Victor Harbor's seaside architecture #3

On Boxing Day 2020 Kayla and I went walking early as we had friends staying with us over Xmas. The  early morning poodlewalk  was along Bridge Terrace in Victor Harbor. We   slowly made our way to the mouth of the Hindmarsh River.  The ephemeral river had stopped flowing,  the light was good and people were already walking along, and exercising on,   the beach   

I decided to take the odd  photo of some of the seaside houses along Bridge Terrace as we walked by them.   This older house in a grand style at no. 22 Bridge Terrace was for sale.

 Would it remain after it was sold? Or would it be pulled down? I  hoped that it was heritage listed as there are very examples of this  old grand seaside architectural style. 

still life

I occasionally  make a still life when I'm out walking with Kayla on an early morning poodlewalk. The materials used in the open studio are what I find washed up on the local beaches. This  picture is a  recent example of such an object: 

This  glass bottle with shells growing on it was lying on the sand on western edge of Depledge Beach, west of Victor Harbor. The picture opens up  a world (the littoral zone) and it discloses the various elements within that world's network of interconnections.  The artwork stands in a particular place and in specific relation to that which is configured around it. So argues Heidegger in his essay,  'The Origin of the Work of Art'. 

seaside entertainment

During the school holidays a funfair or amusement park is set up near the causeway to Granite Island. It is a tiny public space for Girder Family Amusements: a space between the holding pens for the horse drawn carriage to the Granite Island Recreation Park and the barbecue area  in the Soldiers Memorial Gardens. 

But a seaside town must have a funfair with its  ferris wheel, dodgem cars,  inflatable double slides etc etc. It is tradition--just like the horse drawn carriage to Granite Island and the Cockle train to Goolwa. There for the family day tourists.

Victor Harbor's seaside architecture #2

Below  are some more  images in the ongoing series of  suburban architecture at Victor Harbor in South Australia.  These photos, which   were made just prior to the Covid-19 lockdown whilst I was on an early morning poodlewalk with Kayla. They are part of  photography as placemaking.

This is at a time when the global digital photographic market  is contracting and stagnating,  resulting in  Olympus selling off their camera business (a Micro 4/3 system) to a private equity firm.  Covid-19 has  increased the stagnation as  it  has bought photography to more or less  a standstill since February 2020.  One  consequence is that there will inevitably  be  more consolidation in the camera industry and that  the  emphasis  of  my photography  is  on the local due to national travel restricted  and international travel untenable. There will be more  walking locally.  

This white house is on the western end of The Esplanade. It overlooks the beach, is opposite a caravan park and it is  near the mouth of the ephemeral Inman River. Kayla and I  often walk past it on the return leg of the  walk that we do along the Esplanade beach from Kent Reserve.  

 This house is at the other  end of The Esplanade and it looks out to Granite Island. 

Victor Harbor's seaside architecture #1

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown  Kayla and I went on an early morning  poodlewalk   around  the streets that border the estuary, lagoon  and mouth of the Hindmarsh River. This is an older,  residential part of Victor Harbor  and it overlooks  the railway line to the river port town of Goolwa, the beach  and Encounter Bay. The houses are on a hill and their  view of Encounter Bay includes Granite Island. 

An early part  of the walk on this occasion was  the western part of the suburb of Hayborough. This is a well established part of Victor Harbor with many of the houses tucked away amongst the bush overlooking the Hindmarsh estuary and so difficult to photograph.  Privacy is everything for the old Adelaide money.   Fortunately, this particular house  is not tucked away: 

Another part of  our  walk was  along Bridge Terrace in Victor Harbor that   is just west of the mouth of  Hindmarsh River  This residential part of Victor Harbor overlooks a reserve and Encounter Bay, and runs from the the Granite Island causeway  to Bridge PoInt, which   overlooks the estuary and mouth of the Hindmarsh River

The purpose of the poodlewalk was to have a break from both  walking the back country roads  and  photographing the coastal rocks. landscape.  I also wanted  to  photograph some of  the residential  architecture  before some of these fine,   old buildings are pulled down to make way for the newer double storey  McMansion style homes.  

belonging place

This picture was made on an early autumn morning along Franklin Parade in Encounter Bay, Victor Harbor. Franklin Parade  runs close to the beach, and it is where  the old beachside houses from the 20th century are rapidly  being replaced with the larger two story ones. 

I was on a poodlewalk with Kayla along the Encounter Bay beach.  It  was just after sunrise:

Encounter Bay is now my belonging place (home) in the sense that this is where my self belongs. It is where my identity formation as a photographer has formed. A sense of grounding in place provides a solid basis on which to build a sense of identity. This carries with it a sense of responsibility of caring for place that feeds back into, and reinforces, the cohesion of a sense of place. It implies how we as a geographically bounded community collectively learn to live with one another on this earth. 

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.   

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.  

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. 

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.