tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:/posts Trees 2017-09-25T00:19:58Z Gary Sauer-Thompson tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1193639 2017-09-25T00:19:58Z 2017-09-25T00:19:58Z winter, Lake Alexandrina

on the southern edge on Lake Alexandrina near the entrance to Lake Albert:

 The  two lakes are known as the lower lakes located in the Fleurieu Peninsula.  The river Murray flows into them before it flows out of the mouth into the southern ocean. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1193351 2017-09-23T22:16:57Z 2017-09-25T00:12:44Z Gillies Street, Adelaide

From 2011, when I was living in Adelaide:

It was near where I used to live. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1192711 2017-09-21T04:42:43Z 2017-09-21T04:42:43Z tree, Jagger Rd

This was made in 2011 on a poodlewalk along Jagger Rd in Waitpinga:

 You walk up a rise with farmland on either side. The road side vegetation is sparse.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1192210 2017-09-19T06:48:26Z 2017-09-19T08:58:26Z tree, Hindmarsh Estuary

Made in 2010 whilst I was on a poodlewalk around the estuary of the Hindmarsh River in Victor Harbor, South Australia. 

The Melaleuca is still there, but it  is  different as it   lost a lot  of its foliage. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1190246 2017-09-11T00:47:33Z 2017-09-11T00:47:33Z Lake Alexandrina

From 2010

We were on a drive around Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1189913 2017-09-09T08:38:05Z 2017-09-09T08:43:12Z Currency Creek

Currency Creek  is one of the places that Suzanne, myself and the standard poodles sometimes  go to for a bit of an outing. It's a pleasant walk alongside the creek up to the boundary of the  farmland.   This picture was made in 2010. 

The creek flows into Lake Alexandrina. Currency Creek is more  known for its cemetery and wineries these days.   

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1187519 2017-08-30T11:02:24Z 2017-09-09T08:27:58Z 3 trunks

This scene is on  a part of the Heysen Trail in Waitpinga. I often walk along this section on a poodlewalk  as it is a strip of bush between farmland. 

I thought that working on this tree project that was working towards a photobook  was a waste of time. Then I came across the Melbourne Photobook collective  and William Stewart's On the Making of Trees-- which is an article about the process of making a photobook based on him  photographing trees over a number of  years.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1160464 2017-06-04T08:56:23Z 2017-08-30T10:38:13Z Roadside tree

Made whilst walking along Halls Creek Rd, Waitpinga  on a poodlewalk.  Halls Creek Rd is a part of the Heysen Trail 

Waitpinga is in South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula   

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1155155 2017-05-19T08:26:31Z 2017-05-19T08:26:32Z pines, Waitpinga

Some old pines in an agricultural fields Jagger Rd:

This is a road I travel on in the Subaru Forester  to take the poodles for their  walks on the back country roads.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1154803 2017-05-18T01:13:57Z 2017-05-18T01:38:56Z pink gum, Waitpinga

This picture was made whilst walking along  Baum Rd, Waitpinga,  on an afternoon poodle walk in 2012:

It is a pink gum. Waitpinga is in  the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1143759 2017-04-03T23:38:56Z 2017-04-03T23:41:11Z tree, Midlands, Tasmania

A tree in the agricultural landscape of the Midlands in Tasmania:

The photo was made in 2011. It started raining soon after the photo was made.


Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1143450 2017-04-02T23:25:10Z 2017-04-02T23:25:14Z tree, Safety Beach

This  picture was made at Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Victoria  in 2010:

It was an overcast afternoon and IU was walking along the path along the foreshore. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1142730 2017-03-30T22:31:48Z 2017-04-01T11:58:21Z tree, Waitpinga

This is another  local tree. It is  on the roadside of a country road in Waitpinga, South Australia that I often walk down.   

The  picture was made in 2016 whilst I was on an early  morning  poodlewalk.

I discovered last night that Sophie Cunningham  has a tree of the day Instagram account.  Mary Macpherson   has a book of trees in New Zealand called Bent.  I am sure that there are other photographers photographing tree apart from Beth Moon.   

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1140389 2017-03-21T05:56:10Z 2017-03-21T05:56:10Z emptying the landscape

Arboraphobia”, the fear of trees  makes sense given the massacre of trees that is our revenge on the choking bush. 

The pioneer settlers  possessed a “psychopathic fear of the gum or the wattle”. Then there is  the zeal with which bulldozers levelled the ground before  post-war suburbs were built; and  Tasmania’s continuing determination to churn up ancient forests and sift them into woodchip? 

