water and electricity don't mix

An update of the Kitava project which, until now, was proposed as requiring:

  • 3 x GoalZero Yeti 400 generators
  • 3 x Goal Zero Nomad 100 foldable solar panels

These would've cost $4,795 and, until yesterday, I was of the firm impression that their transportation costs from Adelaide to Port Moresby would be in the order of $800. Yesterday I was advised by Qantas that the costs were an unavoidable $1,700! This is prohibitively expensive and has forced me to significantly reconsider the project.

Instead of the original items noted above, tomorrow I'll purchase smaller solar charging units—three if possible, depending on supply. But regardless of how many are purchased, I've decided to use all remaining funds to buy additional rainwater tanks for Kitava. To date, I've raised $3,320 of the initial $4,000 sought for this project, and I'll provide an additional $1,495 of my own funds.

Meanwhile I'll begin researching and planning how best to approach the original project from a different angle. This might include establishing a non-profit organisation specifically for assisting the Kitavan community, or seeking auspicing services through an established non-government organisation. Whichever eventuates, I want all future donations to be tax-deductible for all donors.

Speaking of whom, I wish to give my heartfelt thanks to Roof Rack City Adelaide, Goal Zero Australia, Rebecca, Jennifer, Jono and Lavinia, Nori and Damian, Sue and Bruce, Christine, Lise, Adam, Jane and Simon, Ruth, Peter, Mel and Jay, Margaret, Peter and Cat, Maria, Tobias, Mel and Gary, Michelle and Pat, Greg and Jonathon, Luke, Sandra and Peter, Lesley and Neil, Nick and Michelle, Carol-Anne, Sam and Eugene, Andrew, and Richard, for their exceptional generosity and trust in me. If, however, given the changes outlined above, you'd prefer that I reimburse your donation, please don't hesitate to let me know. I'll happily and quite understandably oblige you.

I apologise for not achieving the original outcomes, but as one major donor said to me, they'd rather their money spent on rainwater tanks than transportation. I'm so very grateful for your collective and individual support for the people of Kitava who will directly benefit from every cent that's been raised. I travel to PNG this Saturday, and to Kitava a fortnight from then. Thank you.

 Children, Okoburura village, Kitava, Nov 2015

Children, Okoburura village, Kitava, Nov 2015

here comes the sun. here comes the sun...

In his absorbing 2014 memoir, What days are for, Robert Dessaix reflects on being "mugged by death". At one point he asks, somewhat rhetorically;

There’s a hopefulness to travel, don’t you think?

Given the memoir's context, it's a profoundly intimate question: anyone at the edge of the eternal abyss, but not yet resigned to being drawn into it must have at their core a measure of hope. There's an altogether broader point too, which is sophisticatedly untangled elsewhere in the book and in an earlier collection of essays, As I was saying. It's that travel transports us, quite literally, from our everyday tedium. Travel is, Robert contends, transformative; something the 'escapes' and 'getaways' relentlessly pushed by a lazy travel-industry juggernaut are unlikely if not unable to achieve.

The transformative nature of travel goes a long way toward explaining my interest in and dedication to supporting community development on the remote Trobriand Island of Kitava. My initial visit there in 2015 was made with little knowledge of the islands, other than a few early twentieth century Bronisław Malinowski ethnographies poured over at university more than twenty years earlier.

Consequently, my experiences of Kitava and its larger neighbouring island, Kiriwina (an en route stop-over), have proven transformative. Like so few other destinations, I feel a kinship with the place and its people that I've yet to fully understand or appreciate. Dessaix frequently employs the analogy of one's life being like a thread; interweaving with the threads of other's lives. Extending the analogy, threads can be tightly or loosely woven; strong or delicate; colourful or dull; course or smooth;  temporary or lasting; irreperable or not...

Be as it may, my Kitavan 'thread' currently binds with those of so many others on the island. I invite you to weave your thread with mine for however long or closely, to help knit a more prosperous and sustainable future for Kitava. As of the moment of posting this, my friends, family and colleagues have raised $1,790 of the $4,000 needed.

