Thoughtfactory: large format

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

Posts for Tag: Cambo 5x7 monorail

The Adelaide parklands

When we were living in Sturt St in Adelaide's CBD  we spent a lot of time walking the standard poodles in the Adelaide Park Lands --usually  a couple of times a day and at different times of the day and night.   I came to love being in them,  and I celebrated that they had received National Heritage Listing in 2008.  Surprisingly,  they have yet to be listed as a State Heritage Area by the state government. The latter has been procrastinating for a decade or more.   

What caught my eye in the parklands were the Morton Bay Figs. They were impressive trees, and there weren't  that many of them. There was not  enough water  to nourish  them during  Adelaide's long,  hot summer months and they often became stressed towards the end of the summer.   

There were  only  a few occasions that I walked into the southern parklands with the 5x7 Cambo monorail and heavy Linhof tripod from our townhouse in Sturt St to make some photos.  The archives indicate that I only made a few images  and  these were of the trunks of the Morton Bay Figs.

The reason for the lack of photos was that I  didn't really know what I was doing with  large format  photography in the parklands. I vaguely sensed photography’s incapacity to offer significant understanding of the historical and social narratives of place.   I did, however,  have a  loose  concept premised on  the violence in the parklands in the form of gay bashings, rapes, murders, bashings of aboriginal people and a strong police surveillance mostly against the aboriginal people. 

The loose  idea was that of  a  female body in torn clothes (not a naked female body) lying on the ground and  I would use the two above  images as "stage sets" and situate  a  female body with torn clothes in the background of the photo.  i thought that this male violence against women walking in a public space would  be a supplement to the Adelaide project, as the parklands are just as central to Adelaide's urban  identity as Colonel  Light's metropolitan design of straight and narrow.  The aim of the supplement was to counter the  old colonial  idea of Adelaide as paradise on earth.  

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).