The Bowden Archives and other Marginalia

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The Bowden Archives and other Marginalia  is the current working title of the  book of  my archival photographs from the 1980s that I have recently started to work on.

What unfolds in the book is a collage of images and writings. The collage-like writings and accompanying images stand at the margins of being systematically and/or instinctively ordered. Academic convention demands the former but in this case the memories of the past are  vague, diffuse or unspecific, slippery, emotional, ephemeral, elusive or indistinct. The  remembered changes are like a kaleidoscope in that the memories don’t  really have a pattern at all.

The narrative in the book  is  reinvented, combined in weird assemblages in that  the  pieces of the past are being superimposed in some new sense.

The turning point
The turning point

The reason for this approach is that I don’t have a clear memory of my photographic  past,    cannot recall  my thinking about my photography of that period, ands have no awareness  of  how I was assessing the material on photography that I was reading.  So I have to reconstruct  or reassemble my experiences   from various materials. The result is that  different pieces of things that are gathered into a single context.

The past survives however much one tries to drive it down and away from one’s consciousness. It rears up provoked by something overheard or a scene, a place, an object, a tune, a scent even. It is inescapable.  Place and landscape are always centred on the person(al) and articulated differently in each case in a series of connections through remembered/forgotten place-times.

The assemblage approach to the  photographic past  does suggest metaphors  such as  mosaic, patchwork, heterogeneity, fluidity, transitory configuration. It also  implies an indefiniteness, messiness, a jumbling together. This kind of  indeterminacy is okay for reconstructing memories of the past.   The book  is  an assemblage and its status as an assemblage does not prevent it from containing assemblages within itself.


The marginalia in the title refers to  being on the margins of art photography–a place of exteriority or alterity from which one might still treat of photography. Art photography at the time was as narrowly defined in terms of being a graduate of the art school,  obtaining grants  for projects, having exhibitions and a career in the art institution.  This public sphere was a controlled space in a specific time that is in tension with what is outside this networked space. Prior to photography become an art form in the early 1970s and the emergence of art photography,  cultural cringe was prevalent with regard to Australian photography.   It was rarely, if ever, talked about as an art form. Australian photography was still in the hands of the camera clubs and magazines and influenced by those aesthetics.

Modernist photography was obsessed with issues of visuality,  creating  new vocabularies of vision, and the radical eye.”Look at how I, and the camera, see the world: that is all there is.” This  mode of artists using photography privileges the sensibility of the individual photographer or his or hers own unique vision.This  is the artist as hero who had the vision to see the form behind modernity’s  movement and change; a viewpoint that was obscured for the ordinary person by the specters and phantasmagorias of  everyday life.  The artist observer is  a ‘Seer’.

In Australia in the 70’s this tradition became associated via the art institutions in Melbourne, such as The Photographers Gallery, The Church Street Gallery  and the National Gallery of Victoria’s Department of Photography with the American  fine art tradition that placed an emphasis on  photography as a medium,  the formal and expressive qualities of the image,  and the technical excellence of their prints. The work circulated in specialist photography galleries which meant that this photographic culture was seen to become insular,  limited, a ghetto, and culturally exhausted.

 Vision (the physical processes of sight) was given priority over visuality (the ‘social fact’ of visuality). The minds eye, as it were, is actually the body’s eye, which in turn, is the camera’s eye. This visuality was one that cannot be commodified or disciplined by  capital’s picturing of the world in the form of photography as the tool of commerce, science and industry. Culture is a more worthy endeavour than commerce and art’s value derives from its independence and potential criticality of commerce and  market values.   The excesses of the visuality of art photography, however,   become  available as part of the modernizing process to the visual culture industry, and since the 1980s art has move d closer to entertainment and commercial culture once seen as its antithesis.
 Being on the outside of art photography is being on margins, and it  involves  a kind of gnawing away at edges  to open up the conversation with photography’s other—the nonphotographic or text, poetics or literature —through a blurring of the boundaries. The other as text is what is  unthought, repressed or concealed. The other here its best understood as a relation of difference, such as a post-modern  critical reflecting back on  the way that images make meaning. The photograph is not an autonomous object – it becomes a post-structuralist textual site where the artist and curator (and writers, conservators, historians and viewers) become the editors of the document and where little appeal can be made to the original intentions of the author (if they are known).
This tinkering with the borders art photography   and the way that the art institutions  patrol the borders to keep the border in place and ensure the sovereign status of art photography, blurs the border zones between philosophy and its alterity (or non-philosophical  places) enabling cross-borderal supplementation through unconcealing art photography’s other.

2 Responses

  1. […] mentioned in this post that I had started working on the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia book and that some of my […]

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