If you'd like to help bring solar generators and panels to each of Kitava's three major villages, please telephone +61 (0) 425 095 459 or get in touch through this Facebook page or my website. Alternatively, you can click GoFundMe to make a direct donation. Thank you! 

 Yam harvest festival stage, Lalela, Kitava, June 2016

Yam harvest festival stage, Lalela, Kitava, June 2016

let there be light...and electricity!

The Trobriand Archipelago island of Kitava, in Papua New Guinea, is a place of quiet beauty and generous hospitality. But living there can be harsh without mains electricity and water. What's more, sanitation is low, and infant mortality high. Having visited there twice, I return again in July, partly to see first-hand the three 9,000litre rainwater tanks I organised (with a lot of help from my friends and a few strangers!), to be installed there, but also to take with me three new solar generators (with solar panels, electrical cords and LED lightbulbs).

Goal Zero Australia and Adelaide-based retailer, Roof Rack City have helped make this happen with discounted solar-generators and panels. And AMK Enterprises, in Queensland, has come to the party; providing a number of household battery rechargers, solar panels and LED lighting. The free power generated from these will help people recharge their mobile phones, household batteries, and illuminate common areas in the island's villages at night. Kitava’s economy is almost wholly subsistence-based, so the less money (and time) spent buying and transporting diesel to the island for a few diesel generators, the better.

What’s more, solar generators are emissions-free, silent, and their batteries are readily replaceable and recyclable at the end of their life. Each unit is highly portable, and can be easily relocated to where emergency lighting is needed (for example, home-births at night).

Savings made from buying less diesel can be directed elsewhere: providing much-needed contraception; buying more rainwater tanks; improving the island’s only healthcare centre; repairing the island’s only car (used by the healthcare centre), and; repairing boat motors, for example. Each generator also makes an ideal item of study for school children!

If you’d like to contribute toward bringing much-needed renewable electricity to Kitava, please telephone +61 425 095 459, or email (me [at] marcdbowden dot com). $4,000 will provide three generators, solar panels, extension cords, powerboards and LED light globes. Every cent of funds received will be spent solely on these items and their transportation to Kitava (I pay for my own return flights to Kitava from Adelaide).

Thank you so much in advance, and thanks again to Goal Zero, Roof Rack City and AMK Enterprises—your generosity will help make a huge difference to Kitava's community!

where it's at

I'm almost done with social media.

Murder, rape, and suicide are broadcast live, and stalking, trolling, and bullying are par-for-the-course. Whacko conspiracy theories and lies abound and spread in an instant, engendering paranoia, if not hysteria and harm. The gullible, uninformed and misinformed are manipulated, and innocent people victimised. Greed, idiocy, heartlessness and narcissism are lionised.

Then there's the advertising, and obscene revenues made from selling users' data. And the ridiculously shallow 'recommended' posts, friends, news, etc. based on algorithms that really don't account for the complexity of being a thoughful, compassionate human. It's so insidious as to make any sane person opt out—many of my friends have, and I envy them for it. I'd prefer to have no part of it.

In fact, I wouldn't at all be surprised if in the future I remove my presence entirely from each of the platforms I'm party to. But for now, I'll barely maintain accounts for what is possibly the most inane reason: the art world expects it (read any arts grant or prize 'terms and conditions' if you need proof of that expectation). And already I feel a great sense of relief and freeing-up of time better spent doing more of what I enjoy most. Living!

In praise of living, I leave my dedicated readers with some images I recorded over Easter in Tasmania. I hope they might inspire those who've never visited to consider doing so, and those who've already enjoyed its many splendours to plan a return journey...

they paved paradise

Few Australians would know who the federal member for the seat of Watson is. Many would, however, know who the so-called 'Hon' Tony Burke is. He's been a federal politician since 2004, and was once a Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

As said Minister, four years ago Burke (anyone acquainted with Cockney rhyming slang?), ignored considered expert advice from the government's Australian Heritage Council that 439,000ha of outstanding aboriginal cultural and environmental qualities embodied in the Tarkine (or Takayna), in north-west Tasmania, be heritage listed. Instead, he approved a paltry 21,000ha (<5%).

