tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Fleurieuscapes 2017-11-08T10:33:37Z Gary Sauer-Thompson tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1203970 2017-11-08T03:23:13Z 2017-11-08T10:33:37Z seascapes

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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1189916 2017-09-09T09:18:42Z 2017-09-09T09:42:47Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1172133 2017-07-10T11:40:48Z 2017-07-10T12:17:28Z 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?

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1168701 2017-06-29T03:21:02Z 2017-07-15T01:18:56Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1167925 2017-06-27T01:43:30Z 2017-06-29T08:45:30Z 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). ]]>
Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1164722 2017-06-17T04:09:35Z 2017-06-18T04:33:54Z 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.

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1160385 2017-06-04T02:04:44Z 2017-06-04T03:06:17Z 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.  

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1159861 2017-06-02T03:39:45Z 2017-06-03T05:40:55Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1138563 2017-03-14T09:42:51Z 2017-03-14T10:16:19Z 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.

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/974527 2016-01-20T07:43:24Z 2016-01-21T08:29:02Z 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.

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/928823 2015-11-06T22:16:14Z 2015-11-07T02:29:03Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/858506 2015-05-20T00:53:43Z 2015-05-20T00:53:43Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/696985 2014-05-28T05:13:50Z 2014-09-18T02:19:11Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376615 2012-11-14T02:42:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z 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. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376616 2012-04-24T05:14:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z topographics and altered landscapes

I introduced the term 'altered landscapes' in an earlier post  when mentioning that the  landscape of the Fleuriu Peninsula has been extensively  cleared  so that it could  become productive  farming country.

Altered landscapes, in the art historical context, refers to the influential 1975 exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester New York  entitled New Topgraphics: Photographs of a Man Altered Landscape. It was curated by William Jenkins and included Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore and Henry Wessel Jr.  

In the catalogue Jenkins defined the common denominator of the show as "a problem of style" "stylistic anonymity", an alleged absence of style with a strong claim for objectivity and emotional neutrality. He says: 

It must be made clear that “New Topographics” is not an attempt to validate one category of pictures to the exclusion of others. As individuals the photographers take great pains to prevent the slightest trace of judgment of opinion from entering their work . . . This viewpoint, which extends throughout the exhibition, is anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic. The exhibition, as an entity separate from the photographers, will hopefully carry the same non-judgmental connotation as the pictures which comprise it. If “New Topographics has a central purpose it is simply to postulate, at least for the time being, what it means to make a documentary photograph.

At the time this collection of mostly black and white photographs by ten photographers (only Stephen Shore photographed in colour) was interpreted as a deadpan documentation of the contemporary banal urbanscape, and it was placed in opposition to the monumental photography of nature along the lines of Ansel Adams that elevated the natural,  the elemental and  the idealized.

It was deemed to be an aesthetic of the banal that was made by machines. Thus the old  modernist view of photography  as the anti-aesthetic medium par exellence, in virtue of its mechanical nature and casual  basis, returns.  Modernism's notion of a disinterested and self-sufficient art was premised  on positivism--on Wittgenstein's  logical positivism and langiuage philosophy.  

In spite  of the inclusion of  Bernd and Hilla Becher, then teaching at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (Germany), the  'deadpan documentation'  of the suburban sprawl of motels, parking lots, neon signs shops, industrial buildings,  and tract houses  was linked back to  the 19th century topographic work of Timothy O'Sullivan (old topographics?)  rather than  to Walker EvansJenkins mentioned Edward Ruscha's work, especially the numerous artist books (“26 Gasoline Stations” (1962), “Various Small Fires” (1964), “34 Parking Lots” (1967), etc.) that he self-published in the 1960s as one of the inspirations for the exhibition.  

What was actually offered, of course, was more of a  particular interpretation of the American western landscape than topographics per se. The Bechers understood  the latter in terms of multiple  photographs of the same objects that are displayed in grids. The images of structures with similar functions are  displayed side by side to invite viewers to compare their forms and designs based on function, regional idiosyncrasies, or the age of the structures.

