bleak times for arts and culture

These are depressing days for the  arts and cultural sector in Australia, despite the commitment to greater access, participation   and diversity in the political party's  manifestos.  

The current federal  Coalition government's  strategy  is to officially reduce the deficit and this is being pursued primarily through reductions in public expenditure.  It is strangling Australia's  creative industries with  'austerity'  style spending cuts, without having any clear funding strategy for the sector's  long term future. There is a marked failure  to think long term and a failure to invest in our public spaces and cultural education. Instead there is a  hostile political environment that expresses a deep contempt for the knowledge industries (including the sciences). 

The Australia Council, our principal  arts funding body,  has just defunded about 65 art organisations across the nation.  The reason is that it was  not given enough money in the Coalition's Federal Budget 2016  for the Australia Council to properly achieve its mission of enabling a culturally ambitious nation and a richer and more meaningful life for Australians.  The decline in the number of organisations funded is a result of the  loss of $300 million in public investment in  the arts sector  since 2013.  

So the National Association for the Visual Arts, the Centre for Contemporary Photography (Melbourne), the Australian Centre for Photography (Sydney), the Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia (CACSA) and the Australian Experimental Art Foundation (AEAF), which is based  in Adelaide, have all been defunded. Now there was a restructuring designed to bring new blood into the funding system --eg., 17 organisations working in Indigenous arts have emerged with new, long-term support---and this meant that  the status quo  was  rejected apart from protecting the small coterie of large performing arts companies. 

However, the Coalition cuts funding to  thriving small to medium  arts organisations and  to individual artists-and projects  (a reduction in funding to both in the order of 70%)  to create a space for new art organisations.  That is a savage decline in  the funding  to  individual writers and visual artists  who mostly work alone   by the Coalition  is a hacking into the  grassroots provision (seed-beds of start-ups necessary for the generation of “innovation” ),  which leads to the discovery and nurturing of talent and expressive ability.   This hacking into those who make the art and write the books is more than  the belt-tightening or "efficiency dividends"  of austerity politics. 

An indication of this 'more than'  is that though the economic impact of the creative industries (around   $50 billion per annum for an investment $7 billion), there   is the deep reluctance by the political elite (Labor and Liberal)  to  provide more reasonable  support arts and culture. There Coaltiion's  slashing the funding to the small to medium sector and individual artists runs counter to its  political rhetoric  about an  innovative, clever nation, an 'ideas boom', or their vision of Australia's ‘future built on innovation’, ‘agility’, and ‘excitement’. 

The implication is that our political elite do not accept that the arts and culture are the great engines of creative thinking, nor can they help to transition and invigorate our economy after the collapse of the mining boom. 

in the Victorian Mallee

I spent 4 days camped at  the Ouyen caravan park with Gilbert Roe  so that I could photograph some of the  grain silos in and around Ouyen  on the Mallee Highway with my large format cameras.   I managed to photography 5 silos--those from Ouyen to Linga--using a 5x7 monorail (for colour)  and an 8x10 monorail (for black and white).   

The next stage in the silo project is to camp at Murrayville so that I can  photograph the silos in and around that hamlet. I prefer overcast conditions  for this kind of photograph the silos, which makes life difficult,  as such  days are few and far between in the Mallee.  It's normally bright, sunny and cloudless. 

I also took the opportunity to start to explore  with my digital camera the countryside of  the Victorian Mallee, which is still economically based around dryland farming and large cereal farms. Even in  late autumn the northern Mallee was dry, hot  and dusty  with dust storms.  The agricultural landscapes  look as if it has extended periods of dryness that cannot simply be put down to intermittent drought. That dryness causes hardship to the local communities, the unravelling of the social  fabric, and the steady decline of the population in the towns and hamlets with their derelict houses and abandoned tennis courts.  

at Wallaroo

I spent several days camping at Wallaroo on the Yorke Peninsula with Gilbert Roe, a fellow photographer based in Adelaide. We spent the time  exploring the region with our cameras:  Gilbert was using his pinhole camera and I was working with  my  large format cameras. I concentrated on the silos.

 This is one image that I made in the late afternoon with both the  Cambo 8x10 (using black and white film) and the  Cambo 5x7 (using colour film):  

It  was a trial run for me in terms of  camping whilst  being on the road with  the large format equipment. Renting a house,  staying in a cheap motel, or a cabin in a caravan park,  is too expensive these days. Camping was a  trial run because our camping gear is very old and basic,  and I haven't been camping for 20 years or more. So I needed  to see whether this mode of accommodation would work for me as a way of doing the photography road trips. 

at Salt Creek

I've just returned from  spending  4 days on a photo shoot  in and around Salt Creek near  the Loop Road  in the Coorong  National Park. Some of the photos  made  on the trip were in the National Park itself,  whilst many of the others were made outside it. 

This was a snap made in the early morning light when I was returning to the Subaru after a photoshoot for the second  part of the edgelands  project:  

The colours of the samphire that borders the various clay pans are quite intense at the time of the day. The colours become  bleached  outside of the 'magic hour' in the morning and evening. 

agricultural landscapes

This was made on a recent  early morning poodle walk   with Ari and Kayla  just before Easter.  We were walking  on a  back country road in Waitpinga. It's all agricultural landscapes around this part of Waitpinga,  with some  roadside vegetation and a  rows  of eucalypts--mostly pink gums--between the various fenced paddocks. Though this is land seen in terms of  property and its usefulness, you only occasionally  see human beings working the land.  