Trees are associated with darkness and anxiety specific to the Australian colonial experience of  the Australian bush. The Australian landscape must be stripped of its trees--along with  the Aboriginal presence--- if room is to be made for its colonisers. This  was so even though settler Australia's  vision of the landscape as empty, unwelcoming bush or desert.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1139918 2017-03-19T08:04:54Z 2017-03-21T00:50:32Z 4 trees on Baum Rd

This blog has transformed into a photoblog  about trees including what happens to trees once they have been cut down.   

These photographs are not of  trees in the wilderness.  I live in a place where there are trees,  and I  frequently  photograph them a lot whilst I am on my poodle walks.  This  photographing of  trees  then extends  to  my road trips.  These are mostly trees in agricultural landscapes.  

A picture of four trees on local  country road--Baum Rd-- which were  photographed on a  late afternoon walk on an overcast day. The  rain was coming in from the south-west. 

Robin Boyd, a critic of suburban sprawl, coined the term "arboraphobia," or white Australia's fear of trees, that led to massive razing of land to create a paved suburban landscape.  A suburbia  that is a wasteland,  a dry, ugly cement landscape of the suburbs; mangy backyards with pathetic garden plots and dark, claustrophobic interiors with cracked walls and ceilings and, ironically, floral carpets. These images are linked to moral aridity, sexual dysfunction, the sterile suffocation of suburban living, and the dread of natural growth invading the house.   

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/583409 2013-06-10T01:53:09Z 2013-10-08T17:26:15Z re-reading the Australian landscape tradition

The traditional interpretation of the Australian landscape is one of majestic gums and sunlight plains--exemplified by Hans Heysen---  rather than the  sublime's darker twilight landscape that evokes a sense of eeriness and unease; or  the landscape as transformed by human beings through farming. 

This landscape has been carved up for family-style farming and it has become private property.  All that is left as a public space are  the roads between the boundaries of the private property.   A  dirt road, a fence,  and remnant roadside vegetation. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376509 2012-10-23T06:14:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z the Australian landscape tradition

The subject matter of this  conceptual photographic project --pink gum and Xanthorrhoea---means that it is a particular representation of part of the Australian landscape. It works within the Australian landscape tradition that aimed to reveal to Australians the landscape of their country in their own place and time. 

This is a tradition in which the landscape is the dominant image of Australia--eg., Arthur Streeton's The Land of the Golden Fleece (1926)---and whose imagery has been reworked and undergone regeneration and redefinition. Examples include John Glover,  Eugene von Guerard, the  Heidleberg School, Hans Heysen, Albert Namatjira,  Russell Drysdale etc.  The imagery was usually interpreted  in terms of a concern for a national identity,  Australian dependency and isolation, and the creation of a national style.   

Modernism was defined both in terms of and against the hegemony  of this regional tradition in which artists were seen to do little more than represent nature. It was naturalism. Bernard Smith in Australian Painting argued that after 1945 modernist imagery gradually supplanted  traditional and conservative imagery of a regional naturalism.

The latter was deemed to be provincal and resistant to nonfiguration, whilst modernist abstraction  was deemed to be international, innovative and avant gardist.  International was actually New York as the dominant centre of modernist art,   American abstraction and Clement Greenberg.

The latter failed to see that  abstraction was a tradition whose imagery has been reworked and undergone regeneration and redefinition and that the images in both  the abstraction and naturalist traditions  emerge from, and are an expression of, the place in which we live. This gives rise to  a regional art in a global world.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376510 2012-10-10T12:30:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z 'deskilled’ photography

In  the 'Anti-Photography’ exhibition,  curated by Duncan Wooldridge at the Focal Point Gallery, we find an account of conceptual photography as ‘anti-aesthetic’ or ‘deskilled’ photography that refers back to, and reworks,  Nancy Foote’s 1976 Artforum text ‘The Anti-Photographers’.

This text  refers to an anti-aesthetic’ or ‘deskilled’ photography (ie., Ed Ruscha and the Bechers) that is  outside the orthodoxy of conventional photography, by which Foote means Stieglitz’s conception of modernist photography, namely the focus on ‘the unique photographic print’ and ‘abstract formal values’.    The anti-photographers set themselves 'apart from this so-called serious modernist photography through  a snapshot-like amateurism and nonchalance that would raise the hackles of any earnest professional.'

