The Photograph Considered number eighteen – Gary Sauer-Thompson

The Photograph Considered number eighteen – Gary Sauer-Thompson

Silo, Carina, Mallee Highway, Victoria.  Ink Jet Print

This picture of a silo in the Mallee landscape was made as part of a conceptual project to photograph fifteen silos along the Mallee Highway in a documentary style. I’d seen the silos  standing silently in the flat Mallee landscape on my return trips to and from Canberra,  and I thought that this subject would make for a quick and easy  large format photographic study.

My base in Victor Harbor on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia has meant that this project requires a lot of travel and planning. I decided to make the silo project a side and companion project to the three year collaborative Mallee Routes: Photographing the Malleeproject . 

The  planning consists of the silos being  scoped with a digital camera whilst I am working on the Mallee Routes project,  I can determine the best perspective to photograph them. These scoped images are then viewed on the computer screen in conjunction with the on-site notes to work out the right time to photography them: ie., with the early morning or late afternoon light.  My preference is for low light and cloud cover.  The cloud cover adds to the difficulty of the project since it is largely limited to the winter months in the Mallee region.

There have been a series of false starts to the silo project. I started off using a Schneider-Kreuznach  240mm Symmar f5.6 lens  with a Pronto shutter on an 8 x 10,  only to discover that it didn’t have the required coverage. I switched to using a 300mm lens,  but I also encountered vignetting in the top right and left corners when I raised the camera’s front standard too high to incorporate the top of the silos into the picture frame. Since I cannot afford to build a scaffolding  for each photo session,  I decided to use a tripod with a column, wind up the column,  then stand on a small step ladder. Using the column requires low wind to avoid camera movement.

The photographic apparatus in the project was honed down to be as simple as possible: 1 camera, one lens, one film and one tripod. The camera is an 8 x 10 SuperCambo monorail (circa 1958), a Schneider-Kreuznach  300mm Symmar f5.6 lens,  Ilford FP4 Plus film and a Linhof Heavy Duty Pro tripod. The sheet film is developed in Kodak D76; the negative is scanned with an Epson V700 flatbed scanner; the digital file is post processed using Adobe Lightroom 6 and Silver Efex Pro on an old (cheese grater) Mac Pro. The A1 exhibition ink jet print is made by David Hobbes at Atkins Pro Lab in Adelaide on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag using an Epson P20070 Ink Jet Printer.

The silo project is within the conceptual tradition of art photography,  as it is determined by an idea: photograph fifteen silos on the Mallee Highway, which is then executed. The concept is pre-determined in advance of the photography based on following a pre-determined route.

The project’s reference points are Bernd and Hilla Becher’s series of industrial structures and Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations  book. The reference to the Bechers is not only to their idea of anonymous sculptures and to their  rejection of subjectivity and their pursuit of objectivity. It is also refers to their use of large format photography to avoid Ruscha’s rhetoric of the amateur snapshot and his deadpan approach photography with its tradition of an aesthetic of indifference.

The silo project rejects the idea that photography is the anti-aesthetic medium par excellence, in virtue of its mechanical nature and causal mechanisms  underlying its indexicality. The emphasis is on the picture within a photographic tradition, without buying into Michael Fried’s argument in his Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before that contemporary art photography precipitates a  crisis of the picture.

This particular silo at Carina in Victoria was made in October 2017 whilst I was on my way to a Mallee Routes photocamp at Morgan on the River Murray in South Australia with Gilbert Roe.  This weather forecast  for the Mallee was for overcast conditions  so I decided to go to Morgan via the Mallee Highway in order to spend a couple of days on the silo project around Murrayville.

The Carina silo is just over the Victorian South Australian border. My plan was to photograph the Carina silo in the late afternoon just before dusk, camp the night in a swag at Murrayville, and then photograph the silo at Murrayville early the following morning, followed by the one at Cowangie, if the overcast conditions held. Then I would continue onto the Morgan  photo camp to work on the  Mallee Routes photos Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery exhibition early in 2018.

The photographic event itself was quick.  The site had been scoped on a previous trip and the image was pre-visualized. I quickly  made 2 images of the Carina silo—-one in landscape mode and one in portrait mode. Both were at f64, using a Y2 filter with 10 second exposures.  The landscape version was chosen in spite of the top of the silo being cut off, because it best represented the emphasis on receptivity to this Mallee landscape. The post processing suggested this openness or attunement.

The background is Fried’s question: what am I trying to do with this photography?  A way into this is through Heidegger’s notion of Stimmung. Heidegger’s central insight is that we cannot exist independently of our relation to the world, and that this relationship is a matter of fundamental moods (eg., anxiety, fear), not rational contemplation. Stimmung refers to the fundamental moods or attunements characteristic of everyday existence of our being in the world. Such moods disclose the human being as thrown into the ‘there’ of my being-in-the-world. Thrown in the sense of already having found oneself there in the world. The emphasis of the picture is  on the ‘thereness ’ of  my being in the world  of the Carina silo in the Wimmera Mallee.

Heidegger’s conception of being-in-the-world in his Being and Timeruns counter to the traditional dualistic Cartesian picture of the relation between human beings and world, in which the subject (some sort of mind) faces a world of objects that stand over against me. In contrast to this dualist experience of some spectator gazing out at a world stripped of value, being-in-the-world describes the world that surrounds the human being and in which they are completely immersed for the most part.

As a photographer at the Carina silo I apprehend the world practically as a world of things (silo, railway line, scrub, house etc) which are useful and handy and imbued with human significance and value. I am inextricably bound up and bound together with the complex web of social practices associated with railways, silos, houses, people and farms that make up this world. The world is part of who I am. If I am fundamentally with my world, then that world is a common world that is experienced together with others.

I initially envisaged the project being completed in less than a year: it was a just a matter of  following the script, travelling the Mallee Highway  and photographing each silo along the way. It has turned out to be otherwise. It is an ongoing project.

Gary Sauer-Thompson with 8×10 camera

Gary Sauer-Thompson is a photographer and blogger in Victor Harbor, South Australia. He has an M.Comin economics (Canterbury University, New Zealand) and a PhD in Philosophy (Flinders University of South Australia). His photographic training was at the Photography Images College in South  Melbourne. More of his work can be seen on his website.  

His books include:
Gary Sauer-Thompson,   Edgelands, Thoughtfactory, Adelaide, 2014.
Adam Dutkiewicz + Gary Sauer-Thompson,  Abstract Photography: Re-Evaluating Visual Poetics in Australian Modernism and Contemporary Practice,Moon Arrow Press, Adelaide, 2016. 
Gary Sauer-Thompson Mallee Routes: Photographing the Mallee  2018, Thoughtfactory, Adelaide 2018.
Adam Dutkiewicz + Gary Sauer-Thompson, Adelaide Photography 1970-200,Moon Arrow Press, Adelaide (forthcoming, 2019).

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