Tthe title of Twentysix Gasoline Stations was selected in advance of the photographs and Ruscha followed a predetermined route in his car on Route 66 and systematically recorded just the gas stations in a deadpan way. The instruction, or rule governed performance, (record 26 gasoline stations on Route 6) can be understood as evading authorial or artistic agency and generating chance operations.  Ruscha's understanding of photography --the amateur snapshot's recoding of just facts  brings together authorial abnegration, indexicality and openenss to chance.  For all of Jenkin's curatorial gesture to Ed Ruscha and conceptual art, it was only Lewis Blatz and the Bechers themselves who worked in a conceptual grid like way.

It was an interpretation of the contemporary American urbanscape as a site for critical cultural inquiry and a rethinking of the landscape tradition; one that  expressed the growing unease about how the natural landscape was being eroded and damaged by industrial development and the spread of cities. The  significance  of this mode of picture making is that it  offered a way for photographers to represent  the "landscape" without the  notions of the picturesque or the sublime. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376617 2012-04-22T00:41:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z pictures and the 'white cube'

Brian O’Doherty’s “Inside the White Cube”, which  was originally published as a series of three articles in Artforum in 1976, and then subsequently collected in a book of the same name, has a simple  but powerful argument about exhibitions spaces in art galleries  in a world where our experience is governed by pictures. Pictures in newspapers and magazines, on television and in the cinema. 

O'Doherty argued that the familiar gallery space is not a neutral container, but a historical construct. Furthermore, it is an aesthetic object in and of itself. The ideal form of the white cube that modernism developed for the gallery space is inseparable from the artworks exhibited inside it. Indeed, the white cube not only conditions, but also overpowers the artworks themselves in its shift from placing content within a context to making the context itself the content. 

The white cube is conceived as a place free of context, where time and social space are thought to be excluded from the experience of artworks. It is only through the apparent neutrality of appearing outside of daily life and politics that the works within the white cube can appear to be self-contained—only by being freed from historical time can they attain their aura of timelessness. 

The white cube establishes a crucial dichotomy between that which is to be kept outside (the social and the political) and that which is inside (the staying value of art). The gallery space is saturated with ideology.  The white cube was constructed in order to give the artworks a timeless quality (and thus, lasting value) in both an economic and a political sense. It was a space for the immortality of a certain class's cultural values, as well as a staging ground for objects of sound economic investment for possible buyers. 

The task of critical art  becomes one of reflecting upon  and restaging this space. This is what happened in the 1970s. Firstly, there was  the postmodern critique of the art gallery system by  Douglas Crimp in his  On The Museum's Ruins,  a  collection of essays originally published in Parachute and October in the 1980s. In the lead essay   Crimp argued that the art gallery or museum is an enclosure of decaying and dead objects.

Secondly, photography  in the 1980s concerned itself with issues around representation, ideology, truth and reality. It was a part of both the questioning of documentary photography's value as a witness to history and  the analyses of the  impact of  photography  on  visual art. 

 Walter Benjamin in his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction essay said that  the primary question was not whether photography was art, but whether the invention of photography  had transformed thevery nature of art.  Few, however,  had taken  seriously photography's power to transform  visual art--ie., painting.  


For modernists, it was painting that sets the agenda for post-war art, and for John Szarkowski at MOMA, that meant an art  stripped of its extraneous features  can be made from the elementary properties of its medium. That meant  to make art from, and about, art. Hence the modernist challenge to transform photography into painting.  

In his On The Museum's Ruins essay   however,  Crimp  used  the  photographs  of Robert Rauschenberg  to argue that photography began to conspire with painting in its own destruction. The notions of   originality, authenticity  and aura that are essential to the ordered discourse of the modernist art gallery are undermined  by the techniques of quotation, repetition, excerptation and confiscation of already existing images. 

Though the  presentation of visual art in the white cube continues to  exist---and it  is still the dominant mode of presentation-- different spaces have been  opened up. These  allow for  other kinds of  relationships between the art work, the space and the viewer; one  in which art and life are reconnected, and history is included. 

The backlash to postmodernism came in the 1990s  in the form of a reaction against theory ---a backlash to questions about language, the structure of signification, subjectivity and power. This backlash the influence of European philosophy (Jacques Derrida) and cultural theorists like Walter Benjamin --the  culture wars --  unseated the critic in the name of the beauty and freedom of art.  

