at Claypans in the Murray Mallee

I recently made a small roadtrip  in the early winter to the Murray Mallee of South Australia to make some photos for the Mallee Routes project.  The blurry  plan was to follow up on  what I had briefly scoped with a digital camera on a previous trip.  

In the late afternoon on  the first day I  used the 5x4  Sinar f1 (with a  Schneider-Kreuznach 75mm Super Angulon)  to photograph an old, run down   caravan standing  amidst the  ruins  of a limestone  cottage in  Copeville. After the  photosession   I set up an overnight  camp in a nearby limestone quarry, as my plan was  to photograph a church at Claypans the following  morning.  

I  then discovered that I'd forgotten to pack my sleeping bag  to put inside my  swag. How in the hell could I forget to pack my sleeping bag? It was winter and the temperatures drop in the Mallee at night-- down to 2 degrees centigrade.  Despite the red wine  it was a dam cold night sleeping in  my clothes inside the swag.  Never again. Suzanne, my  better half, who is an experienced  bushwalker, says that I need to make a list of what I need to pack,  rather than throwing things together at the last minute,  as is my custom.    

As can be seen from this  early am photo  of the landscape at Copeville  from the top of the limestone quarry, the next morning  dawned with some extensive  cloud cover, so things were looking promising for the Claypan photo session.  late119th/ I wandered around the quarry photographing (6x6 film and digital),  had breakfast in the sun, packed up the camp,  then set off for Claypans in the Subaru Outback.  

I wanted to photograph the church at Claypans in  b+w in the open shadow and  in flat light for  the absent history section of the upcoming 2019 Mallee Routes exhibition in December  at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery. My plan was  to use the 8x10 Cambo   to make  the image  look like a late 19th/early 20th century views photos,  and to use  the Sinar f1 to situate the church  firmly within the Mallee's agricultural  landscape.    

photographing in the winter

Now that the  5x4 Sinar is finally  up and running I have started to think about  doing some  black and white photography in the winter.  Given the long exposures required in low light,  it  would be  tripod based work  that can only be realistically  done in specific conditions--basically no rain or showers  and with little coastal wind.  

This black and white version  of some coastal granite formation in the early morning light  is one possibility.   I  had scoped these rocks  with the Sony a7 R111 digital camera, just before the first winter storm hit the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula.  It was a very pleasant late autumn morning. 

This granite formation  in the winter light would be suitable  for  the Sinar f1 and the Schneider-Kreuznach 75m Super Angulon lens (multicoated). I could easily carry the camera gear and the  carbon fibre tripod  over my shoulder to this location, which  is just  west of Deps Beach.   I could walk there before sunrise with Kayla  on a poodlewalk, set up the camera,  and  then wait for the winter sun  to rise over Rosetta Head and  lighten up the granite. 

Sinar: 5x4 gear

After several years  I have finally managed to put together a Sinar 5x4 system through buying various second hand gear  in bits and pieces as they became available at Photon Photography's eBay store and when I had some spare cash.   It is possible  to do this  because Sinar's  standardized components were carefully designed to form a highly versatile,  modular camera system. 

I had started off acquiring a  5x4 Sinar f1  several years ago from Alex Garde in Tasmania, who was moving up to 11x14 for his wet plate photography, as I  wanted  do some black and white photography.  The f1 came with  a standard bellows,  two lenses (150mm normal and 75mm wide-angle), a rail clamp,  a standard rail,  and  a Sinar tripod head. In order to use the  Schneider-Kreuznach  Super-Angulon 75mm f5.6  I had to acquire a wide angle bellows, a lens hood and a yellow filter.   I then  bought  a Sirui R 4123X carbon fibre tripod. All I  need now is a case to transport  it to a location in the field. One is on hold  for me at a Hindmarsh  disposal store in Adelaide.

The f1 is a monorail that is designed to  be used  for  film photography outside the studio. The f stands for field.  It  is a  basic,   lo fi,   light weight 5x4 system--its really a light-tight box--- that  can be easily carried in the field.  My f1 is  without either a  light-metering back or the digital lenses. I  have no need as I do the metering  with a hand held meter,  and I manually adjust the aperture and the length of exposure.  It is the latter  f3 Sinar that  is a digital/analog model,  which  supports a variety of Sinar digital lenses and digital backs.

 I have no interest in using a digital back on a view camera in the field. Mine is a hybrid workflow,  meaning  that everything from the camera to the developing of negatives is  analog, whilst  the final processing, including the print is within the digital workflow. 

quartz and granite

I have been planning to photograph  this low level rock formation  for some time now.  I envisioned pictures  in both in colour made with a medium format film camera  (Rolleiflex SL66) and in black and white  made with a 5x4 Sinar monorail. Though the  granite/quartz rock formation  is  just past the western edge of Deps Beach,   and though it is quite accessible,  I keep on putting the photo session off.

