photography, the internet, art history

One of the consolations of struggling with large format photography is that a narrative of  art that had been objectively stated in the history of art,  had come to an end. We large format photographers  now live in an art world defined by the internet -- art objects are created with a consciousness of these networks within which it exists  from conception and production to dissemination and reception. Internet art defies the conventional art museum/gallery model that has dominated the art world  for so long. Though photographers continue to exhibit their work in galleries,  screens like computers, iPads  and smartphones are now the primary mode by which contemporary art is seen.

Art history is generally thought of as a linear progression of one movement or style after another (Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism,  Abstract Expressionism  etc.), punctuated by the influence of individual geniuses (Delacroix, Courbet, Monet, Cézanne, Manet, Picasso,  Pollock  etc … ). Our perception of art was based on a linear, historical progression of one stylistic approach after another. This is a narrative  (a certain linear development ) as distinct from  a chronicle (x happens, then y happens, then z, and so on).

The above art historical narrative  is over  in that  a developmental sequence of events in art historical development has come to an end. This end, roughly  marks the shift between modernist and contemporary art,  and the emergence of an awareness that art can  be made of anything.  That means there is no single meta narrative for the future of art. This liberates a large format photography of nature presented on the internet from its disenfranchisement by the curation in the conventional art museum/gallery model, which is primarily  concerned with the core question of defining what art is.  Historically,  large  format photography of nature was  excluded by the curators in the art institution.  

turning to abstraction

In his book of essays entitled  Why People Photograph: Selected Essays and Reviews  (Aperture, 1994) Robert Adams says that  "art is too important to confuse with interior decoration or an investment opportunity.  Its real use… is to affirm meaning and thus “to keep intact an affection for life”. 

This is  a succinct and useful insight can be unpacked by referring  back to the  idea of the autonomy of art: namely, that  art was a distinct modality of making sense of things,  and that  this way of making sense was sensible: ie., a mode of non-discursive intelligibility, which does not consist in propositions, arguments, and syllogisms.  

The Jena Romantics ( eg.,Novalis, August and Frederick Schegel)  held that the autonomy of art is meant to connect the aesthetic mode of making sense of things that are deeply important to us with the highest human aspirations for self-understanding and the realization of freedom. They held that this making  sense of ourselves through  art was  more important than the conscious deliberative capacities of individual subjects. Where philosophy ends art begins for unlike philosophy art presents its ideas in sensuous form. Art,  on this account,  is an ontologically distinct object of experience. 

This continental aesthetic tradition, which  runs through Schiller, Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Frankfurt School up to the present day,  is fundamentally different from the notion of autonomy that has been properly labeled conservative; namely, the l’art pour l’art, or “art for art’s sake” eg.,through 19th century aestheticism (Baudelaire, Pater, Wilde), via the significant form of  the Bloomsbury tradition of  Roger Fry and Clive Bell, the latter Greenberg and then Hilton Kramer and the New Criterion in the US.   In this Anglo-Saxon tradition all art has to do in order to be worthy is to be beautiful. There is no purpose, function, or end served by being beautiful other than being beautiful, and one takes a certain pleasure in the irrelevant nobility of the existence of beautiful things. 

I was discovering that working with this Romantic  conception of the autonomy of art  as the creation of the new that was recognisable as being part of the tradition of art was dam difficult. Nothing positive  was happening with my large format photography.  In desperation I turned to photographing the  local granite rocks along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula. It was a turn to something simple and uncomplicated: returning to the tradition of modernist abstraction and formalism. In modernism art has become its own subject in that the various manifestos can ve interpreted as art has  in its own right become part of art's reflection upon itself.

In the first essay in his Why People Photograph  entitled  'Colleagues'  Adams advances  one reason for the above difficulty I was encountering.  He says that when "photographers get beyond copying the achievements of others, or just repeating their own accidental first successes, they learn that they do not know where in the world they will find pictures.  Nobody does.” 

For sure.  

FOPG: in the Otway National Park

This post breaks with the initial  historical approach to this minor weblog about the trials and tribulations of  the practice of large format photography in Australia in an increasingly digital world.   

The photo below  is a  behind the  camera photo  made in 2021 when I was at Lorne with the Friends of Photography Group (FOPG). It was made in the Otway National Forest, whilst we were on our return to Encounter Bay.   The location is  near Joanna Beach, which   is between Apollo Bay and Lavers Hill on the western edge of Cape Otway.  I had wanted to explore the coastal rocks around Blanket Bay and Point Franklin,  but time had run out. That is for another  photo trip  whilst en-route  to Melbourne.  

The specific  location of the photo is  the Aire Settlement Road. I was looking for the Old Ocean Road but I made the wrong turn.  No matter.  The  Aire Settlement Road is easy to access and I could quickly  set up the 5x7 Cambo monorail on  the side of the road by the car.  I  had seen this particular road  on an earlier trip,  when I  had briefly photographed along the nearby Old Ocean Road.   I had  remembered  that photo session and I had always wanted to return to the Otways.      

(You can see a larger version of  the photos in the post by clicking on the photo). 

Though this  photo is a self portrait,  it is really a momento of FOPG's Lorne field trip and  a good bye to  FOPG.    FOPG  disbanded just after their weekend Lorne  trip in March 2021. The FOPG website has gone. Since it would not have been archived by the National Library of Australia, the group  only exists in people's memories, and these fade over time. (I will publish some of the large format photos that I made  on that field trip latter as they still need to be developed by Atkins Lab in Adelaide).  

at Port Willunga

I  basically walked away from  the Currency Creek project. I couldn't figure out how to conceptually  continue with it.  It didn't grow into  a project as I'd hoped, mainly because  I found it too hard designing different situations and activities with models along the different parts of  the creek. 

I decided to take a different approach. I would just concentrate on intuitively making a few photos, put the conceptual stuff  in the background,  and then see what emerged.    I choose the coastal interface at Port Willunga. It was  a landscape where nature meet or interacted with human society. 

The ruined Port Willunga jetty is a tourist icon.  The sticks of the jetty, when Port Willunga was once a grain port,   are  much photographed from the shore.  The sticks or pylons butting out from the eroding sandstone cliffs are an  icon of local,  tourist photography.     

Currency Creek: rocks, trees, viaduct

The third  photo session at Currency Creek  in the same period was  slightly more deliberate or considered.  I was now starting to think in terms of large format rather than medium format,  by  learning to take my time making a photo,  and  accepting that this was an integral part of the large format process of photo making.  Its motto was slow down. Take your time. Don't hurry.    

However, my  process was still  largely intuitive. My memory of this event was something along the lines of:  "hey,  this scene looks rather  interesting so why not make a photo. It's a different aspect of Currency Creek than the creek itself."  So I'd line up the Linhof 5x4 Technika IV  and make a photo.