhood

The landscape had long been the neglected poor cousin in Australian photography. Landscape photography has remained stagnant since the 1950s, cycling through the same formats of the picturesque, the sublime, the pastoral and the aerial.

It's central historical function, established from painting, is that of being the site where issues of Australian identity were debated. These debates heated up in the 1970s with the political resurgence of the Left; feminism; the resurgence of Aboriginal activism; the impacts of globalization on regional identities; the beginnings of a shift in focus from Europe  and America to Asia; and the beginnings of the modern Green movement's campaigns to save the wilderness.   For instance we understand the significance of the Tasmanian wilderness through all the photographs of it by Olegas Truchanas and  Peter Dombrovskis. 

the picturesque aesthetic

The dominant landscape aesthetic in Australia has been  the picturesque. Traditionally,  in Australia,  this views the earth as raw material  of a novel landscape for asethetic appreciation  of English  colonialist. 

According to William Gilpin in Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty; On Pictureque Travel; and On the Art of Sketching Landscapes the picturesque is situated between the beautiful and the sublime.  Its codes specify that the one centre of interest in the picture should be in the middle ground; the foreground occupies a subsidiary function that introduces the leading subject; a clear planar division to establish the illusion of depth; a variety of contrast rather than smoothness; and a point of view that allows the framing of a limited scene rather than an endless expanse.

If nature exists primarily for the pleasure of the viewer, then the picturesque in Australia was a way of according the  land an aesthetic value that is also imbricated with the  land's economic value. The colonising power adapted the picturesque with the profitable: the colonists  had in mind good pasture for sheep and  cattle and the suitable of the land  for occupation of a European power and its agriculture.

In the colonial picturesque in settler Australia the economic pressures of agruclture and aesthetic conventions are reconciled. It excluded any sign of the aboriginal population,  helped to perpetuate the fiction of terra nullius,  and helped to establish the divide between the barbarism of the Aborigines and the civilization of settler Australia.  

In Native to Nation: Disciplining Landscapes and Bodies in Australia Allaine Cerwonka says that the production  of the  picturesque landscape was an important means by which political and social identity was constructed in white colonial Australia.