Today Kill Your Darlings published my piece ‘Looking west: an evening with Tim Winton’ on their blog. Writing about Western Australia prompted me to look back through the Flickr archives and hunt out a few of my favourite film photos from Fremantle, all taken a few years ago.
From the woolshed, looking out to a familiar scene
Clouds on the hill, weathered boards underfoot
The same old fencelines divide the land
Just as you remember
The Rye paddock and the Lane
The Airstrip out of sight beyond the ridge
Then other people’s land
Land you don’t know
Before the distant peaks slide into the hills
Just as you remember.
The morning light distils the cold air into something sweet and fresh. The layers of the hills are a patchwork of muted colours and texture at this time, as the sun, far to the north, illuminates them in turn, and the patterns on their faces emerge gradually into the light.
There is, as always in this land, a mix of nature close alongside that which is made and managed by humans. The textures of pasture and corrugated tin, of fence post and gumtree, of river water and bridge, complement and highlight one another on this land. It is land I know well, though not so well as the kelpie knows it, with her finely tuned senses and her quick feet.
On a winter’s morning in June, with the three young kelpies and the old border collie cross following me everywhere I went, I did not know that it was the dog in this photo that would end up with me. I thought – hoped – that she might, but we were all in limbo then, nothing certain.
Now we are far away, the dog and I, but I think often of that morning. A roll of slide film, brisk mountain air, trying to capture a ghost of the landscape while I still could. At the homestead, away to the left, smoke rose from the chimney.
But it was the last days, and the dogs knew it. On a day like today, the sun and cloud will be playing patterns with the wind on the water of the trough, undisturbed by us.
* * *
Perhaps a good photograph should stand alone, capable of telling a story without the need for words to explain it. But I am a writer first and foremost, from long before the days when I started to think in terms of images in a camera.
So for me part of the attraction of photography is the opportunity it presents for an interplay with words.
In previous years at Unsensored I have sought to explain or enhance my images to some extent with words. Not to explain in terms of where, why, how, but to suggest my own thoughts in relation to the image; to give a hint of what it meant to me.
This year, however, the image I exhibited bore no neat, four line explanation. I tried, covering pages with notes and images as I tried to pull out the words that would say enough, but not too much.
But I couldn’t do it – I could not condense what this photograph meant to me into just a few lines. I still can’t, but now, in the aftermath of the exhibition, with the photo on my wall and the dog outside my window in the sun, a blog gives more space than an image card could, so that I might try and say just a little of what it means.
Image: Olympus OM-1N, Fuji Sensia 200, expired. Click to view large.
In the high country in June, it was very cold but the sun shone. Up high on the hillside, gazing out across the valley, the colours sang. But so too do the textures; the textures of hillsides and shadows, of dead trees and living. Sometimes these are textures best caught in black and white, as No Fixed Address has in these images.
From a cold and icy morning on the farm in Victoria’s high country in mid June:
It’s over two months since I last posted on this blog. These photos, by way of explanation, are from the place that I went to in June and July, and which sharply interrupted my blogging habit. There is no internet connection at the house. In this place, few things seemed less important than the online world.
Images: Olympus OM-1n, Kodak Gold 400.
Olympus OM-1N, Kodak BW400CN
First sight of the sea, first roll through the Olympus since it came into my hands. The camera travelled across the world, inherited from a sand dune ecologist in Olympia, near the northwest Pacific coast of the USA. Grains of sand clung to the body. I took the camera to the beach for a glimpse of the Southern Ocean. Perhaps it was a homecoming.
The above image was exhibited and sold in Unsensored11.
It’s the second last day of Unsensored11, and I’m taking the opportunity to hang out at the gallery before the images start coming down tomorrow. Somehow the day that I spent gallery sitting last week flew by and I still want more time to look, and to contemplate the images on display.
There are the four portraits of young women who are part of the punk scene, by Liam White in collaboration with Ada Conroy. The portraits are striking for the fact that they give us nothing of the faces or expressions of the women, but instead give each of them a voice. The voice is captured in the chunk of typewritten text beneath the portraits and inside the frames. There are mistakes in the text in places, thanks to the fallibility of human fingers on typewriter keys. It is appropriate, for surely in telling their story, no-one says it perfectly the first time round. There are always corrections, revisions, maybe some backpedalling.
