Thoughtfactory: large format

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

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. .

We have a history of how Australians have shaped their landscapes with its its competing competing traditions which are different are ways of seeing the world and humans’ place in it.  These traditions include  the First Nations caring for country; the  frontier vision of settlement and development; the  wilderness-seeking Romanticism;   a managerial utilitarianism of nature as an object exploitation  for human benefit; and the  twentieth-century ecological view that repudiated human mastery over nature.  Each these has  shaped landscapes through  making its vision of nature real, from wilderness to farmland to suburbs – opening some new ways of living on the earth while foreclosing others. Some of these landscape traditions were central to political persuasion about Australia's national identity. 

In the twentieth century forests and water, in particular, were exploited and governed through a utilitarian and administrative prism.The federal government under-took a massive reengineering of the continent’s water supplies, moving the precious water from the Great Dividing Range  to plains, from rivers to fields. Landscape photographers, by and large  were part of  the counter wilderness-seeking Romanticism where the  wild and spectacular places of  the  natural world are  cherished for their  aesthetic and spiritual aspects. 

Today the more profoundly (some) humans have come to shape nature by burning fossil fuels, the more intensely nature comes to affect (some) human lives; the more social relations disrupt natural ones, the more the reverse. The  Anthropocene condition  with its ruination of nature  (nature being destroyed ) requires a new sort of “environmental imagination” — new systems of concepts, ideas, and beliefs regarding our relationship to the biosphere, and new ways to describe, express, and practice them. 

Can landscape photographers help  to flesh  out  the new ideas of  this “environmental or ecological imagination” in the context of political problems” of which climate change is now by far the most pressing? Is a  photography of mourning one way to do this?