Atkins Floor Talk

I visited Adelaide for the opening of the exhibition that Gary had organised and was asked to give a floor talk at Atkins Photo Lab. The talk is below, slightly edited.

I made a few pictures on the way over too.

Thank you everyone for coming tonight. Thanks also to Paul and the Atkins lab for allowing us to exhibit. Also, Gary for his input and advice throughout all our interactions together.

photo of rural landscape
Wind turbines dot the horizon in rural Victoria

I would like, if I may, begin by quoting one of main inspirations; Robert Adams.

“The job of the photographer, in my view, is not to catalogue indisputable fact but to try to be coherent about intuition and hope. This is not to say that he is unconcerned with the truth.”*

Most of my work ; attempts to have this philosophy underpinning it.

I have exhibited in various venues around Melbourne for more than 25 years. I even have had a couple of exhibitions here in South Australia. This exhibition is a first for me in several ways though.

• I am exhibiting pinned silver gelatine prints
• Some of the prints are from negatives that span 25 years of working in Melbourne
• I have never enlarged any of them before.

None of this has struck me as a disadvantage; rather another challenge to my own creative output. I am a fortunate as a creative to have never had a client so all my work is driven by my own impulses and desires. This has afforded me the privilege of making pictures of what I please when I please.

A dead tree on a country road
A dead tree on a country road

Some people say there is only two types of pictures in the world. Portraits and Maps. This makes my work sit in one camp, the map camp, but where can my work lead you? Some others also talk about pictures that consist of harmony or discord, think a ‘Poussin’, versus a ‘Henson’. I attempt to make my work sit in the harmony camp.
One of the aims of my work is to invite the viewer to see beyond the ugliness in the subject matter as presented. I use subtle compositions and careful printing of the images. I am a firm believer in long tonal scales with complex compositions. These weave together with line and form to invite the viewer to look beyond subject matter.
All the prints are made using hardware and software that accentuate the tonal scale of the large format negatives I make. A picture in camera can take up to 40 minutes to set up, depending on lighting and weather conditions. A print can take between a day and a month to resolve. By resolve I mean create an image that is cohesive tonally and sits comfortably within the larger body of work. The work is pinned up in my studio darkroom as I build on it. I take my time rearranging the work and even add subtract or reprint as I see fit. For this exhibition the process began in May, with me printing on weekends and after hours. The first few days of July saw the prints spread out in my studio as I contemplated their final sequence or edit.

Picnic Spot Near Dimboola
Picnic Spot Near Dimboola

I make my own film and paper developers and use these tools to make the best possible print I can. Currently I make far more negatives than I have time to print. This has resulted in an archive that when I first started making photographic art I never intended to create. This archive now underpins and on occasion drives forward a large part of what I do. The western and northern suburbs are changing dramatically from that of my childhood memories. The act of capturing this has attained a sense of urgency now.

As I was schooled in the modernist idea of the fine print. I decided on a film and film developer combination many years ago and have continued to use this combination to this day. I chose the two for fine grain and long tonal scales. Occasionally, I draw on other paper developers which can be an intuitive or technical choice. But I have been using the same film developer since graduating Art School in 1992.

In my early days as a younger man my subject matter was partly inspired by the Beat celebration of modern city and street life. Of the dark alleys and neglected corners of all cities that we all walk past engrossed in our own thoughts. Unable or unwilling to pay attention to our surroundings. Other inspirations are the Bechers and their typologies. Robert Adams photographs as well his prose, gentle and softly spoken, with some would say the ugliest of subject matter; in the early days at least. Richard Misrach with his politicised Desert Cantos series, beautiful and yet heart breaking in their subtext.

Making an image on a particular location used to be very easy. Find a spot by driving or walking in or around come back with a camera and make a picture. Nowadays things are very different. Both Gary and I can attest to being challenged on numerous occasions at various places around Melbourne. Now pre-planning helps and seeking permission is useful but frustrating and time consuming. Factor in weather and the light and productivity can drop very low. Currently Gary and I are seeking access to an area in North Melbourne that is undergoing rapid change. I am doing my best to capture this from both legal and safe aspects. But we both feel the best pictures will be made up close and personal and the bureaucracy is not making this any easier or any quicker.

When I make my prints in a larger series like this one I print all the images in one developer on one brand of paper. I generally use a technique called split filter printing that uses two variable contrast filters to determine exposures. This technique allows for very subtle manipulation of the prints and I hope beg the viewer to look a little harder and longer at the image in front of them.

Currently this body of work is an open ended project. It began by me walking and wandering in places, for their strangeness and uniqueness. At least to a lad from the outer suburbs.

The logistics of that process could have made our collaborative effort a bit more difficult. As Gary and I keep working on this project I may reprint these and other prints, larger in scale, and possibly framed. I never edition my prints, each print I make is a variation of its previous iteration. I have no interest in feeding a market for editions, it really is a wysiwyg world.

Let me finish by quoting another idea from a another literary source, William Carlos Williams.

“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there,”

I hope you find some poetry or some news in my work; or whatever it is you’re looking for.

* pg 46 Beauty in photography essays in defence of traditional values