The conservative's desire was to shoot down the idea that philosophy-- or more specifically the dreaded deconstruction of  the theorists---  can ever tell us anything about the visual arts.  Their rhetoric  is that the humanities have been taken over by the left   and  they that tear up the visual arts (and literature)  and reassemble it to say what they think it says.

In doing so they resist the physical and aesthetic pleasures of the image  (and the text) and the individual's experience of art.   Our emotional response to artworks---aesthetic experience---is what matters.

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376618 2012-02-11T04:43:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z art history's blindness

I've started reading Jane Hylton's The Painted Coast: Views of the Fleurieu Peninsula in order to gain a sense of the visual history of this part of South Australia from the 1840s to the present. It's a catalogue of an exhibition of 200 images held at the Art Gallery of the South Australia in Adelaide  in the 1990s.

The strength of this text is that it  is an archive of our cultural memory of this region in a global world.  The art gallery is functioning both as a temple and as an educational institution in representing the region to itself and others. 

Artists in the text are reduced to painters and there is no exploration of the interrelationship between photography and painting or painting and film. Painting exists in its own universe, even though most of the images produced of the Fleurieu Peninsula in our image based culture would now be digital photographs.

The art historical curator's argument is that the movement of this local landscape  tradition comes from genius  painters influencing other painters to produce their masterpieces.The art gallery is a refuge of a hermetically sealed art,  and the criterion for determining the order of aesthetic objects throughout the modernist era was the "self-evident" quality of masterpieces.  

This erasure of photography is ironic given the demise of painting arguments about painting's exhaustion that were circulating through the art institution in the 1980s. Painting as a central mode of modernist practice was also radically displaced in the 1960s by what has come to be called conceptual art, and also by the increasing engagement with lens-based media, photography video, and ultimately digital technologies.One of the things that Conceptual Art in the 1960s attempted was the dismantling of the hierarchy of media according to which painting (sculpture trailing slightly behind) is assumed inherently superior to, most notably, photography.   

Even though Hylton was a curator of Australian Art at the Art Gallery of South Australia photography and film play no role  in this art history of the Fleurieu Peninsula. It's only the work of the  painters that matter,  and it is assumed that the other visual media had no influence on what and how they painted. Or if it did it is insignificant.

This is art history narrowly defined and behind it sits the institutional authority of the  art gallery.This holds that painting estsblishes the visual and intellectual  visual frame and that photography can be respectable only insofar as it repeats or rehearses the pictorial strategies of painting. 

This traditional art history of pictures reduces our visual culture to painting,  and it rejects the idea that in the late 20th centry painting has become one kind of image amongst many including prints, photography, film, video, and television or televisuality.  There is a sense that art history has to keep at bay the new media to defend its traditional terrain and  to protect its boundaries. It is defensive because there is no re-thinking of the traditional frame of art history that is being deployed by Hylton.

I appreciate that there was a return to expressionist painting in the 1980s but this post conceptual-period also witnessed the emergence of photographic works of large scale and in colour (eg., Jeff Wall, Andreas Gurskey, Thomas Ruff, Gregory Crewdson)  in the art institution. The shift is towards producing big pictures whether in photography or paint and it places the viewer in front of a single large, recognizable  picture that is intelligible at first glance. The big picture has visual authority.  

Hence there are  good grounds to talk in terms of the crisis of the art gallery and to  call into question  the powerful fiction that presents art as a coherent system and art history as its ideal order. Photography disrupted modernism's discourse on originality and the irreducibility --the aura ---of the unique object, forming a faultline along which the sensibility of postmodernism began to coalesce. 

However, the modernist fetsh of art has, to a large extent, transformed photography from a subversive element within modernism to yet another avante-garde strategy in the art institution.  

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376619 2012-01-28T06:36:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z photography + abstraction

Some of my rock studies of the rockfaces of the granite  coastline west of Victor Harbor move towards abstraction have as their reference point the pictures taken by  Charles Bayliss of the Jenolan Caves in NSW in the 1880s. 

I know very little about  the avant garde and modernist abstraction in mid-20th century Adelaide in both photography and painting. It has been widely assumed that photography was about representation; no matter how off-register, its subject matter was shaped by our sense of objective reality.Yet abstraction has been intrinsic to photograph from  its  beginning with Henry Fox Talbot--eg., the direct capture of light without a camera (Laszlo Moholy-Nagy photograms), digital sampling found images, radical cropping, and various deliberate destablizations of photographic reference.

However, Helen Ennis in  the 'Introduction' to her Photography and Australia says that: 

The one constant in photographic practice in Australia is so striking it warrants identification at the start--the orientation towards realism. Those using photogrpahy in Australia have long been preoccupied with  the physical, material aspects of life rather than its metaphysical or spiritual dimension. Consequently, there is a weightiness to the great majority of Australian photographs---overwhelming they are of 'things', including actions and events, which have a concrete reality and verifiable independent existence. ...For most of the twentieth centry, inward looking-looking approaches, whether symbolist, surrealist, or abstract, never really took hold.

It is strange that Ennis equates abstraction with inward looking, spiritual, metaphsyical,  rather than objective form, light, tone, colour given the hegemony of modernist in the art insitution.   

My art history understanding is that  the modernist abstraction movement in painting  emeged in Sydney with Ralph Balson and Grace Cowley etc in the 1930s. Sydney was metropolitan, Adelaide was provincal whilst Melbourne rejected abstraction for figurative painting e.g., John Brack.

Bernard Smith  in his Australian Painting (I have the 2nd Edition)  does say that  the contemporary art movement in Adelaide in the 1950s included a strand of abstract expressionism due to the arrival of migrant artists from central Europe, such as  Wladyslaw Dutkiewicz and Ludwig Dutkiewicz, who lived and worked in Adelaide for the rest of their lives.  

But there are no images of their work in Smith's seminal text.  His argument is that good art does not arrive from the European messengers setting foot in the country, but from the provincal visual tradition being transformed by the innovations from overseas. 

It [the finest art] has arisen not as the immediate point of impact of the novel metropolitan style upon the slower moving provinvcal style, but latter, when the innovation  has found a creative point of accommodation with the sluggish provincal tradition which, though out of  date by the standards of its metropolitan sources, has put down its roots in the environment of the country. (p.334)

The inference is that nothing much happened in Adelaide that was of interest to the modern art movement in Australia. Sydney became metropolitan--it drew its creative energies and dynamism from within itself---whilst  Adelaide remained a cultural  province with its sluggish and conservative visual arts. Adelaide, as a cultural backwater, looked to Sydney for innovation and new styles.

So we have a black hole in art history of the art institution --we don't really know what kind of abstraction took  place in the visual arts --painting, printing  and photography---in the 1950s and 1960s in Adelaide. This other history has to be excauvated. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376620 2012-01-21T05:49:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z altered landscapes

Although people from Adelaide use their 4 wheel drives  to go to Victor Harbor to escape their  daily work routines and  relax in nature,  the landscape around the coastline is an altered landscape. Apart from the Deep Creek Conservation Park in the south west corner of the Fleurieu Peninsula  the landscape is farming country.

The native bush  or scrub has been cleared for the grazing  of sheep and cattle.  The landscape has a bare or denuded look. It is stripped, stark  country.

There is very little native bush left outside the conservation parks. Most of  what is left  is on the  side  of the unsealed  back country roads, or along the various creek beds that run through  private property. 

 Remnant roadside vegetation is a distinctive feature of rural environments in southern Australia and there is ongoing and incremental degradation of  this vegetation, often due to illegal clearance.  Roadside vegetation is in a general state of decline throughout South Australia and it is increasingly uncommon to find roadsides that contain high quality remnant native vegetation.  

If roadside vegetation is often the only remaining original vegetation in cleared landscapes, then this may bethe only hoe for soem species in that locality.  There is not enough to  form a linear habitat network  for vertebrates and invertebrates. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376621 2012-01-01T03:23:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z photographic histories

In her Other histories: photography and Australia essay Helen Ennis says that up to the late 1960s a strict hierarchy operated  in art history in Australia. In this  hierarchy the traditional art forms of painting, and to a lesser degree sculpture, were regarded as most important, followed by drawing and printmaking. Art photography was mostly confined to a medium specific realm, rarely penetrating the larger art world. It occupied a peripheral position in relation to mainstream art practice in the art institution. 

Moreover, as Geoffrey Batchen, points in his essay  ‘Australian made’,  in  his Each Wild Idea: Writing, Photography, History, Australia's photographic history is:

positioned, when it is thought of it all, as no more than a supplement to The History of Photography as we have come to know it through Helmut Gersheim and Beaumont Newhall  and all their more recent followers. This establishment history, already circumscribed by its monotonous quest for orginality, priority, and the heights of artistic sensibilty, has by and large confined its attention to developments in France and Britain in the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth.  As a consequence, no photographs from Australia are featured in its hallowed lineup of masterworks.   

Since the scholarly  history of Australian photographic tradition was only constructed in the 1980s Australian art photographers (photography as 'self-expression')  took their bearings from American art photography in the 1960 and 1970s. 

The regional or Australian history of art photographic that emerged late in the 1980s was premised on the modernist, essentialist approach championed by Szarkowski and others with its conventions and categories  of artistic genius, an oeuvre, innovation, technical excellence, period style and rarity. Modernist formalism ruled.  

 Gael Newton in her  Shades of Light: Photography and Australia 1839-1988 was  an attempt to establish some sort of local artistic tradition for the medium.  The above  categories were simplified into ‘pictorial power’ and ‘artistic merit’  and the  text was premised on the  search for exceptional images produced by a few clebrated photographers. It was organized into photographic art history's  stylistic categories of pictorialism, modernism, documentary and  postmodernism.  

Given this history of our visual culture both the representation of the landscape in Australian  visual culture and the  visual language  of that tradition have been established by painting  and the  books on painting by art historians. In order to see how the Fleurieu Peninsula has been visually represented in the past we need to turn to the modernist painters of the 1940s-1960s, such as  Dorrit Black, James CantKathleen Sauerbier and Dora Chapman.

The painter that is the most significant for me is James Cant's representations of the local  bush and scrub around Aldinga and Willunga. Less important is  Lee Friedlander's  interesting photographs of  trees and shrubs in the US are not as crucial, as these do not refer to this particular place. Nor did I know about  the colonial photography produced in  the nineteenth century as the first South Australian survey history of photography, A Century in Focus: South Australian Photography 1840s-1940s by  Julie Robertson and Maria Zaagla,  was not produced until  2007. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376622 2011-12-14T00:57:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z landscape detail + the non-identical

Often it is the detail in the landscape  along the coastline of Victor Harbor that is significant. It is not the big panorama images  or the picturesque, which has been absorbed by the  tourist aesthetic to sell the tourist product for discerrning consumers seeking a quality experience. 

But it is difficult to represent the details in terms of the identity of the landscape: what we have is ordinariness and familiarity or the simple being there  of  particular objects in the material world but which do appear strange. They are near but far.    

We are familiar with the landscape from being in it, but though it is ordinary, nondescript and banal it also eludes us and slips away from us. What eludes us is the non-identical. It doesn't fit our comfortable categories and it slips away from them.

The image  becomes enigmaticas they have the duality of being determinate and indeterminate.They become questions marks because of  their unfamiliarity and we apprehend them  apart from the dominate synthesizing function of our everyday categories. 

The way or the path is into  the "non-identity" between "concept and object, mind and matter, the individual and nature". The landscape, in contrast to philosophy,    pa foregrounds the "primacy of the object" over thought and the "non-identity" between concept and object.  Modern philosophy, in contrast,  has privileged thought and its concepts and,  as a result, philosophy has not done justice to that in the object which does not fit under the rigid classifying gaze of our concepts.  

If the recognition of conceptual limits necessarily leads to conceptual attempts to overcome them, then the  non-identical resists this. The landscape detail in  recognizing the limitations to our conceptual understanding and the irreducibility of objects to our concepts, assists the non-identical against the idenity represented by the static systems of concepts embodied in the  tourist aesthetic.  

In a world of becoming  the non-identical lets us recognize the limitations to conceptual understanding, the dependence of our concepts upon objects, and the irreducibility of objects to our concepts. What is left behind by the concept is not an inaccessible and indefinable X as it represents a turn  to our embodied existence in the world.  