In using typewritten text, the set of portraits also harks back to the pre-digital past. The whole exhibition does this simply because every image here is captured using film, but no exhibit does this more so than Liam’s. The portraits are analogue-shot, darkroom-printed, typewriter-explained.
There are other images in the exhibition that hark back to the past in different ways. Andrew Cosgriff exhibited “grime”, a black and white photo of Ballarat Railway station. It is an image that could almost have been taken a hundred years ago. A soot-blackened worker leands against the rail, beyond which there is a steam train. There are old-fashioned signals overhead and a thick dark plume of steam clouds the sky. It is only the modern signage – a “Ballarat” sign and another that is a line through a walking stick figure – that really gives the game away. It is, in the end, a photo from the very recent past, harking back to something older.
“At the end of the day” by Timothy D. Johnson also has the past present, subtly. The photograph is of the sun going down into the ocean, but it is shot through the rigging of a tall ship, Leeuwin II. The ship’s capping rail is in focus in the foreground, gleaming a little in the evening light. I’m proud of this one, for it is a ship that I know well and who I have sailed on for years. She is not that old, having been launched 25 years ago, but she is a traditionally-rigged tall ship and so, if you are open to it, she cannot help but make you dream of the past.
The movement in this image can only be remembered or imagined: the invisible wind that must have been blowing that evening. In “grime”, movement is present only in the steam; otherwise, it is an image of calm. The railway worker is just watching, resting or waiting, perhaps.
There are however two shots in the exhibition that are full of movement. They rely on this movement, caught and suspended clearly on film.
I am thinking of “Schooling Jackfish”, shot by Marcus Visic – an image of sleek bodies, bubbles of air, and blue – so much blue. The story behind this shot is quite remarkable, and testament to the resilience of film and the challenges that it can pose for those who remain committed to it.
The other that strikes me for its movement is “The Great Escape”, by Dave Carswell. Click through and you will see why – it is a beautifully composed image, the curving arcs of the boys as they backflip balanced by those who watch them, standing casually on the other edge of the pier.
There are several images of the sea or the coast in this year’s exhibition, unlike last year. Perhaps it is something about the warmer weather, about it being springtime when images are chosen, instead of the depths of winter. One of my favourite sets is “Point Lonsdale Pier”, exhibited by Lea Williams, three polaroids that are blue in theme and that focus on the edges of the land: the point where humans make their contact with the sea. This edge or border between land and sea is the site of my own image in the exhibition, too.
There are many more images in the gallery that draw me to them, that make me think of other things, sometimes clearly related and sometimes not. Consistently for me, though, I am drawn to the images of the ocean. Some of the portraits are engrossing, and images of Melbourne are often striking with their angles and light, but for me, the ocean has a pull that is hard to match.
Unsensored11 closes tonight (7 December). The exhibition is held yearly by the Melbourne Silver Mine, a group that is wholly dedicated to analogue photography and film techniques. This is my second year taking part in the exhibition, and I hope to be back next year!
Four images of the ocean and its edges, in various guises and moods. Peaceful, the tide out, so that light and figures reflect off smooth wet sand. Hidden on impossible film, so it is less the ocean you see and more the curve of the hillside beyond; you can only see the sea if you know where it is. Down by the breakwater, the waves will always break against the rocks, brought up short by them unexpectedly. And out to sea, a rainbow spears from the cloud and into the ocean, mirroring the multiplicities of colour that break and refract through the spray of the waves as they roll, curling, curving, crashing, a flurry of whitewater and sunlight, in towards the shore.
At the Box Hill camera market earlier this year we picked up a few random films, including a roll of Kodak Gold that expired in March 1989. Standard, run-of-the-mill film back then, but twenty years on it produces something quite different.
The risk of expired or cheap film is that sometimes there’s decent shots messed up by too much grain or strange colours. But then sometimes there’s a few that turn out alright…
This one was taken in South Fremantle in July, and I like the graininess in the colours of the sky:
And there’s this one, looking up the bay towards Melbourne from Brighton. I know, lots of ocean photos… They are hard to resist.
And then for something quite different, no water in sight, there’s this one shot by No Fixed Address on the same roll of film: