DESTINATION

From the series, DESTINATION. Peak Hill, NSW

From the series, DESTINATION. Peak Hill, NSW

“The landscape is everything you can see when you look across an area of land.” Collins dictionary

 Sometimes it’s useful to imagine you’re feeding information to an AI device; the very barest description of a word (in this case, also a classic genre of photography) can help recalibrate and build new meaning from what you already know.

So to elaborate a bit on that: A photographic landscape is a reduction of what is there to be seen based on your position and the time you witness it taking into account: what you are feeling at that moment, what you choose to represent in your frame and what is symbolised within the limitations of your optical/mechanical/digital device.

Anon

ANON #3. Nowra, NSW (2014)

ANON #3. Nowra, NSW (2014)

Maybe it’s the desperate neediness of social media which makes an image (or any human-made artefact, a phrase, an object.. coming out of no-where and from apparently no-one) leave such a deep impression

Anonymity is the dark side of Marketing and it’s not on any lists for business acumen, yet it does suggest that there is a generosity at work when the maker and the market is absent.

It makes the writing on a supermarket wall like discovering an ancient relic; something mysterious and wonderful is revealed when faced with a primal aesthetic fact.

AUSTRALIAN

From the series, AUSTRALIAN. Belmont, Geelong

From the series, AUSTRALIAN. Belmont, Geelong

The criteria for a well-known (and very rich) photographic competition asks for images that reflect “Australian life”.  

It’s absurd to expect this to be represented in a solitary image and most of the time attempts results in a cliché or a kind of crude, misguided myth.

But that’s not to say that you meet a person and the impression is: they could be from no other part of the world.

It’s then more like an experience with character and place rather than a picture; you are interacting with language, expression, light, sound, environment, a human… all distinctively Australian.

Underground

From the series, Black Market. Melbourne, 2018

From the series, Black Market. Melbourne, 2018

Victoria Markets’ adjoining car park sits over Melbourne’s first cemetery. Knowing this gives the place another dimension, especially on the days when the market is dormant and hessian and plastic tarpaulins cover the stalls, like an eerie tribute to what’s underneath.

Renew

From the series, Altered States. Canberra, 2003

From the series, Altered States. Canberra, 2003

“Not till the fire is dying in the grate, look we for any kinship with the stars.”

George Meredith, 1828 - 1909. Modern Love: IV

Just for a moment, there is a feeling at the end of the year, that we are in the final rinse period of a washing cycle and we look forward to drying in the sun.

In a timely manner, Meredith reminds us about reverence and to look beyond ourselves to something greater.

Thank you for reading this and all the very best for what’s ahead.

Time

Sharon. Surrey Hills, Sydney. (Palm Project)

Sharon. Surrey Hills, Sydney. (Palm Project)

St Augustine said about time: “What is time? If you don’t ask me, I know; but if you ask me, I don’t know”.

 At the end of the 4th century and way ahead of his time, this theologian and philosopher went on to elaborate on ideas about subjective time as it co-exists through three essential categories: “time present of things past, or memory; time present of things present, or direct experience; time present of future things, or expectation.”

Altogether, it’s almost a formula for making a photographic image: Every shutter click distills a kind of truth told in that moment, as it has been before and will be again, but never in quite the same way. The difference, which St Augustine would appreciate if he was around now, is that we can hold a photograph up like a mirror to the present at the same time it represents the past.

This is the idea we aimed for in the Palm Project, a program devised for Oasis, using photography as a subtle path towards self-reflection.

Brief

Betty Churcher. Wamboin, NSW (For Good Weekend Magazine)

Betty Churcher. Wamboin, NSW (For Good Weekend Magazine)

THE EDITORIAL IMAGE

The most thrilling of all photography related feelings has to be the receipt of a brief from a magazine art / photo-director. All other art or commercial obligations are pushed aside to make way for the potential honor of immortalising someone on the page.

It’s in this very way that the challenge came to contribute to a summer edition story on: “Prominent women with Grey Hair”. What initially sounded like a light-headed idea lead, as it often does, to an unforgettable encounter.

The reference and tribute to Whistler came naturally and felt appropriate for one of Australia’s greatest arts advocate.

Sacred sights

Untitled. From the series, Still Lives. St Peters, NSW

Untitled. From the series, Still Lives. St Peters, NSW

We are accustomed to seeing objects, (like in advertising campaigns, for instance) given more significance then what they are worth. So, the purpose of this series was to raise the status of discarded goods to cultural signposts, to give them another moment to be remembered or even worshiped.

 A few years back, a PHd Student from LaTrobe University had an epiphany while standing in front of the pillars of Stonehenge. What if the theories about how monuments functioned in pagan rituals to appease the Gods…what if these ideas were far-fetched and too elaborate? Instead, could they have had a practical, more mundane purpose? Could they be objects to mark a collective memory?