This path here is away from the particular object  to an experience of the object standing in a pattern of relations to other  particulars---a historically sedimented constellation. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376623 2011-11-12T03:34:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z Part one: Landscapes, tourism, the picturesque

My first photographs during my early visits to the seaside town of Victor Harbor in South Australia were of the granite rocks that helped form the foreshore between  Rosetta Head and Kings Head. It was a favourite place to  walk with the dogs when I was holiday in on the coast and I started to  take the odd snap. 

 Eventually I  returned without the dogs  to take photos of the individual rocks that I'd seen whilst on the walks; more often than not I was  working with  slow film, a medium format camera,  tripod and longish exposures. I was operating with already formed picturesque images in my head from the local tourism advertisments of natural scenery. 

I slowly shifted away from a moody romantic style of bird's eye views of the coastline  with dark foreboding  skies---the sublime--- to the detail of the coastalscape.   I became very aware of the light during the day,  and I gained a local knowledge of when was the best time to photograph that particular part of the coastline and in what season.  

I wasn't thinking in terms of a philosophy of nature,  mythic landscapes, or the memories of past landscapes of my childhood in New Zealand. Nor did  the painters of the sublime in landscape --- JMW Turner, Albert Bierstadt, Caspar David Friedrich,   John Martin or Eugene Von Guérard --have much impact.  I had no knowledge of the importance of Claude Lorraine's topographical representations of the natural wold  for landscape painting: namely, the way the landscape was organized along three planes: a background with undefined details; a darkened foreground and a strongly lit middle gound with a framing device (trees o frsides of mountainss) designed to draw the viewers attention to the highlighted middle distance. 

 Though I was aware of some of the work about  the Fleurieu Peninsula  done by the early South Australian modernist painters I pretty much photographed what was in front of me.  It was that basic and naive. I had no idea of  the eighteenth century's aesthetic categories of the beautiful and the sublime, or how the picturesque was a hybrid category that mediated the other two in order to represent those objects that were rough to be beautiful and too small to be terrifying.  

It was the kitschy tourist postcards in the gift shops and news agents, which  resonated with my pre-formed image, that I was reacting to.  What eventuated was  a more classical modernist  photographic approach, as the photography became a training ground in terms of composition of the picture,  texture, tone,  lighting, colour and the overall design of the image.  

The Fleuieu Peninsula  has an interesting coastline and it's largely been  ignored, apart from the standard heavily saturated tourist images in the postcards, calenders  and the more popular photographic books about the Australian landscape.  This is the tourist aesthetic designed as guides for travellers,  with their  picturesque  conventions that shape the way tourists can appreciate the landscape and promise certain experiences of natural beauty.  

The pictureque constructs the landscape as scenery: you stop off at certain points in your journey to admire the view  of the rugged contours of wild nature. This is done from a specific viewpoint that encourages the tourist to  take a photo according to  certain aesthetic critiera related to the proportioning middle distance, planar recession,  graduated light and dark areas. It is a reaction to the rigid geometery of the cities and urban settlement and provides a way to perveive visual qualities in nature.

Australia didn't have those ruins of old castles and monasteries in the landscape that had been worn down by the weatherand overgrown by weeds  that featured so heavily in the eighteenth century European picturesque. Australia's twentieth century picturesque expressed nature's otherness to  the modern city, with  its freeways, supermarkets and airports,  with an off-freeway world being pictorally packaged as a spectacle for tourists. The actual landscape  is caught in a frame, fixed as a still, and made ready for the market as portable property. 

The City of Victor Harbor, for instance,  packaged itself as a tourist town--as a living gallery of landscape pictures--and this packaging is a part of  our mass visual culture.  This place branding accepts a landscape that had been permanently  transformed by farming, railways  and roads and it highlights what is eye pleasing and spiritually fulfilling. The new pictureque  mapped what was considered to be painterly--a visual romanticism that functioned as a practical aethetic of beauty  for  tourists and photographers. 

The new picturesque is controlled by the tourism industry and it functioned to reconcile people with the  seaside world around them. It markets the landscape as promising an experience of nature that is evocative, inspiring and emotionally pleasing. The promise of beauty and variety is similar to the  same kind of experience sought by the romantic travellers of the eighteenth century. 

The local photographers who live and work in the Fleurieu Peninsula, and who are producing images for postcards, calendars and other promotional material,  are basically producing images of what they believe the tourists to the region imagine they want to see.  In doing so they are perpeturating the dominant visual conventions of the picturesque  constructed in the eighteenth century Britain,  and repoduced over time in Australia within the landscape tradition.

They  continue to express the pictureques convention of containing  the wild, irregular and rugged characteristics of nature within a refined and perfected form so that it could be consumed and appreciated by tourists and locals in a comfortable and controlled way. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376624 2011-11-06T09:02:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z Preface: contra Romanticism and wilderness photography

Wilderness photography and its aesthetics of wild places is not suitable approach to photographing Victor Harbor and the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It forces the need to rethink wilderness as an island in sea of urban-industrial modernity; as the last place where industrial capitalism has not fully destroyed the earth.   

The  coastal town is situated on the cusp of land and sea with a lot of the landscape along the coastline transformed into  farmland. Part of this (dairy) farmland is now being sold off for housing. Victor Harbor and the other towns on the coast  are altered landscapes;  not wild places,  such as the south-west Tasmanian wildernesss photographed by Peter Dombrovskis.

Dombrovskis' photography  was an art whose picturesque conventions were placed in the service of nature conservation and environmental protection and it criticised civilization in the name of preserving the natural  beauty  of wilderness. This kind of wilderness  photography can  be understood as those images that are grounded in the rugged, masculine  individual's intimacy with nature.  This photography, which is very popular with the public, has been ignored, shunned even, by the modernist art institution.

 In an exhibition at the Braemer Galley entitled Different Ways of looking at our World Mike StaceyLen Metcalf and Ian Brown, in a common statement, state that their common conception of  wilderness photography  emerges from:

 much of their life engrossed  in the natural world, bushwalking, rockclimbing, skiing, mountaineering, wandering… and seeing. Their images are grounded in an intimacy with nature that emerges through long experience, up close and slow with the bush, the birds and the rocks, the wind, the water. [They] try to capture the grandeur and nuance of nature, selecting subjects of power and subtlety from what, at first glance, can be an overwhelming abundance of subject matter. By immersing themselves calmly in a place, they seek the spiritual in nature, extending the notion of beauty into the ethereal; the true essence of what surrounds us.  

This kind of wilderness photography goes beyond natural beauty and unique artistic vision to the transcendental---to the spiritual and the ethereal as the essence of natural beauty and natural being. Len Metcalf states this explicitly:

As a conservationist I believe that mother nature is the creative and controlling primary force in the universe. While creating my art in magical locations I am reminded of the interconnectedness of our world. ....Currently the direction of my work strives to move away from the current ‘landscape photographer’ status quo, in an attempt to discover a Modern Australian Landscape Style. One where the artwork is timeless, unique and the photographs illustrate the spiritual within nature. I search for a unique vision in my search for significant form. 

The roots of this philosophy of nature  are in  Romanticism and its deism and sense of the sublime.  Romanticism's concept of the sublime is grounded in those  wild places that inspire awe and fear,  and its enthusiasm is for the strange, remote, primitive  and the mysterious. Wilderness, as a landscape where the supernatural lay just beneath the surface, was expressed in the asthetics of the sublime.  

In Australia wilderness became uniquely Australian---wilderness had no counterpart  in the Old World-- and it became a cultural and moral resource that formed the basis for national self-esteem in oppostion to the provinciality of Australia compared to the history and tradition of Europe.  It was in the wildness of its nature that Australia was unmatched. Hence the tight fit between the landscape traditon and nationality expressed in the Heidleberg School.  

 

Although Victor Harbor was a refuge from the anxieties and hollowness of society and making money in Adelaide it was civilization, given the way that its history of  whaling, pioneering, farming, and seaside holday resort was premised on the conquest of nature.  So an art photography of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula  needs to explore  both the landscape and the built urbanscape,  and the way that these have been historically transformed.

Though some of the rhizomatic roots of this work are located with the American version of the  topographic movement  the cultural tradtions of wilderness  remain important to us because they  require us to critically examine what kind of marks we humans want to leave on the natural world. The photography in this book is one  informed by environmentalism. 

