Thoughtfactory: large format

a minor blog about the trials, tribulations and explorations of large format, analogue photography in Australia

the photographic image

Traditionally art photography has been foundationally tied to the fine print as this  provided the  aesthetic criteria that enabled photography  for find  a place in an art gallery/museum.  Tying photography foundationally  to the fine print was especially important for the  large format photographers in Australia from  the 1970s onwards, as it ensured that  photography became part of art's  traditional value system that was centred around  authenticity and originality. Photography's entry was an event of the new that then required a readjustment and re-evaluation of the boundaries art's traditional value system.    

If history is all there is then we belong to this tradition  which holds that art is something that challenges and breaks with our  usual comportment towards things. We cannot disregard this tradition,  simply leave it behind,  overturn it,  or dismiss  it as an error.  We can, however,  reinterpret this tradition as distorted,  or as  having its legitimacy reduced,  in the sense that  the photographic  print was but one of photography's  reproductive forms. 

 Photography's  multiple  reproductive forms historically  included  slide and video projection and, currently there are  different technological forms of monitor display. Today with the emergence of the networked image  the print is but one of photography reproductive forms.So  the  photographic tradition's foundational  emphasis  on the print  is a distorted one.      

Multiple  reproductive forms of photography in our contemporary digital culture suggests that, if  that  the photographic image need no  longer be  foundationally tied to the  reproductive form of  the  print, then  we need shift  to thinking  about the photographic image as image instead of  the photographic image as print. 

This is  an important  shift given the  massive circulation of images associated with  the emergence of the digital image  associated with the host media technologies such as computers, internet, video games mobile devices. Our world is saturated with moving or circulating images of all kinds including prints.  We are  moving towards a world where everyday  life and digital technology seamlessly blur. It appears that with immersive video  the internet is moving off our screens and into the world around us  as spatial computing  given that Vision Pro and other “passthrough” headsets brings VR content into our real-world surrounding so we see what’s around us while using the device.

trying to avoid tourist photography

I find it difficult to make  colour photos of the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula that avoid the all pervasive tourist style of imagery. 

The power of the visual image has long been employed to great effect by the advertising industry to sell product.  The tourism industry is no exception. It sells leisure, fun  and the holiday experience in extra-ordinary  locations away from the world of work. Hence the idea of the tourist gaze and the pictures of  landmarks, waterfalls, animals, and empty beaches The relationship between commercial photography and tourism is extremely close, if not  fundamentally integrated. 

How is it possible to make an effective photographic project around climate change and the environment in the era of the Anthropocene is a question I keep stumbling over.  It is a question that  I have yet to find an answer to. 

One option is to photograph in  black and white. Another  option is explore is to experiment.  One possibility here is to harm  or damage the image  in some way-- eg., in the form of multiple exposure. My double exposure didn't really work.   My  second  experiment  was to  move the camera slightly during the exposure  of this photo of the coastline to Kings Head and Beach in Waitpinga:

 Another possibility in harm  intervention is  mark making  in the form of scratching and wounding the surface of the images to speak to the negative impact that climate change is having on nature --- forests, coastlines, wetlands, rivers etc  Multiple exposure and camera shift enable me to step outside the tourist style. 

photography and time

The concept behind this  post was to explore the relationship between photography and time. 

The common sense or naïve conception  of time understands temporality as a constant stream of now-moments, or a succession of nows that come into being and pass away. Multiple now-moments strung out in a line.  The traditional conception of time as a continuous series of “nows”  can be found in Aristotle. 

Still photography is traditionally seen as a slice of time, and in the context of the naive conception time this photo would be interpreted  as now moments .   The now moment when the shutter of the 5x4 Sinar  camera was realised. Time, on this account, is an object that stands apart from us. It  is calculative or clock time.   

This image though is an attempt to explore temporality as an interweaving of past, present, and future. The future in the sense of  what is looming ahead, or what is already on its way. What is  on its way is  the ongoing decay and  breakdown of the log, twigs  and leaves. 

conceptual photography

Below is an early large format conceptual photo using  the  carpark of the Adelaide Central Market as a location:

Looking back I can see that it referred to the concept of the sublime that permeates our culture as complex emotional configurations. The sublime has different understandings in the history of our culture, but since Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant  it is usually contrasted with, or seen as the opposite of,  the concept of beauty in aesthetics.The aesthetic of the sublime  usually refers to a boundary, threshold  or limit that divides the knowable, familiar world and the spheres of the unknown. The sublime in aesthetics is  associated with broaching limits and is traditionally situated in the  sphere of the  unknown or the infinite.

Waitpinga: roadside vegetation + reactions

 After I left living in Adelaide's  CBD and moved down to live on the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula in Victor Harbor I started  to photograph the remnants of  the  local  roadside vegetation.  The bushland and the roadside vegetation in this region largely consisted of pink gums (Eucalyptus fasciculosa) and grass trees (Xanthorrhoea).  I was finding  the remnant bush and the sporadic road side vegetation hard to photograph as it was so messy and dense.

This was one of my first large format photos of roadside vegetation in colour:

I showed this image,  and the companion one over the page, to colleagues in Adelaide. They were quite scornful and dismissive; a reaction that was made without giving any considered reasons for  why these images needed to be  rejected as of no interest. Was this because the images were in colour? Or that they mediocre,  images lacking creativity? Formless and pretty? The subject matter was unfashionable? The subject matter was regional and not universal?   I had to guess the reasons. 