This theory has gained some traction in archeological circles and actually makes a lot of common sense. There would have been no point to worship through art for the ancient Druids or, for that matter, indigenous Australians, whose Rock paintings are considered by many now as journal entries and manuals for survival.

Objects & Image

Untitled. From the series, Still Lives. St Peters, NSW

Untitled. From the series, Still Lives. St Peters, NSW

In this series, objects come alive after their use. In a makeshift environment, they appear to be arranged or installed for a reason as if posturing or signifying something.

We create things in our own image and even when discarded, they represent us. Here the bottle looks embarrassed… wrapped in a brown paper shawl like it’s come out of the shower to an auditorium where a room full of people laugh and clap, frozen and alone in the spotlight with all modesty gone.

Peripheral

Bidwill, NSW

Bidwill, NSW

ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAITURE 3 

In the most ideal scenarios, the default place for the photographer is one step back from the action, assuming a non-intrusive, observational position. Once that’s secured, there are varying degrees of influence, predetermined or resulting naturally, that weigh into any given situation i.e. Why are you there? What’s the brief? What are you responding to or distracted by? What’s the attitude of the subject? What does the client need? What do you want to say? …and in all these multifaceted challenges, from technical to interpersonal, come those instances where the story takes over, where the photographed and the photographer, momentarily forget their parts.

The image above is part of a series promoting the work of Uniting and their Newpin program which supports positive parenting skills. Assisted by a health worker– whose arm appears in the picture– during a guided tour of the house the young father reflects on the toilet graffiti, a wall of gratitude. It is an example of a most unlikely place for a portrait and an instance where the environment symbolises much more than any look or human gesture.

 

 

 

Either / Or

Dubbo, NSW

Dubbo, NSW

“Discover the second face hidden behind the one you see”. Soren Kierkegaard

ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAITURE II:  From a professional context, every time we consider taking an image of a person that is superficially known to us, as they appear or as they are arranged in a designated place, we open up questions of ethics and aesthetics; is our approach coming from an objective or subjective position? Is it the photographer’s world being represented or the subjects (or both) and for which, if any, are we aiming to do the most justice?

Most of the time there is a brief that comes with the assignment and an assumption that all parties are aware of the specific reason for the photography. Ideally, this makes things clear to a degree where it should shape the work without restricting the photographer’s natural instinct to be drawn to what is happening slightly off grid, bringing in all those parallel events that signify the larger story of life in that moment.

90 Degrees

Bondi, Sydney NSW

Bondi, Sydney NSW

ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAITURE I:  The subject of the next few posts will be why and how we bring in aspects of place when photographing a person. The example above is presented as a starting point where the two components merge and are separate at the same time.

This image was made during a photographic excursion we conducted with a group of asylum seekers from Iran. The picture was taken in haste just before realising that it wasn’t such a good idea to be responsible for a group of 6 fully dressed adults (who happen to be on bridging visas) let loose with cameras on one of the world’s busiest beaches.

The pressure resulted in a kind of double-take, a familiar tactic to all photographers (and shoplifters), of taking the unsuspecting image followed by a diversion, in this instance, turning the camera 90 degrees overhead to avoid being detected.

This idea leads to an extended delineation of the portrait in an environment suggesting (what we all know but rarely think about) that there is always something else happening right at the same instance, just beyond our frame of vision.

This is at the heart of a way of thinking about environmental portraiture.

 

Landmass

Landmass 02, Moss Vale NSW

The rubbish tip is a mecca for ever-changing landscapes of the human kind. This series, created during an artist residency assisted by a grant from the Australia Council for the Arts, venerates domestic waste to a grand visual spectacle of consumption.

Why?? Because every act of photography is an excursion in art (you represent something while representing yourself) and, sometimes irony is the appropriate accompaniment. These two things are especially inseparable in photographing nature: Landscape photography. An image of a mountain peak in New Zealand with a still frosty lake in front of it, or a desert in the Serengeti is nothing like being in that place at that time. Maybe the picture engenders the opposite feeling, a longing rather than a satiated desire for such an atmosphere and vista.

The motivation behind this series was to create a dialogue between what we see and the subject matter; majestic structures of waste infused with the romantic form of the landscape.. with a gentle suggestion of human intervention.

 

St Peters

St Peters 2, 2011                                                                                         

St Peters 2, 2011                                                                                         

The imagination, like the universe, has no bounds and our minds are triggered into a swirling creative space when faced with the uncertainty of the unknown. This is why traveling to unfamiliar and exotic lands can be such a transcendent experience. The extraordinary thing with photography is that the same  can happen, even in familiar places, by concentrating on the particular rather than the obvious, and in that way, directing our observation beyond an ordinary range of perception.

This series of landscapes was the result of working for many years in the unholy enclave of Sydney called St Peters, a noisy, busy and magnificent part of the world surrounded by traffic on all sides and above.

INLAND

Inland02, Bargo NSW 2013

Inland02, Bargo NSW 2013

The series was created while living in a regional town in New South Wales, Australia.