One of the defining features of the ‘anti-photographers’, argued Foote, was  the Duchampian underpinnings strip the photograph of its artistic pretensions.   Their utilitarian approach is a kind of anti-aesthetic that wrenches itself purposefully away from the glossy, good-looking gallery print, with the aim, in her words, of transforming the photograph from ‘a mirror to a window. What it reveals becomes important, not what it is.’

The Becher’s typologies are a window with  Duchampian underpinnings that have little photographic self-consciousness? The Duchampianlink is there as their  first monograph  Anonyme Skulpturen (Anonymous Sculptures),  made an implicit nod to the legacy of Duchamp’s readymade.   Surely, they are making photographic forms---typologies, series and grids-- that extend beyond documentation.  

They engaged  with the language of photography as  their work invoolved frontal views of industrial architectural forms seen from fixed vantage points against a cloudless sky and without expressive effects. this linked back to  the  German tradition  of  the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) and  the photography of August Sander, Karl Blossfeldt, and Albert Renger-Patzsch. The Bechers work was initially dismissed as completely  inartistic.  

During this period debates around the photographic, and the relation of the history of photography to the history of art intersect with the dematerialisation of the art object.  The photograph was seen to be  a way to subvert the notion of an art object by operating in the margins of documentation.

That was then. Now we can have photographers  for whom ‘what it is’ is extremely important and who also create glossy, good-looking (conceptual) work. This suggests that contemporary art photography that could be called conceptual is unlike the conceptualist photography of the 60s and 70s.

Today conceptual art  is more  about images that are preconceived and explore a pre-existing idea or plan than snapshot-like amateurism

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376511 2012-10-01T00:21:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z on Mount Hill Road

The cosmopolitan culture  of the global economy has challenged the Eurocentric focus of metropolitan modernism, revealing the parochial concerns of earlier debates on modernism. AS Terry Smith observes in Inside out, outside in: changing perspectives in Australian art historiography


When you are located at a cultural periphery, you become aware that the definitive interpretations of whatever is most valuable to you originate at centers some distance from where you live and work, and that they are subject to change, often radical change, for reasons that seem arbitrary. Yet you must learn to fathom them, and quickly, because they impact on your capacity to participate in the discourse as a whole.

An overemphasis on locality can lead to a provincialism that then edges into a conservative nationalism. It did in Australia,  in the sense that a conservative vision of art has ruled state galleries for a long time. 

The heritage of the 1960s and 1970s is a large one. That was the period when Australian's assumed that the centre of world art was  New York,  and it lead to the Australian preoccupation with nation, national identity and the position—and therefore the category—of Australian art.

This sought to locate Australian art (Arthur Boyd, Charles Blackman, John Brack, John Olsen and John Percevalin relation to international (largely American) art,  was concerned to build a  strong national culture and to identify a local avant garde by identifying a new style of painting.  

That was then.  Today modernism—no matter how often and subtly it is remodernized—is seen to be past its use-by date. “Postmodern” is an outmoded term, a temporary placeholder that is no longer adequate to describe conditions that have changed fundamentally. These conditions or currents are globalization and transnationality and giove rise to the emergence of   being a  part of a broader international contemporary art, no matter how apparently local the signifiers. 


Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376512 2012-09-23T05:29:00Z 2016-11-21T12:22:47Z turning back to the image

The reception of  the 1960s and early 1970s conceptual art  in Australia (eg., Art and Language, Ian Burn etc ) can be read as a dissent from, or a disdain for, the image as icon. This reception  can be interpreted as part of the  denigration of vision tradition  that Martin Jay maps in his Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought  text.

This dissent was  directed against the  view that  vision  has  a superior capacity to provide access to the world and  it often expressed a hostility to the hegemonic regime of Western visuality and its society of the spectacle.  Pop art, for instance, was anchored in the one-dimensional celebration of the society of the spectacle and the primacy of the image as commodity  that relied on the work of many commercial photographers in the advertising industry.  Conceptual art was a critique of the politics of visuality qua spectacle; a critique of the political economy of the sign premised on a fear of the  image's political impact--its seductive power.   