With a slew of uncompromising anti-environment policies, there's little chance of the current Federal and Tasmanian governments affording the Tarkine the National Park protection it so desperately deserves. Which is why the work of former Senator for Tasmania, and leader of the Australian Greens, the genuinely honourable Bob Brown, is so important.

The Bob Brown Foundation is―with the Tarkine National CoalitionThe Wilderness SocietyEnvironment Tasmania, World Wildlife Fund Australia, the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, and support from businesses such as Patagonia, the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge, Tarkine Trails, and Paddy Pallin, among others―raising community awareness of and support for protecting the Tarkine from further destruction wrought by extractive industries. 

The Foundation is 'playing the long game', and I'm incredibly proud to have been invited along with other Australian artists to its annual Tarkine in Motion project. This Easter, I'll head to north-west Tasmania's rich tapestry of ecosystems and cultural landscapes. Having recently returned from Japan's inspirational and ethereal World Heritage-listed yakusugi forests of Yakushima (my images after the video below), I'm very keen to explore with an artist's eye and committed heart, the Tarkine's threatened landscapes.

If you're unfamiliar with the Tarkine, I encourage you to watch and share this seven-minute film introduced by my dear friend, and one of too few personal heroes, Bob Brown. It's beautifully directed by Michael Roland, with support from Patagonia clothing.

hell is other people

If hell is other people (apologies to fans of Jean-Paul Sartre), Japan is a little slice of heaven!

There’s a lot to admire about Japan―deliciously healthy food; efficient and clean transport; spectacular natural and cultural landscapes; intriguing historic and contemporary architecture and art; inexpensive and exciting night-life; clean cities; outstanding service and hospitality; and public safety to mention a few. There are also some things I dislike―its free-to-air TV; smoking in restaurants; high rates of suicide; poor social welfare; whaling; excessive working hours; and sexism, among others.

What I admire most, however, is the general sense of public civility, expressed as politeness and consideration for others in oh-so-many ways. On public transport, for example, there are periodic automated reminders to switch mobile phones to silent, and refrain from phone-based conversations. Major roads and pedestrian areas have designated smoking zones. I’ve never seen children run amock through supermarkets, car parks, or public transport. Music volume in most bars and restaurants is low enough for people to converse quietly. Books read in public are discreetly covered with inoffensive patterned or plain paper. Water is served at almost every restaurant without request.

There are exceptions. I’ve seen a heated exchange between two taxi-drivers in a parking rank, and cyclists ignore pedestrian right-of-way crossings. But such instances are few and far between. Quite noticeably, public behaviour is far gentler compared with Australia and elsewhere. Which is a major reason why Japan remains very much a favoured personal destination.

Oh, and did I mention photographic opportunities? There are so many that I've added a new category to my portfolio; 'architecture', which includes bridges, fences, walls, stairs, interiors and sculpture. Let me know what you think...

You might want to avoid Hokkaido’s Mount Annupuri during the winter ski season; it’s little more than an Australian enclave. Similarly, visiting Japan’s more popular shrines and temples during the Chinese lunar new year holiday season can be wearing. By no means do all Australian or Chinese tourists behave boorishly, but when en masse mutual respect lapses noticeably!

have leica, will travel

After years of resistance, I've surrendered to the photographic social-media siren, Instagram, to broaden my image distribution. Pop-culture vultures will appreciate my account namehaveleicawilltravelwhich references Richard Berry’s song Have Love, Will Travel (popularised in 1965 by The Sonics); itself a play on the title of a broadcast ‘western’ from the late 50s early 60s, Have Gun, Will Travel. But I digress...

I’m not entirely satisfied with Instagram’s utility. First, images can only be uploaded using a cellular device. Second, Instagram’s demographics are gender and age-skewed. Third, images displayed on a smartphone or small tablet lack detail. And last, there's no reverse-chronological feed option. But overall, I see why Instagram is so popular, as it's a far more agreeable platform than Twitter or Facebook.

