The rationale for the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia is a simple one. It is a response to an insightful observation made by Gael Newton in her Preface to Photo Files: an Australian Photography Reader in 1999 about one way to map new territory for an art history of photography in the Australian art institution. Newton says that:
“One of the ironies of the past decades is that Photofile has provided continuity in a field in which book publication on Australian photography has been erratic and disappointing. Currently there is a dearth of books in print on the most obvious topics. Huge amounts of work needs to be done in standard publishing of historical and contemporary research of a sustained nature.“
This signposts a pathway to re-interpret the written history of photographic culture in Australia; a pathway to uncover what happened, but which has faded, been forgotten or considered obsolete until it is rediscovered. This obsolete past informs or shapes the present through legacy, memory, trace, retrieval, mourning and commemoration.
The legacy of the past is the telos of the canonical art history of Australia’s visual artas it was constructed under the influence of the formalist modernist aesthetics developed and defended by Clement Greenberg, John Szarkowski and Michael Fried; and by art institutions such as the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the National Gallery of Australia (ANG). This modernist art history of photography, with its assumptions of the autonomous artwork, the original artist, medium specificity, a high/mass culture divide was constructed during the 1960s when critics were starting to become aware that this kind of formalist modernism was problematic. This resistance lead to the formation of October in the mid-1970s and the formation of a critical postmodernism.
The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia is situated in the empty space of the Australian modernist art history constructed in the 1980s. This is an empty, silent space because the art photography or photo art in Adelaide from the 1970s—2000 has been consistently overlooked by the modernist art historians and curators. It has also been ignored in the national timelines of photography in Australia, as constructed by Daniel Palmer and Martin Jolly in their online Curating Photography project. If this past has been buried as if it never happened, then the photos in the Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia were made from the borderlands of Australian visual culture.
This borderland is becoming porous with the pictorial turn, as several books by Adelaide photographers have been produced the first two decades of the 21st century. These include Alex Frayne’s Adelaide Noir, Theatre of Life and Landscapes of South Australia; books by Mark Kimber, Deborah Pauuwe, Stavros Pippos; Che Chorally’s Sky Sea Me, Gary Haigh’s Mysteries of the Ordinary and the two texts by Gary Sauer-Thompson and Adam Dutkiewicz, namely: Abstract Photography: Re-evaluating Visual Poetics in Australian Modernism and Contemporary Practice (2017) and Adelaide Art Photographers c1970-2000 (2019). These suggest a decentering and an alternate history.
These photo-books help to fill in one of the regional gaps in the national art history of photography. They suggest that there was a particular way that art is identified as art in the given historical or social context, and that a critical discourse of photography emerged through a questioning of a modernist aesthetic detached from history or politics. The historical context is one in which the gate keepers of art photography in Melbourne and Sydney in the late 20th century ignored what happened in the regions outside of the Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney triangle. Gate keeping implies both power/knowledge relations and multiple points of cultural resistance inscribed with the networks of power.
The Bowden Archives and Other Marginalia has its roots in an uncompleted MA by dissertation and photography. It is based on a form of memory work involving an active seeking out and an interpretive and reconstructive approach to the past. What unfolds is a collage of images and writings that stand at the margins of being systematically and/or instinctively ordered. Academic convention demands the former. The MA was not systematically ordered and it was abandoned for a PhD in philosophy.