Conceptual art as an anti-aesthetic tradition  was an  anti-pictorial, anti-visual movement with undercurrents of iconophobia and scopophilia.Christinia Barton in her essay The Photographic Legacy of Post-Object in Image and Text puts it this way:

Although photography is a mode of (mechanical) representation it served as an alternative to those traditional [art] practices. There are I believe six qualities, conditions or potentialities of photography that post-object artists were drawn to in their specific critique of the historical meaning and function of art. In light of these, it could be claimed that the photograph and its derivatives provided a means to supplement without separating post-object art from the social environment that was its raw material, and to more seamlessly insert it into a discursive field. They are: the an-aesthetic dimension of photography; its ubiquity, its reproducibility; its heterogeneity; indexicality and finally its reflexivity or self-criticality.

Barton goes on to say that:

In the 1970s it was exactly photography's freedom from the baggage of fine art that was the draw for artists searching for an alternative to the aesthetic tyrannies of late modernism. While art photographers were arguing their case for a place for photography in the pantheon of high art, on the grounds of its intrinsic formal qualities, post-object artists were merely using the camera as a recording device in their moves away from that institutional framework. They were disinterested in the aesthetic qualities of photography or the technical aspects of its production as ends in themselves. Rather photography was undertaken largely without the requirement of skill or specialist technical knowledge, in the mode of the amateur snapshot or the scientific record, often not by the artist themselves, but rather by someone else, charged with the business of documenting the action. As well as distancing themselves from the craft of photography or any aspirations to photography as Art, artists were attracted to the medium on the grounds of its ubiquity.


Instead of ditiching or dismantlng the image photography can deconstruct it by reconsidering the art of image-making--to go back to the picture rather than turn away from it fully aware that our   lives and desires are mediated by images in the mass media.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376513 2012-09-10T03:18:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z recovering context

The anti-aesthetic position in photography forfeits originality, uniqueness and self-expression whilst preserving photography as an autonomous aesthetic object whilst reintroducing the context of the  photograph when produced. 

Critics like Rosalind Krauss use a positivist understanding of photography (passive, non artistic, copy) to move beyond the traditional notions of artist/author (creative genius), the formalist modernist conception of a medium, and the art historical categories of oeuvre.

However, the anti-aesthetic position reduces aesthetics to modernist formalism, when the latter is a particular kind of aesthetics based on Greenberg's reading of Kant. Thus Hal Foster, in the preface to The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture,  says that:

Anti-aesthetic"...signals that the very notion of the aesthetic, its network of ideas, is in question here: the ideas that aesthetic experience exists apart, without "purpose," all but beyond history, or that art can now effect a world at once (inter)subjective, concrete, and universal--a symbolic totality. Like "postmodernism," then, "anti-aesthetic" marks a cultural position on the present: are categories afforded by the aesthetic still valid? ..."Anti-aesthetic" also signals a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politic (e.g., feminist art) or rooted in a vernacular--that is, to forms that deny the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm.(p.xv)

Foster sees "the aesthetic" as a single monolithic set of categories and he ignores the differences within the tradition of philosophical aesthetics.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376514 2012-09-06T09:34:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z the anti-aesthetic

It is held by some that photography grounds the anti-aesthetic argument. This argument in postmodernism was directed at the idea of medium specificity as a market of artistic value held was a central assumption of American modernist aesthetics (eg., Clement Greenberg).  The unique specificity of each artistic medium was used to justify the supposed evolution of modern art from figuration to abstraction; an art that was anithetical to the kisch of  of commercial culture. 

The anti-aesthetic argument is held by Pierre Bourdieu in Photography: A Middle -Brow Art (1965), where he stated  that there is no aesthetics in photography. It merely borrows aesthetic notions such as self-expressiveness, originality, singularity etc  from the other arts.

The anti-aesthetic position, aimed to displace a formalist  modernism that reduced aesthetics to questions of the autonomy of art, beauty, essentialism, artistic genius and visual pleasure. As defended by Clement  Greenberg and Michael Fried  this form of modernism held that each art aimed to project and investigate the literal properties of its own support.   

In her essay, A Note on Photography and  the Simulacral, Rosalind Krauss held that all art must accept its transformation by photography, which is to say that art foregoes its traditional aesthetic critieria.

One  assumption of the anti aesthetic position is that photography is a simple representation of reality. However, photography is a multiplicity that has always been contingent on strategies, materialism,  readings, uses and assemblages of multiple and contradictory discourses and powers. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376515 2012-09-01T10:16:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z along Depledge Rd

There is an interesting issue of the journal Art History  on Photography after conceptual art (Volume 32, Issue 5),  which was then published by Wiley as a book  edited  by Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen. This body of academic work emerges out of an AHRC Research Project entitled Aesthetics after Photography.

