Three times in the past month, The Sydney Morning Herald, the city’s broadsheet of record by default, has published a particularly irritating kind of article on urban density. To paraphrase Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), this is not just a matter of chance. These articles, by the paper’s two resident economists and sole architecture critic, represent a disturbing and powerful tendency to treat cities as economic entities, blobs on a map rather than physical spaces. They don’t realize that you can’t extrude spreadsheets into skyscrapers. Help! The Borg economists are eating Sydney.
The Australian landscape seems to require photography. The question of who, how, where, how often and why thankfully remains open, at least among the eighteen photographers included in Photography and Place at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Australia, so conflicted about cities, is one of the most urbanized societies on earth, a situation which makes the looming question of the landscape all the more urgent. Wilderness will aways dominate the continent, never allowing settlements to be interspersed as they are in the United States or Europe. The land provokes sentimentality, poetry and bitterness. In the heart of the cities which cling to the coastal fringe, it can seem another universe until a dust storm, fire, flood or the daily violence of the sunlight reminds us of nature’s nonnegotiable and indifferent presence.