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376625 2011-10-30T01:59:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z Introduction: a sense of place

Our connection to Victor Harbor as a place, as opposed to a tourist location, came with the decision by Suzanne's parents-- Bruce and Marjorie Heath---to retire to this region of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula  from Melbourne.  

Suzanne's  parents built  their  retirement house near Rosetta Head, and though Bruce, died in 1980 just after the house was built, Marjorie lived in the house until her death in 1997. Both Bruce and Marjorie loved the local landscape of the Fleurieu Peninsula.  This place--it was bounded by Aldinga, Kangaroo Island,  and lakes Alexandrina and Albert  near the mouth of the River Murray---became their home. 

Gary meet Suzanne in 1993  and we used to visit Marjorie on weekends and  public holidays. Whilst staying at Solway Cresent  Gary started taking photographs of the local landscape.These were  in the pre-digital days  of film cameras when all the work--processing and printing --- was done by the professional photography labs. 

Suzanne and her sister Barbara inherited the house when Marjorie died,  and Suzanne bought Barbara out, primarly because Suzanne lived in Adelaide whilst Barbara lived in Brisbane. Suzanne and Gary continued to visit on weekends and holidays.

Solway Cresent became a weekender. Over the next decade Victor Harbor became a place,   a  home away from the inner city apartment  in Adelaide's CBD and the world of work. The region became a place in that we developed a sense of human attachment and belonging.

The photography became an expression of our  sense of place, a way of giving meaning to this geographic space. We started to realize that the landscape of the Fleurieu Peninsula had its own identity. The local painters exhibiting in the local art galleries were pre-modernist in that their paintings were of gum tree a la Hans Heysen or Horace Hurtle Trenerry,  rural cottages, or picturesque seascapes with their  blue sky and sea.  

Modernism was not solely an urban phenopmenon as there  the modernist painters of the Fleurieu Peninsula   such as Dorrit Black, Dora Chapman and James Cant in the 1940's -1970s. The local visual art scene was either  unaware of, or had fogotten,  this body of work,  or the regional culture  was indifferent to abstraction and  the abstract expressionist representations of the locality. What was missing was Black's emphasis on the form of the landscape;  Cant's closely observed  paintings of the undergrowth and minutia of the Australian bush or scrub; Chapman's  abstractions of eucalepts; or the surrealism of Ivor Francis.   

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Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:thoughtfactory.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376626 2011-10-29T05:04:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:08Z Preface: a DIY experiment

I've been thinking about doing a DIY book about my local seaside neighbourhood at Victor Harbor, South Australia for some time now. We've been coming down to the weekender from Adelaide regularly---it's been 15 years I think. I've been taking photos here and around the Fleurieu Peninsula for a number of years. 

Up to now I've been content to publish some of the photos  on my Flickr stream,  on my photoblog, Rhizomes1, and on poodlewalks, my visual diary.  Now I fell the need to begin to select the Victor Harbor photographs into some kind of project.

But what kind? I don't really know. Therein lies a problem, which  I will have to confront sometime in the future. So the book will be designed as a process of puttintg it together. 

I'm going to begin by using the Posterous  micro publishing platform to publish the images and text that would then form the raw material for  the book. I would then have something on the desktop  to work with, as opposed to it just being  an idea in my head. The result would be a first draft, as it were.

I've been wanting to make the shift to DIY publishing for some time,  but I've never found a way to cull the visual material for the book from what I am taking.  So Posterous is being used to help me address the culling problem.

 I'm not that  interested in making money by selling lots of books. That's a dream. So too is making the photobook as an art object in the Japanese tradition of Kohei Sugiura.  I'm more interested in putting together a well packaged and interesting book, and  acquiring the digital skills and knowledge from dong so.  

I understand that Independent publishing is flourishing thanks to on-demand printing. The trend to make, edit, design and produce your own photobook appears to have become  an underground phenomenon in our digital world.  

One advantage of the DIY book is that it enable the art photographer to sidestep the exhibition space of the art gallery system, which has become increasingly closed as the digital revolution transforms our visual culture. Its a reworking of the old idea of Salon de Refusés.  

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Gary Sauer-Thompson