Contemporary photography (after conceptual art) can be categorised as either pictorial or conceptual. On the one hand demand,  we have  highly aestheticised pictorial image concerned to  ensure  the autonomy of photography as art.  This has already been established.

On the other hand, we have  the  purely conceptual where the photograph is incidental to the idea and disregarded as a medium via its incorporation into divergent practices. This  treats the photograph as a document of transparent information.

Herein lies a tension between photography’s aesthetic uptake as an autonomous  pictorial art being  compromised by it apparently being too closely and easily connected to empirical reality.

One interpretation of art history holds that in  the 1970s and 1980s, photography in art was aligned with a variety of radical avant-garde practices that sought to disrupt traditional modes of aesthetic appreciation.  This post conceptual strand  drew on Walter Benjamin's influential view that the mechanization of image-production undermined many of the values traditionally associated with fine art--eg., its aura.

Art photography in the early 21st century  has shifted from being  an anti-aesthetic artistic medium  to spectacular, large-scale, pictorial museum pieces, as exemplified in the work of Jeff Wall and Thomas Struth. 

This tension  or problem between the two strands opens  the door to the exploration of the photography’s aesthetic possibilities in terms of a merging of the conceptual and the pictorial.

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376516 2012-08-13T08:40:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z photography after conceptual art

Ian Burn finishes his  essay 'Conceptual Art as Art' in  his book Dialogue: Writing in Art History thus:

In conclusion, one could separate the analytic or strict Conceptual Art from the work which is a conceptual appearance by stating that the intention of the former is to devise a functional change in art, whereas the latter is concerned with changes in the appearance of the art. 

Post conceptual photography  in Australia in the 1980s was deemed to be postmodern in both theory and practice.  This was the judgement of Isobel Crombie and Sandra Byron's, Twenty Contemporary Australian Photographers: From the Hallmark Cards Australian Photographic Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria (1990).  Helen Ennis in her exhibition catalogue Australian Photography: The 1980s concured.   What was unclear from thes exhibitions, and the Blair French and Daniel Palmer text, Twelve Australian Photo Artists,  was the link between the allegorical impluse and the qualities of nonidentity, rupture, disjunction, distance, and fragmentation. 

It questioned the modernist traditions and conventions that had previously come to define photography---small-scale finely worked black and white photographs. This gave way to large, colour, stage-managed studio images that were exhibited in the art gallery system. This shift  was often framed  in  terms of the  traditional  art historical explicatory device of stylistic exhaustion and Oedipal reaction.   

This Australian postmodernism  in photographic culture was part of a broader global movement of what Douglas Crimp termed oppositional postmodernism  that was interested in representation and photography's function in an image culture; photography's role in the construction of (female) subjectivity; and the questioning of the assumptions underpinning  photography's indexical relation to the world.  

It was  an oppositional postmodernism in that it was a critique of the foundations of modernist asethetics such as form, originality, authenticity, and individual creativity. It also made an analysis of the art galleries/museum as an "institution of confinement";  and a critique of high modernism's antipathy to, and eradication of,  metaphor that allowed them to assert medium against meaning, likeness or literary values.    

In the photography after conceptual art  in Australia there was some questioning  of the conservative  landscape tradition in Australian painting,  and its construction of an essential Australian aesthetic, national narratives and settler Australia's relation to the land. This Anglocentric version of the social imaginary of Australia as a nation of well-intentioned, hardworking British settlers downplayed both the colonial forms of violence and subjugation of aboriginal Australians and  the destruction of the environment. 

This questioning of this cultural expression of national identity and its mythology raised the idea of the landscape both as a site of  historical conflict  and change, and the ways that we represent our relationships to the environment. 

By and large however,  though there has been a rich history of photographing the landscape, art photography with the land, landscape, nature as its subject  has declined  in Australia  and lost its currency. It has become sidelined as sophisticated chocolate box photography.  Two exceptions that come to mind  are  Debra Phillips 2001  landscapes of Lake George in New South Wale (The world as a puzzle 1 and 11) and David Stephenson's images of environmental destruction in Tasmania.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376517 2012-08-12T00:56:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z turning back to Ed Ruscha

Though it is well known that the early conceptual artists used photography in ways that went far beyond its modernist definitions as a medium – and succeeded thereby in breaking down the boundaries of all mediums in modernist art--- there is still an  absence in art history discourse that evaluates the  known conceptual photography in Australia. What liitle writing there is--eg., Anne Marsh in Look: Contemporary Australian Photography since 1980--suggests that it is a turn to  the dumb aesthetic of amateur images and  street photography  to undermine a modernist aesthetic. 

