The new old thing.

Three days spent in Melbourne visiting shows, meeting curators, talking to photographers and participating in a group slide night have sparked a major recalibration.

Slide Night is a group discussion hosted by Clare Rae, Kate Robertson and Ross Coulter. Each invited participant must shoot a roll of 35mm film and edit to three slides. The idea is for these images to act as visual cues for discussion. 6 artists presented during the night, and the conversations were broad-ranging, thought-provoking and articulate. The experience of unearthing a film camera, finding film, exposing, processing and editing it was something I have not really engaged with since 2005. It was exactly the same heady mix of exhilaration, anticipation, disappointment and revelation that I remember from those days.

After this a morning was spent in the dimly lit galleries of Monash, looking at the treasures unearthed from their archives and curated by Bill Hensen. The majority of these images were made in the previous two centuries: The jewel in the show was a tiny, glowing cyanotype, author unknown. Picturing two female figures on a huge fallen tree, with a strange ghost form in the center of the frame, it conjured Arbus’s twins, Edwardian ectoplasm and colonial scrapbooks, all delineated in shades of azure. The past and future of analogue photography seem foreshadowed in this show. No coincidence I am sure that I picked up a great catalogue at ACCA for Tacita Dean’s homage to her beloved 16mm medium: FILM. This booklet contains several impassioned pieces of her writing pleading for the continued ability of an artist to choose their medium, and convincingly describes the huge shifts in artistic thinking that accompany the transition into the digital realm.

These experiences remind me of the deep aesthetic and textural richness of Ben Rivers‘ films. His commitment to 16mm B&W, old cameras and extreme wide angle lenses sets up incredibly tight parameters for his films. But in so doing the film itself becomes foregrounded in a way that beautifully correlates to the content. In my recent works the digital intrusion into the pictures – the device of the clear-cut and Pantone backgrounds – attempts to correlate as tightly to my themes. Of necessity this correlation speaks of insertion, dislocation, the techno-sublime.

I am under no illusions: My work, both commercial and personal owes a huge debt in terms of resolution to the digital workflow. A degree of control and the microscopic refining of ideas are possible within that workflow that simply do not exist in the analogue world. Still, these encounters have been a welcome reminder of my previous deep connection with the material in my photographic process. So tomorrow I will shoulder the view camera and trudge up a volcano with some sheets of Polaroid, just to see what happens…