Thoughtfactory: large format

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

Posts for Tag: Waitpinga

Waitpinga bushland + the Anthropocene condition

Living on the  coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia  has meant that I've become  familiar with both the local, banal or unscenic bushland that is considered unworthy of aesthetic attention, and  making large format landscapes of this region.  Since the past three decades have witnessed a growing awareness of climate change and its impacts on people and the natural environment,  photographing nature needs to take  this impact into account. How to do that with a camera and a lens is something that I  struggle with without resolving.

The two pictorial realist photos  in this post are  ones that look at the non-human world in the context of what is happening  to nature in the context of the background climate heating.  A first attempt,  as it were, to  link landscape photography and climate heating,  to push   the traditional centre of the human experience and the human aesthetic preferences aside and to initiate a photography of mourning within the tradition of landscape photography.  

This has made me aware of my unease with the views of those who hold that we live in a post-natural world. A post-natural world means that  nature is no longer independent of   human activity.  The world we  inhabit is the one we  humans have made.The cultural concept  for this new planetary epoch is the Anthropocene condition  in which  the geological strata we are now creating record industrial emissions, industrial-scale crop pollens, and the disappearance of species driven to extinction. This cultural concept is used by many to describe an era of accelerating human impacts such as climate change and biodiversity loss. 

 However, if climate change is the emblematic crisis of the neo-liberal Anthropocene, turning the world’s climate  into a joint human-natural creation, then nature  is still ontological independent of humans --- it  existed before us and will likely go on existing after us. Though the world we inhabit will be one that we have helped to make, and in ever-intensifying ways,  there is no  need reject terms such as the natural world. By “the natural world,” we mean  the material structures and processes of the  non-human world. So we should say  nature  is no longer unaffected by human activity. Humans are dependent  on nature but nature is not dependent on humans. Nature will continue to exit without us and will produce new species and forms of life without human intervention. .

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. 

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.    

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. 

Japanese Zen aesthetics: Mono No Aware

This post on Mono No Aware in traditional Japanese Zen aesthetics picks up on this previous  post about wabi sabi and my  large format photography.   This bushland photography in  Waitpinga bushland on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia was a little project during 2002 that was done on  the early morning poodlewalks with Kayla. 

That earlier post  highlighted how Wabi and sabi emphasise contentment and the acceptance of imperfection as a result of the ravages of time. Mono No Aware,  in contrast,  refers  to awareness and acceptance of the ephemeral of life. The “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), derives from their transience. The underlying idea is transience and impermanence in life. It is an acceptance of  perishability as opposed to the traditional preference for permanence. 

The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love of cherry blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees. These  are intrinsically no more beautiful than those of, say, the pear or the apple tree: they are more highly valued because of their transience, since they usually begin to fall within a week of their first appearing.

The fleeting moment in the bushland was the  early morning light:

The light was ephemeral: it  lasted on this branch of the pink gum for a minute or so before disappearing.  I knew the time it happened in the early morning during the early winter months and I would have the 5x4 Linhof Technika IV set  up on its tripod waiting.  Often I would have the camera set up but the clouds would drift at the crucial moment and there was no light on the branch. 

a significant moment

This photo of an old  pink gum log  lying on the roadside next to the local Waitpinga bushland represented a significant  moment for  me as a photographer. It was a turning point in the practice of my large format photography, when  I really was on the point  of giving the 5x7 format away. 

It was a a significant  moment for several reasons. Firstly, this  was  when I started to consciously see nature (ie., the  bush) in terms of change and  transience.  Nature was not  unchanging or  timeless (what has always been); nor was it purely a social or cultural construct.  It has its own dynamical processes (eg., decay) even if I couldn't see the processes of things passing away and then them not being there any more.

Secondly,  the image is significant because it was with the negative of this  image  that  I finally figured out how to scan  5x7 colour negatives on a flatbed Epson scanner;  and then to post process them in Lightroom  to obtain a reasonable looking image. One  that was other than  beauty,  and which avoided the problematic mystification of nature in environmental philosophy. 

Thirdly, I connected to the Japanese aesthetic of wabi sabi, whose  emphasis  on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, provided a counter to postmodernism in Australia. The characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, and modesty. History is a big part of wabi-sabi and the wearing  needs to come with actual age and the influence of time. The presence of cracks, splintering  and decay in things are considered to signify the passing of time and the weather.  

in desperation

The picture below of roadside vegetation in Waitpinga on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula was an attempt to ensure that  the process of making a photos with  the 8x10 Cambo  monorail was successful. I wanted to nail it down in light of all the issues I'd been having -- with the shutter,  the  limited  lens coverage,  vignetting from bellows yaw,  poor development of the film and  Newton rings  when scanning. 

 My experience was one of  a continual series of flaws that got in the way of trying to do something with the 8x10 style of photography.   Since nothing was working properly I wanted to sort out  the dam  problems I was experiencing by  getting the technique  under control.  In desperation  I simplified everything down so  that I could make  a picture that wasn't deeply flawed. It's a bit like being in a workshop or  a construction site with being a mechanic. 

Hence this representation of a tree in the roadside vegetation in my local neighbourhood: 

I wanted to get things working right so  that I could start to shift my photography away from a reflection of what exists towards a photography  that would start to stimulate us to reconfigure our interaction with the world; to try and develop a photography that  leads to  new sensations and stimulates new ways of seeing and being.

the experience of.....

I remember that photographing this rock formation at Kings Head, Waitpinga with a large format camera (5x4) was a disconcerting experience. It was probably 6 years ago, just after we had shifted to living on the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula  in South Australia, and I was photographing in my local area.   

It started me thinking about the landscape tradition. Though I'd studied this rock formation a number of times before deciding to photograph it, the photographic act  was not as simple as pointing the camera at an object in front of the camera  and taking a photo. There was  the  time and effort involved in carrying the equipment to the location, then the time and effort making the photo. The latter was over an hour as I waited for the sun to go off the rock. Slowly I became aware of being in nature rather than outside it. In the time that it took to make the photo I  became aware of  nature changing around me,  as well as noticing the weathering marks on the rocks.   

Slowly  the large format photographic event   became about the experience of being in nature: that is becoming aware of the  wind, sea spray, the sounds of the waves and the gulls, the heat reflected from the rocks onto  the human body, the clouds covering and uncovering the sun, and the ever changing light;  rather than being the photographer  standing as an outside observer gazing upon the  form of the coastal rock formation. 

So what to make of this embodied experience  of large format photographing? What did it mean in terms of the history of  the landscape tradition in Australia? Did it mean anything, given that this was, and is,  the traditional land of the Ngarrindjeri people? This is where the sealers and whalers stationed on Kangaroo Island  prior to 1836 grabbed and made off with the women from the Ngarrindgeri people. 

What would it be like to photograph this country  from the perspective of the Ngarrindgeri people after land rights I wondered?  

Kings Head, Waitpinga

The picture below is from the archives. 

I had just taken up large format photography again after a 20 year absence.The absence started after stopping work on  the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia  project to do a PhD and then working in Canberra. I  had started to pick up photography again around 2006 ---though not large format.   

I was just finding my large format feet again with this picture. It would have been around 2009 2010.  From memory it  was an attempt to represent the brightness of an early summer morning along the coast at Kings Head:

It was meant to be the  washed out, very dry,   late summer look. It failed.