Signing up to another social media platform gave me pause to consider the ease with which one’s work can reach as broad an audience as possible. The internet is a marvellous tool in that regard. But there is, in my view, a couple of drawbacks.

As mentioned, small tablets and smartphone screens aren’t big enough to appreciate detailed images. Sure, they can be expanded on a touch screen, but as a photographer I can’t be sure a viewer will do that. Further, the convenience with which images can be shared matches the convenience with which they can be disregarded. Such considerations shouldn’t matter to me since my 'audience' is first and foremost, me. But I can’t ignore others who appreciate my images.

With that in mind, my first major project for the year will be a photobook of my southern New Zealand journey. I'll provide more detail about it as the project progresses. Meanwhile, I leave you with a few images recently added to the series, Margaret’s Gardentaking the series to 13 images (and counting!); each limited to an edition of 50 and available for $50 each (plus postage and packing). They make a perfect small gift for any occasion!

Thanks for dropping by!

lesser known, no less remarkable (part 2)

After my previous post about Chatham and Stewart Islands, the question most asked of me is, “Why did you go there?” My short response (from Robert Dessaix’s closing line in his 2001 novel, Corfu) is, “…to see what I might see”. It’s valid for any destination; quite apposite given my photographic appetite, and what's more; hints at a sense of adventure.

There are, of course, other reasons for journeying to an occasional remote island, but the most edifying is to experience first-hand, and become at least a little familiar with cultures that have withstood the homogenising tendencies of global economic integration (not to mention proselytising religions).

That isn’t to say that some communities from the almost 40 islands I’ve visited wouldn’t benefit from improved access to quality primary and secondary education, health services, and markets. But such progress shouldn’t be at the cost of the best their cultures have to offer. What I admire most about the communities I've had the great privilege to be welcomed to is their remarkable tenacity and resilience, interdependence and palpable sense of community, and (perhaps contrary to some expectations), acceptance of and hospitality toward strangers.

Travellers to New Zealand are overwhelmingly attracted to the North Island's striking geothermal wonders, and South Island's mountainous beauty and rugged west coast. And while the lesser islands of Chatham and Stewart haven't the same spectacular draw-cards, they are for me no less remarkable. I hope my images reveal something of the idiosyncratic essence of both islands and their communities.

lesser known, no less remarkable (part 1)

New Zealand (Aotearoa), is mostly imagined as comprising two islands: the North (Te Ika-a-Māui), and the South (Te Waipounamu). And though I recently set foot on both, this post is about two of the country’s many other islands, Chatham (Rekohu, or Wharakauri), and Stewart (Rakiura).

Stewart Island is an hour by ferry south from The Bluff outside of the South Island's southernmost city, Invercargill, whereas Chatham Island is an hour east of the capital, Wellington, aboard a Convair 580; a plane older than me! Stewart Island is just over twice the size of Chatham, though at 400, its inhabitants number 300 fewer. Stewart Island has one township, Oban. Chatham Island is sparsely populated over five hamlets, the largest of which is Waitangi.

The highest elevation on the almost entirely forested Stewart Island is Mount Anglem (979m). The highest point on Chatham Island, which is almost entirely pastoral (peppered with sheep, cattle, wild boar, Monterey pine, and an occasional patch of intensively managed remnant vegetation), is Maungatere Hill (294m). Stewart Island has 24km of mostly sealed road whereas Chatham Island has 180km of mostly unsealed road. Like so many other island economies, theirs are largely driven by surrounding fisheries and increasingly, tourism. Each island has one pub.

Descendants of the islands’ indigenous people steadfastly maintain their presence. Much has been written about the near-total annihilation of Chatham Island’s Moriori (check here for an overview). Indeed, the island’s weathered austere landscapes remind me of the Midlands of Tasmania―another island with a genocidal history in relation to its indigenous population.

Earlier this month, I journeyed to both islands during still and mostly clear weather, which, I was assured by locals, was a rarity. And I don’t doubt them, since the islands lie within the 'roaring forties' (Chatham at 44°S; Stewart 47°S).