In small towns, after having spent a little while there, some locations emit a mysterious, other-worldly feeling like an unforeseen event has happened. It’s more likely that a certain light or frame of mind configures them in this way but once you create the image, these landscapes never look the same again, no matter how many times you revisit the same place, it is as if that scene has been terminated.

 

In proportion

Teller. Sydney, NSW 2018

Teller. Sydney, NSW 2018

In a strange and unpredictable reaction to a recent viewing of the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in Sydney’s Art Gallery NSW, after 25 years since first seeing the same pictures on the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria, the subject matter almost evaporated into unsullied form like a sunset turns landscape into a perfect silhouette. 

All that exploration of ego and sexual proclivities, the celebrities and selfies, the historical references and symbolic objects really meant so little in comparison to the calculated and pure photographic shape of everything he captured. It leaves behind in you a cold sense of witnessing a monument of classical proportion, although hollow inside.

Dread

Kobbie X-Yule. Sydney, NSW 2012                                                                                                                                 

Kobbie X-Yule. Sydney, NSW 2012                                                                                                                                 

The antiquated meaning of dread is to regard something with ‘great awe or reverence” as opposed to ‘fear or apprehension’ that we more commonly associate with the word. It is beautiful that, like a picture, one utterance can hold apparently opposing directions of thought. Whichever way you look at it, a shuddering sensation in our gut, at certain moments in our lives –and not unusual to many as the year draws to a close– is a preferred option than to be soaked in a glittering, automated happiness.

The image above was taken in early December 2012, Kobbie enacted the life of a homeless teenager in a laneway which, in a not too distant past, was her bedroom for close to a year. She was one of many students we worked with at the Oasis youth center in Sydney, a refuge for street kids and a place that enabled them to get back on their feet while engaging in creative projects like PALM, a photographic program which we developed.

At Oasis, Christmas was a dark time. After this photo session which Kobbie devised and directed for an ad campaign, she exclaimed how much she loved being in front or behind the camera and how much it was a perpetual gift in her life. Hearing that was just the best present, ever.

 

A Dark Room

Bowral, 2017

Bowral, 2017

Reflections on Black & White Photography Continued…

Now that we are accustom to the immediate indorsing of the captured moment, consider the time we once had to place faith in mechanical devices, in rolls of film and the many chemically induced processes that follow, to all align perfectly and reveal our pre-visualised image.

This state of delayed gratification (or anxiety, sometimes) was once common in the experience of making a picture and more aligned with a slow movement type ritual where skill and craft take precedence over haste and where a dark room is sacred ground for the artisan.

Walk the Line

Joel.  Tamworth 2015

Joel.  Tamworth 2015

A Black and White (B/w) image sits a bit below a fractured line of thought that considers photographs as real. Even without colour, it’s assumed that what we see actually happened but with one step removed from reality, in a de-saturated world.

B/w is not just another filter on a smartphone; it is a frame of mind with a solid history and long back-story. Photography started without colour and for about a century, we adapted to this form of representation.

Our perception of the world changes with technology. It’s interesting to note that, in 1975, when a young engineer at Kodak invented digital photography, the first 0.01-megapixel images were B/w on cassette tape. It was 20 years later that this innovation in recording images was taken seriously (encouraged by its potential commercial application) and adding colour (RGB or Red, Green & Blue) was considered worth giving this innovation some attention.

Now that we have a constant stream of pictures at our fingertips, does a monochrome image seem even more unnatural and trigger nostalgia for something lost, or, is it still valid an expression in an over-saturated medium?

This is a question we keep asking ourselves as we take more and more B/w images both for work and personal projects.

 

ON BALANCE

Adrian. Horse Whisperer from Moruya, NSW

Adrian. Horse Whisperer from Moruya, NSW

In a world slightly off balance, you might be forgiven for thinking that good humans are an exception. This campaign for Ability Links NSW is proof that they are out there… and we are not alone. In collaboration with our partners, Only Human Communications, Adrian was just one of many, many inspiring people that makes our race worthwhile.

Here’s a transcript of what he had to say:

I’m a cowboy who just loves horses and I’ve found different ways these animals can affect people.

This girl came to me on a first visit. She was six years old. She had a severe bout of depression. She was holding her mum’s hand while I was talking and I had my big horse Sovereign next to me. I asked the girl if she would just like to touch the horse on the nose and she burst into tears. She cried for a second or two, the horse picked up the vibe from the young girl; he took a step forward, lowered his head into her chest and snuggled in, causing her to pat the horse on top of the head. It was a beautiful moment...a transformation. I didn’t prompt the horse and didn’t even know it was going to do that.

After a little bit, she decided to walk around with the horse, her tears went away and joy just beamed from this little girl.

Her mother had sunglasses on and tears were streaming down her face from behind them.

I had to look away. It was a beautiful moment and I’ll never forget it, as long as I live.