The sun burst through the cloud cover for a minute or so whilst we walking along a roadway.   I didn't make it to the spot  that I was aiming for (the two trees over the page).   I had no time to set up the Linhof Technika 70 on a tripod,   which was what I'd been hoping to do. It was either this  handheld photo  at this spot  with the  Sony-NEX-7 digital camera,  or nothing. 

using Colour Efex-Pro-4

When I started  going through the archives looking for material for the Adelaide street portfolio on the website I came across some old images of Andamooka that were made just  before the turn of the century.   I had scanned them after buying the Epson V-700 scanner, but I'left some of them  sitting in the archive because  I lacked  both the skills and the software to post-process them at the time.  

A good  example is the  photograph of an old shack that I made using  the Linhof Technika 70 and Kodak Portra 160NC film.  

I decided to see what I could do  with this image a couple of days ago.  I converted the colour digital file to black and white and then  worked on a black and white  version using Silver Efex-Pro 2 . It looked okay--much better than I expected actually -- so I started to  work on the original  colour image using Colour Efex-Pro-4: 

I'd forgotten I had this software on the studio's computers.  It had came as part of the Nik Collection  package that was a free upgrade when Google acquired the product--- I was eligible as I had previously bought Silver Efex-Pro-2.   I'd forgotten  about  Colour Efex Prox-4 as I was only interested in Nik's  black and white plug-in software at the time. I  used the latter as I found that Adobe Lightroom was  rather unsatisfactory  for  post-processing  the digital files of my black and white negatives.   

sea fog

The last few days on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula coast have been, warm,  humid and very still with dense sea fog moving across the  coastal landscape in the early morning and evening. 

These are unusual conditions,  and I tried to explore them photographically, but without much success. The seascapes that I did were dull and flat,  whilst the various photos of trees and vegetation in the fog were cliched rather than poetic. 

on location in Waitpinga

Now that summer has passed  into autumn I've started using my  old 8x10  Cambo monorail. This morning was the first time I 'd used the camera since late spring. I was a bit rusty and  things didn't go very smoothly.  I made a number of mistakes on the shoot.

It was a local  photoshoot that I'd previously scoped,  and I'd  been  waiting for  the right conditions for the photoshoot:

Over the summer I'd  changed the lens  on the Cambo from a Schneider-Kreuznach  Symmar 210mm to a  Schneider-Kreuznach  Symmar  300mm in preparation for  photographing the silos along the Mallee Highway in the next month or so.  The  former lens  didn't cover  the camera's rise and fall  movements very well, especially with the front standard, which  needed  to be raised quite high to get  the  top of silos in the frame.  

Richmond, Melbourne

When I was in Melbourne recently, I continued my  photographic exploration of  the Southern Cross Railway Station and the inner suburb of Richmond.  I hung around  in the former and I continued with my walking the latter. 

I had  briefly visited Victoria Street, Richmond,   with Stuart Murdoch after  our  Kodak shoot for a quick meal at the no frills Thy Thy restaurant. Whilst walking to the restaurant  I noticed that the Victoria Street  part of Richmond had radically changed from the one that I knew when when I lived in Melbourne in the late 1970s. I was working as a conductor on the trams and studying at Photographic Studies College. 

There were no Vietnamese restaurants anywhere in Victoria Street, Richmond.  The notable ethnicities  were Turks and Greeks.  Then Richmond was  identified as Struggletown. It was a working class suburb with cottages, pubs and factories. Richmond, by all accounts,   had started to become a little Saigon in the 1980s.

 Richmond  today is in the process of gentrification,  as a result of the exodus of manufacturing to the outer suburbs thereby making the inner city a much more pleasant place to live. Victoria  St is still  a gritty street,  and it has a vibrancy that Adelaide lacks,  and  what inner city Adelaideans long for and Sydneysiders now miss.   The Gouger Street precinct near the Adelaide Central Market doesn't really cut it. 

I  only had time for a couple of quick, hand held  snaps at dusk with the digital camera before the evening meal.  When walking back to the car after the meal I decided to return to Richmond  the next day  and  walk  Victoria St. I wanted to see if it was a food strip or more akin to an urban village. 

photographing in the Coorong

We stayed a couple of days at Salt Creek in the Coorong on our way back from Adelaide from Melbourne so that I could pick up the second part of the edgelands project after a hiatus. I had been working on the Australian abstraction and Fleurieuscapes projects and I wanted to concentrate on  the edge lands associated with  the River Murray. I wanted to check out whether the  Coorong offered  any possibilities. 

My starting point was  a  familiar spot that I knew from when I briefly photographed  here several years ago,  and I was quite happy to return there and  begin to photograph in terms of South Australia landscapes. We arrived  at Salt Creek in the late afternoon and  I checked  out the location  for a 5x4 shoot  whilst we were on a poodle walk in the late afternoon light.

I was thinking  of constructing this low lying lying landscape into  horizontal strips of land, sea and sky. The lush afternoon light made  the image  too picturesque, and  it placed too much emphasis on  natural beauty for the edge lands project. When  I photographed the next day with the 5x4 Linhof it was in  flat morning light so that  this landscape  would look more stark and weird.