Regrettably, with limited time on both islands, my photographs offer only a glimpse of what’s in store for any would-be visitor. What I regret is not having the time to join a Chatham Island abalone (paua) fisher for a day, or helping kākāpō conservation efforts on one of Stewart Island’s offshore islands, Codfish. Or hiking the length of each island’s major bays; Petre on Chatham, and Mason on Stewart. I could've hitched a lift on a fishing boat to Pitt Island had I not waited in vain for repairs to Air Chatham’s Cesna.

In fact, if I'd known in advance just how much there is to see and experience on these ‘lesser’ New Zealand islands, I’d have spent more than a week on each. I hope that the images below (and in my follow-up post) whet the appetites of fellow travellers. I imagine that at some point I’ll return to both islands to experience more!

addition, subtraction and illusion

For images intended to hang from walls, Andreas Gursky’s art is lavishly scaled. Kirchentag 2013, for example, measures 3,070 x 2,170mm. Unsurprisingly perhaps, his work commands equally lavish prices. At auction in 2011, for example, Rhein II 1999 was purchased for US$4,338,500―the most ever paid for a photograph.

The Art Gallery of South Australia recently acquired an edition of Kirchentag 2013, which depicts a temporary campground of teeming thousands attending the titular biennial Evangelical Church ‘festival’ in Germany. This and most other images for which Gursky is best known have all been digitally manipulated to ‘hyper-realistic’ excess. In painting, drawing and sculpture, hyper-realism refers to work executed to such precision that it resembles a high-resolution photograph of the subject. How then can high-resolution photographs like Gursky's be considered hyper-realistic? By adding, subtracting, or altering―that is to say, editing―their detail.

Kirchentag 2013, for example, is a confection of images invisibly combined as to give the appearance of documentation. To my eye, Gursky’s people-centred images aren’t as visually impressive as the robustly graphic Les Mées 2016, Bahrain I 2005, 99 Cent Diptychon 2001, and Shanghai 2000, for example. The products of Gursky’s deliberate exaggerations unashamedly―and often beguilingly―discredit such truisms as ‘seeing is believing’, and a ‘camera never lies’.

How truth and fact are represented in photography has been explored by Susan Sontag in On Photography, Errol Morris in Believing is Seeing, and the BBC seven-part documentary, The Genius of Photography, among other analyses. As with most art, judicious editing of fact can sometimes better articulate a truth. As to what truths Gursky's images speak of, Art Critic for New York magazine, Jerry Saltz, noted that prior to the World Trade Centre terrorist attack in New York on 11 September 2001, Gursky's monumental works aptly critiqued the seeming inevitability of economic globalisation. Saltz added, however, that since then so much of Gursky's work is left wanting, if not shallow. Writing in 2007, he quoted the artist; 

My preference for clear structures is the result of my desire―perhaps illusory―to keep track of things and maintain my grip on the world.

and concluded that,

Gursky is in too much control and not adding anything new or daring to his work. 

I'm surprised that Saltz didn't explore Gursky's reference to 'illusory', especially in light of  the artist's highly-manipulated visual fantasies, and self-confessed need to "maintain a grip on the world". In a 2009 interview with Nancy Tousley, Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine, Gursky explained that; 

I read a picture not for what’s really going on there, I read it more for what is going on in our world generally.

His most recent offerings―exhibited with some previous works at Düsseldorf's Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen―reveal a distinct tendency toward greater visual linearity and homogeneity. I can't help think that despite a global economy that has yet to recover from 2008's seismic global financial crisis; a worldwide trend toward appreciation of the local; and this year's British vote for independence from the EU, the artist's concern for the effects of economic globalisation remain as valid as ever, if not worthy of repetition.

Kirchentag 2013 is currently on exhibition in Gallery 11 of the Art Gallery of South Australia.

 Kirchentag 2013,   
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 ©Andreas Gursky

Kirchentag 2013, ©Andreas Gursky