The Pre-History of 3 roads night
"Chance comes repeatedly only to those who are prepared to exploit it"
Henri Cartier Bresson.
Part 1: Night shots Brisbane circa 1985.
The basic ideas (& desires) that have found their expression in the 3 roads night exhibition have grown from an initial series of night images created about 20 years ago. The ill fated excavation series was unfortunately never exhibited. That series started to take its form after conversations with one of my photography students about how to go about fleshing out ideas for making photos. One idea we talked about was to do with excavations (or something about digging). What we discussed seemed a great idea to me but the student thought it would be all too much work. At the time I was in the midst of reading the William Burrough's novel 'Ah Pook is here and other texts' that dealt with the demise of the Mayan Empire, hieroglyphics and space (and drugs) and eternal life; and I thought 'I'll just graft these ideas together and see what I can come up with'.
Night seemed the ideal 'time' to take photographs that would be representative of space and time and the mysterious "other" that Burroughs was writing about. I had already made a few successful attempts at night photography, mostly city lights. In the context of the excavation series the scope of the images would be broader in subject range and technically more difficult. In the wide open spaces of Brisbane the picture making began to take the form of all night image shooting safaris. With my photography mates Allan Disney and David Gofton we would drive all over the industrial estates and port areas of Brisbane looking for shots that fulfilled our particular needs. On one of my earlier nights out with David I was able to photograph the underside of a huge silo with its elephantine hose for ejecting its contents. This image when proofed was dutifully pasted up in one of my journals with my accompanying Burroughs/Mayan glyphs. These were early days and things were still a long way from the less literal approach to visual images.
One of the most memorable things about this period is the incredible amount of time I had available to indulge and experiment with my art and ideas. My first 'road line' photo was made as part of the excavation series after noticing the linear drawing power of the lines around a median strip on Sir Kingsford Smith Drive as I made my way home one evening. Returning with my Hasselblad (a 6+6 cm film format camera) I made some hand held shots of the roadway. One was eventually used as the introductory shot to the series. Popping back to a location to make a shot was about as impulsive as the shooting ever got for the excavation series. Although the driving around contained some randomness it was never spur of the moment photography. The tripod bound camera and long exposures associated with night photography, fifteen to sixty seconds in my instance, tended to work against complete spontaneity.
A large camera like a Hasselblad can be carried around but it is certainly too large to be carried everywhere on the off chance that a picture might present itself. Camera portability does seem to enhance the likelihood of having a camera available when an out-of-the-blue opportunity to make a picture happens. By contrast, while some of the images in 3 roads night were made in the time honoured tripod and long exposure tradition, others were only acquired by being in possession of a camera at the most unlikely of times. Simple walks to the supermarket or a meandering late night post party journey home (and the digital aspect meant not worrying about the film and processing). The small camera and a preparedness to allow the visual structure of the world to declare itself were key elements to the images of 3 roads night.
Part 2: The 3 roads night exhibition
I recall a T. V. documentary where the American artist Robert Rauschenberg talked about never going more than a block from his studio in search of the urban detritus that he would then imbed into his paintings. He stated that if he couldn't find what he needed on his daily walks he simply wasn't trying hard enough. Only very occasionally did he feel the need to actually break this rule and extend his search for material.
Rauschenberg is of course talking about the palette and how he looks at it. He is talking about delving deeper into the palette and of finding new ways of making new art with that palette. For 3 roads night I have taken onboard the ideas of Rauschenberg and Bresson, staying 'put', and remaining open to opportunity and chance. But who qualifies as an artist?
A friend of mine a Sonographer took me quite by surprise by stating how often she is complimented on the attractiveness of her ultrasounds. The doctors she works with regularly comment on how beautifully she makes her 'pictures'. Recently when my elbow was given an ultrasound I asked the Sonographer what she thought about the idea of making beautiful pictures; while not conceding to the idea of pictorial sonography she certainly believed that a certain art is required to be a good Sonographer.
During the ultrasound examination I was able to watch as various tissues tendon and bone were revealed on the monitor as the Sonographer slid the lubricated head of the ultrasound across my elbow and adjusted knobs and dials to change the depth of sound wave penetration. The changing layers revealed beneath the skin reminded me of the constant variableness of visual perception. How while looking at the same object the perception of a structure can be changed dramatically by exercising ones ability to choose a point of focus.
As an x-ray looks through the skin or as an ultrasound is adjusted incrementally to locate and view different tissue and muscle mass below the skin, through the application of lens, choice of aperture, point of focus and light the camera with its uniquely controllable ocular view, in its unswerving way lifts the layers to reveal the unseen. Night paradoxically becomes the great uncloaker, like an ultrasound, enhancing and narrowing the view, removing extraneous and distracting background material.
3 roads night endeavors to undertake an artistic 'Sonographers' examination of the urban landscape, finding beauty (or maybe disease) in the revealed layers of the hidden working parts of urban society.