Land and landscape

The  landscape b+w picture below of roadside vegetation in Waitpinga on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula is from the archives. It was recently shared with the Melbourne-based Friends of Photography Group (FOPG).  

The subtext of landscape art in Australia has been resolutely national; indeed, national identity—the Australianness of Australian  art--tacitly assumed the primacy of the nation. I would have thought that the concept of empire would be central,  since Australia was part of  the British empire.  An example would be the early colonial painters such as John Glover,  who struggled to reconcile the Australian landscape with the confines of the picturesque, the dominant landscape aesthetic of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. The picturesque was in effect the visual language of the colonisers--it highlighted the beauty rather than the hardships of imperial lands, depicting colonial Australia as a land ripe for settlement. 

outcrop, near Kings Head

This landscape picture is of a rocky outcrop just west of Kings Head in Waitpinga on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. It  was made on an early morning poodlewalk that Kayla and I did.  We hadn't been to this  location  to photograph since the autumn of 2019.  

It was  an overcast morning in late summer, on the cusp of summer and autumn. It was after a storm had just passed through Victor Harbor a few days earlier. The outcrop is on the Heysen Trail, but it  can only be accessed when  the  tide is low.   

roadside vegetation: a study

I have been slowly photographing the roadside vegetation in my local area on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula with large format cameras--in this case  a 5x4 Linhof Technika IV. This kind of slow photography  is an attempt to photograph nature whilst avoiding  working within the tradition of wilderness photography, which is where a lot of large format photographers in Australia have situated themselves and their work.

The roadside vegetation subject matter  is often mundane, ordinary and boring. It requires a lot of scoping to find something  that is  suitable to photograph,  and  I basically do the scoping whilst I am on my daily poodle walks along back country roads. These  walks allow me to become familiar with the bush and  early morning light during the autumn, winter and early spring months.   

This particular tree study emerged from my frequent early morning poodle walks along Baum Rd in  Waitpinga  It's a no exit road that runs between agricultural /grazing fields and it leads to  farms and  holiday houses along the coastal edge  of the Waitpinga  Cliffs. This minimal traffic means that this  road  is ideal for early morning poodle walks.

granite formation, Kings Head

This picture is from the archives. It  was made in 2013 at Kings Head, Waitpinga, just below Kings Beach Retreats.  We were still living in Adelaide's CBD at the time,  and coming down to Encounter Bay every second weekend. 

This  photo session incorporated  a poodlewalk to Kings Head  from the car park at Kings Head Rd   and back again. This walk  is part  of the Heysen Trail  to Waitpinga Beach in the Newland Heads Conservation Park,  and then to the Trail's starting point at  Cape Jervis.      

 I remembered this image when I uploaded  this digital version, which was made 5 years latter as a scoping study. The above  picture  is a 5x4 scanned colour file  that has been converted into black and white. So I had already made the 5x4 picture (along with several medium format versions made in the same year) that I was scoping for in January 2018.  My memory was that the previous 5x4 attempt hadn't been successful--people said they didn't think much of the image -- so I felt that I needed to  have another go.    Hence the  digital scoping. 

an alienated art

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

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

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

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

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

the poetics of homecoming

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

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

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

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

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.  

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.