Roadtrips: Review of Smalltown

This book review of Smalltown is not a consumer guide (the book is out of print), nor a form of entertainment (eg., a performance ). It is a minor contribution to the cultural conversation about photography in Australian culture. It is also about the dialectic of stasis and change of the photographic-cultural canon since what seeds canonicity are judgments about what photographic works are better or worse than others. What appears to be currently happening is that the gap between photography in the art world — particularly the museum world — and photographic culture more generally is becoming more polarized.

Photographic roadtrips in Australia are not recognized as a substantive genre by the curators of Australian art photography. This is in contrast to the US, where roadtrips are seen as a central part in the development of American photography. From what I can find apart from this 2014 exhibition at the Monash Gallery of Art, Australian curators do not seem that interested in this genre, even though Australian photographers have been making road trips since the 1970-80s and they have published books about them.

Port Augusta, South Australia

A recent example is Smalltown by Martin Mischkulung and Tim Winton from 2009. Mischkulnig grew up in small South Australian towns where his Austrian migrant parents ran roadside motels in Bordertown and Port Augusta. His childhood places ‘were never destinations in themselves’, ‘but places on the way to somewhere else’. As a child, the places generally devalued by Australian society resonated with Mischkulnig.

His photographs are of the remote smalltowns, open spaces and roads in the remoter regions of South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria, NSW and Tasmania. However, I know little about the background to Mischkulnig’s project. What I know is that he made 3 roadtrips, generally made these indoor and outdoor photographs in low light, and he used an 8×10 Sinar P monorail and colour film to do so. This would be a very expensive project to undertake today, given the price of 8×10 film and processing.