I'm not sure why the procrastination,   as I pass this  location on one of my normal  early  morning poodlewalks with Kayla.   Making the photo  does require  me to use a  tripod with spreadable legs  so that it can  lie flat on the ground,  and that does mean carrying a heavy and bulky  Linhof tripod. That's a hassle. 

mix and match

This image of quartz and seaweed is in the littoral zone  of  the southern coast of  the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. This is where I now live,  and the coast is a part of my dally walks in all kinds of weather.  I always take a camera  with me on these walks.

 The image  is a  handheld macro photo made whilst I was on an early morning poodlewalk with Kayla. The picture  was made just before I went on the Wentworth photocamp for the Mallee Routes project, and it was  before the autumn rains came and the weather turned cold.  

Most of the subject matter along this  coast is  in the detail rather  the broad or panoramic landscape or seascape  views. From what I can see the latter is  what most of the  photographers  visiting the coast tend to concentrate on.  I had been  frustrated in the past because  I  didn't have equipment  to  do this kind of close-up work whilst on the daily walks. I had  a tripod and a medium format film camera and  it  was cumbersome  to carry,  and difficult to use.  So  much of the detail is situated in difficult spots that make the use of a tripod impractical. So I used the iPhone. 

A critical climate aesthetics

Over the last decade, scientists and humanists have renamed our current geological era the “Anthropocene” in recognition of the profound impact that human activities have had upon the earth’s crust and atmosphere. The move would equate humanity with geological forces like glaciers, volcanoes, and meteors and it suggests that a sharp division between nature and culture or technology is no longer tenable.We are looking what the French historian Ferdinand Braudel  called the  longue duree.

Dr. Joelle Gergis' The Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change in Australia' argues that the scientific evidence shows that Australia is now starting to move out of the realm of natural variability that we've  seen in the recent geologic past. The Australasian region is warming and our fingerprints are all over that signal. All of our weather and climate is now occurring on the background of a warming planet. The challenge is to transform our society into a sustainable one  on the planet,  rather than a destructive one that is making our planet quite unsafe. 

The lower Darling River in 2019:

The growing sense of urgency surrounding climate change  has generated a dialogue among artists, critics and theorisers  reading the role of art in this contemporary crisis.The Cape Farewell project and the Canary Project are  well known examples.  The Art + Climate Change festival  is an Australian example.  

processing 8x10 b+ w

With autumn arriving in South Australia  I have  started  to pick up my large format black and white view camera photography, especially the 8x10 Cambo monorail.  

The conditions are right: overcast skies, little wind and softer  light. Well, these conditions  lasted for a few days before  a cold, gusty  south westerly wind swept across  the southern coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula.  

This kind of  large format view camera photography  has been in the background as I do not have a darkroom at the studio;  nor do I have access to one in Adelaide now that the Analogue Lab has closed.  My last session of processing sheet film was done in Melbourne in 2018,  using Stuart Murdoch's darkroom! 

black and white

I have struggled post-processing  this tree or scrub  on the Heysen Trail in Waitpinga. It had lots of promise  for a black and white image when I came across it whilst walking the poodles   late one  afternoon.  That was over a year ago now,  and it was when Suzanne was walking the last stages of the Heysen Trail. 

I recall  that  it was on  this occasion  when I was crouched amongst the pink gums  setting up the camera that I began to realise that what is called  the scrub or bush in Australia is actually a number of  very different bioregions;  and that we really do need to move beyond an undifferentiated, colonial sense of “the bush” as an amorphous sameness.

still life: seaweed

This is an image that came about from playing around in the early morning light on Dep's Beach. This  beach is between Petrel Cove and Kings Beach.  I was on a poodlewalk with Kayla at the time:

It's another macro image building on this beginning.  

Unfortunately for me the photo session ended abruptly as Kayla grabbed the seaweed  when I wasn't looking,  ran off with it and  then tore  it to pieces. 


two studies

I have been struggling with a bursitis shoulder over the Xmas break  and, as a result,  the photography  has been minimal. It has been limited to what I could do on the morning and evening poodlewalks along the coast. I avoided walking in the bush due to the brown snakes. As I could only carry and use light weight  cameras, the  photography has consisted mostly  of macro with  some  scoping for large format photosessions in the future.  

This macro of quartz on the side of a granite outcrop, which  was made  with my  old  Sony NEX-7, an old Lecia Summicron 35mm lens and  a  Voigtlander VM/E Close Focus Adaptor, raises a question:  could I make a 5 x4 version using a telephoto lens?

I am asking this because over the Xmas break I have been looking at some of  the seaweed photos made by Peter Dombrovskis, which are in the  Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild, exhibition at  the National Library of Australia (NLA). The kelp photos are stunning. Likewise the granite  the  sandstone and the quartz studies. These are wide angle views,  close ups and low-contrast light.  This collection is  wilderness imagery with a sense of sublime terror with its roots in  the nineteenth century. This body of work is definitely not nostalgic kitsch, an idealising  falsehood, or an eco-porn generating desire for touristic or vicarious consumption.   Nor is it premised on an equivalency between visible and unseen worlds.