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.
In an exhibition at the Braemer Galley entitled Different Ways of looking at our World Mike Stacey, Len 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.