The fine grain of history

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Look at this beautiful texture, the random dispersal of silver grain in a photograph. It’s a closeup of a billboard in Richmond advertising a new apartment construction, Landmark Richmond Apartments. Richmond is an old area, formerly very working class, presently very gentrified. The new apartments will go up across from the Skipping Girl sign, the famous Melbourne landmark (we have so few left, we have to resort to vinegar advertisements!).

Why would the marketers use such an overtly traditional medium as silver photography when the new apartment building will be the acme of modern. Silver-based photograph has been thoroughly supplanted by digital, which represents the future in technology. Silver is holding on as a large niche part of photography but now has associations of tradition and history.

So the marketers must be trying to lend their development an aura of history and authenticity, linking it with the history embodied in the Skipping Girl sign and the old suburb itself. You’re buying a piece of old Melbourne when you take one of these contemporary apartments.

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There’s a powerful irony in all this, because that site has other associations that also go back to the ‘silver age’ of photography. The new Landmark Apartments are going up directly opposite another landmark, the very site of Wolfgang Sievers’ masterpiece, Gears for Mining Industry, Vickers-Ruwolt, 1967.

Yes, Vickers-Ruwolt, the great Australian engineering firm that manufactured giant industrial machines for us in peace and war was situated right there. And do you know what took it’s place and will sit opposite the new Landmark apartments? Ikea, the Swedish importing firm.

Vickers- RuwoltWolfgang Sievers, Gears for Mining Industry, Vickers-Ruwolt, 1967 (photo AGNSW)