I did suspect that making landscape photography was a no no in art  circles as straight landscape photography  was considered to be culturally conservative as well as being very unfashionable.  It was old fashioned  and so akin to living in the past.  Landscape photography was largely irrelevant in the art world,  and there  is a disconnect between popular landscape photography and art photography.    

Globe apartments, Adelaide

This is another of the early large format  urban  photos that I did  whilst we were living in the CBD of Adelaide. It  was made around the same time ( 2013-14) as this one,  and it was from the same Rundle St car Park in Adelaide's east end  as this photo.  I spent a lot of time looking at the city's  urban textures  from the top floors of various car parks.  

 The photo  was made using colour negative film  (Portra 160 ASA),  but I converted it to black and white in Lightroom.  I wasn't photographing in black and white  then. 

At the time I  was interested in the new architecture emerging out of the old. A  provincial city in transition was the idea that informed the urban large format and I had a sense that I could photograph  urban history in the architecture. 

Roadtrips: Moorook + Overland Corner

The pictures below are  from the  archives. I have only  just re-discovered them. 

The first one  is from the early 1990s  whilst I was on a road trip in a  VW Kombi along the River Murray through the Riverland area of South Australia. Prior to buying the Kombi I only knew Adelaide from walking around the city.   The Kombi enabled me to go on roadtrips  to get to know  the rural country.

The location of the photo  is near  Moorook on the Sturt Highway. I was driving by and stopped to make the photo with a Cambo 5x7 (S3) monorail:

The location  is near the  Moorook Game Reserve and the  Wachtels Lagoon.  A game reserve means that water­fowl and duck hunt­ing is permitted on open days at certain times of the year (March to June). 

Kwong, NSW: a snap, unfortunately

The photo  below is the first photo of a  silo I made on a road trip using the Cambo 5x7 S3 monorail after I'd restarted  large format photography from a 2  decade absence or more.   The underground current  of roadtrip photography  in Australia does  include images made with a  large format camera. 

The silo was near Kwong  on the Sturt Highway west of Wagga Wagga in NSW. It was in 2015 a year or so  after  my Edgeland  exhibition at Manning  Clark House in Canberra in  2014. It was a road trip that connected back to  those I'd done in the 1980s.   I was happy to be on the road  with the large format camera  once again. When I saw the silo near an old, disused  railway line with  the overcast sky I thought that it  would make  a good  subject  for the Cambo: 

I didn't know about the problem of bellows yaw then, which was  caused by raising the monorail's front standard too high.   When I scanned the negative I was  so disappointed and frustrated.   How come I didn't see  the black semicircle at the bottom of  the ground glass of the camera when I was composing the photo?   

finding my feet

The CitiCentre picture below  is one of my early large format elevated photos of Adelaide's CBD. It is rough and I have never shown  it publicly.  It was made at a time when I was living Sturt St  in the CBD,   and  I'd just started to explore  making  urban large format photographs of   Adelaide.  At the time   I didn't know of any working Australian large format  photographers who was making urban images  of the CBD of the capital cities. Though I knew of  the early black and white  photos that  Grant Mudford made in the 1970s I didn't realise at the time that they were made with 35mm film and not with his Sinar  5x4.  

I distinctly remember the process of making the CitiCentre photo: it was in the late afternoon that  I carried the 5x7 gear to a tram stop,  caught  the tram to Rundle Mall, walked through the crowds of shoppers in Rundle Mall, then  going up the lift to access the top floor of the ugly car park on the corner Rundle and Pulteney Sts. The location had been scoped beforehand -- it has to be prior to making a decision  to make a picture. 

The location  was the  U carpark  that replaced the Foy and Gibson building that was demolished in the 1970s. The car park  had  iron bars or railings that allowed you to put the  lens of a handheld camera through.   Most of the new car parks in Adelaide's CBD are now covered in mesh and it is impossible to photograph through the mesh.  However,  I wasn't really sure that I would be able to  get the camera lens of the 5x7 Cambo momorail through the iron bars/railings of the car park in order to  make the photo. To my relief I could. 

This  was a decade ago and  I had just started thinking about  a project of photographing Adelaide -- a project that would m eventually evolve into  Walking Adelaide several years latter. At the time  I was just making photos and still  thinking in terms of the purity of the image  the modernist  idea of uniqueness and  medium specificity and the white cube.  A photograph of a building in the city is a photograph. It's not the building anymore.   

The process dominated at that early stage.I just counted myself lucky if I could get the 5x7 monorail camera to a chosen location and made a photo. I did know that what I was trying to do was not architectural photography of the latter Grant Mudford.  

an experiment gone wrong

How can you photograph the landscape in the era of the Anthropocene in a way that addresses the future that is already  coming? 

The photo below was an attempt in 2022 to try and  represent the movement of hanging  bark caused by the wind within the context of  the strangeness of the local bush in Waitpinga  in the Fleurieu Peninsula of South Australia.  It was in the early morning during early autumn, when there was a light  breeze  gently moving the bark. The blur was designed to step away from the picturesque or the tourist style. 

The method chosen was a  double exposure of one 5x7 sheet of film  and 2  long exposures of around 40 seconds each. The composition  had been pre-determined with some earlier scoping with a digital camera.  

Alas, the experiment did not work at all.  Failure. 

The tonality of the photo  turned out to be utterly different to what I'd pre-visualized and planned for.  I couldn't believe  what I was seeing when I scanned the negative. "What the hell" was my immediate response. I was dumbfounded.   Then, when I realised the scan was okay, a wave of embarrassment surged through me.  This was such a long way from the quality standards of the large format culture.