To gain an understanding  on conceptual art and photography (photoconceptual activity) we can turn back to America in 1962, where  the California painter Ed Ruscha used the principle of statement and performance  to create the book Twentysix Gasoline Stations. According to the art historians Ruscha first came up with the title, then proceeded to photograph the subject on one of his road trips from Oklahoma City (his hometown) to Los Angeles, his adopted city.

The work of art was to be the book itself, simply but carefully designed, whereas the photographs inside showed no traces of aesthetic decision making at all, as if the artist had merely pointed the camera out the car window in order to fulfill the requirements of the textual phrase.

Ruscha's book was  inextricably tied to its status as an article in a mass-produced and circulated publication. This idea of attaching the work of art directly to the channels of distribution and publicity that constituted its inevitable fate as a commodity transgressed the presentation of the single photography on the white walls of the art gallery. 

Ruscha produced sixteen books from the early 1960s to th late 1970s and some the  books in this instructional and perfomative  mode based around repetition  included Thirty Four Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967)  and Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass (1968). The conceptual basis of these works---following a rule or instruction in the spirit of experimentation-- is an alternative to the  anti-aesthetic interpretation  that is based on  the mimicing of non-autonomous photography, such as amateur snapshots or  photojournalism.

It  enables us to  link Ruscha's work back to the radical impulse in the European avant garde, that had been excluded by the Greenbergian canon;  and to see it  as a pathway that reconfigures photography away from the ontology of  high formalist modernism, which was secured by  the medium specific characteristics as outlined by Clement Greenberg, John Szarkowski and Michael Fried.   

This formalist modernism insisted on a division between high and low art, made a distinction between the popular vernacular and the avant-garde and highlighted the differences between a radical  avant-garde and the conservative fine art tradition.  It is what is currently defended by cultural conservatives in order to defuse the critical edge of art. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson
tag:conceptual-photography.posthaven.com,2013:Post/376518 2012-08-11T23:30:00Z 2013-10-08T16:43:06Z conceptual art and photography

On a strict art historical reading, the expression ‘conceptual art’ refers to the artistic movement that reached its pinnacle between 1966 and 1972 ] Amongst its most famous adherents at its early stage we find artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Robert Morris, Joseph Beuys,  Mel Ramsden and Ian Burns in Australia.

Whilst conceptual art on this interpretation  might arguably be limited to works produced during these five or six years nearly half a century ago, it seems overly narrow – certainly from a philosophical perspective – to limit our inquiry to works produced during that period alone. The reason is that  conceptual art, historically speaking,  sets out to question  our traditional conceptions of what an art object should be made of and what it should look like. The artwork is a process rather than a material thing or object.

Australian photographic art historians –eg., Helen Ennis and Gael Newton— make little or no reference to conceptual art, and its core idea that the locus of the work was deemed to be the idea or statement with the work being a performance of that statement. Do we infer that, unlike the US and elsewhere,  there was no conceptual photography produced by art photographers in the late 20th century?

There were. I can recall  Robert Ronney's Holden Park 1+2 (1970); Virginia Coventry's Service Road (1976-77); Ian North's Canberra Suite (1980-81). There may well be others.This photography was lo fi and it  was used to destablize the formalist aesthetic that was hegemonic in the  art galleries, such as the Australian Centre for Photography and the Australian National Gallery. 

A  example of a statement  or idea is ‘Walk down a country road on the Fleurieu Peninsula and take twenty  photographs of a tree (a pink gum or wattle)  and a Xanthorrhoea’. The process is walking down the country road,  and it is contrasted to the modernist idea of  photography as a  separate and definable “medium” distinct from painting, sculpture, printmaking etc. 

On this interpretation of conceptual art,  process matters more than physical material, and because art should be about intellectual inquiry and reflection rather than beauty or  aesthetic pleasure, the work of art is said to be the idea at the heart of the piece in question. The inference is that there is a critical edge to conceptual art towards the art tradition and institution.

Hence the idea of an oppositional photography that establishes a critical distance from cultural conservatism; a cultural conservatism that has traditionally defined how we look at, and understand,  the Australian  landscape.  

Gary Sauer-Thompson