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Fire on the Landscape Canning River Perth

Fire on the Landscape

Fire on the Landscape. Last week, with strong gusting winds,  fire has once again touched the landscape in several locations around Perth. Whilst helicopter water bombers battled the severe fire at Roleystone, where tragically over 70 homes were lost, fixed wing aircraft dropped water on a blaze in the Canning Regional Park. Thanks to the firefighting crews, the fire was contained by the evening.  Logic would have it that fire should travel in the same direction as the prevailing winds, but when I took a walk through the burnt area it became clear that the fire had not only jumped the river, but traveled backwards on itself, upwind against the gusting easterly winds, to ignite unexpected areas. That gives an idea of the ferocity of the winds created locally by the fire’s intensity. It’s a sobering reminder that fire continues to be a major force in shaping our landscape, evidenced by our highly flammable vegetation, the charred bark remains on mature trees and the fire dependent reproduction cycles of native plants.  Has the reduced use of fire on the landscape over the past 200 years had the unintended consequence of increasing fire severity and therefore greater risk of destruction of homes and environment? This image was made in an area of the park which I regularly visit as part of a longer term photographic project exploring the seasonal changes and activity within the urbanised setting of the Canning River Regional Park, and was made several days after the fire.

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Fremantle Bridge Pipes film test exposure index 4×5 sheet film

Film tests Pipes Fremantle

Fremantle Bridge pipes as a film test subject to experiment with film speed and contrast. Film tests can be time consuming and generally bore me to tears, but every now and then they are a necessary evil. So to make it a little more interesting I tried to find some local subject matter that had some visual appeal.This image is quite industrial and not my regular subject matter, but was quite suitable for the test I had in mind, and I found the silvery curve of the pipes created an intriguing juxtaposition against the background of formal straight lines.

The scene is high in contrast, from the deep shadows under the bridge to the brightness of the sunlit wall. To retain the bright detail in the far left wall I cut the development, so that I did not have to perform darkroom gymnastics to obtain detail in the final print.  Normally with such a cut to development I would increase the exposure to compensate for film speed loss, but I didn’t do this in this case. On inspection of the contact proof, the negative still held plenty of printable shadow detail, however in making the print it looked  better when I printed these low values down further.

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Liquid Light

south coast western australia

Liquid Light: I was walking back to my campsite late one evening. The clear blue skies of the day had slipped away into a dull metal grey with a light but steady rain of an approaching cold front.

It had been a strenuous day’s walking on the south coast, but otherwise it was uneventful from an image making perspective. Although I usually find plenty of subject matter for my camera, on this day I just couldn’t get the photographic elements to come together in some manageable way. Not to mention that the coastal vegetation was full of ticks, for which I had to check myself continuously, and was one reason why I didn’t stand still long enough to set up my tripod!

Away from the onslaught of ticks I stood for a few minutes near the edge of high granite cliffs. Below me there was the loud sound of air under pressure being rapidly released, punctuated by a spout of water vapour, followed by a long inhaling breath. A few seconds later a humpback whale swam leisurely by,  just a few metres out from the cliff’s edge. As it passed underneath me I watched it follow the cliff line and then disappear.

Braving the ticks, I made my way across the low bush towards a four wheel drive track used by local fisherman. The rain, now pooling along the track, caught my attention as it reflected the glow of the evening sky. It was if the light was seeping out of the ground. I quickly set up my camera and made the exposure, the light fading rapidly, before a deluge of rain hit.

That night in my tent I heard the whales calling to each other as they swam into the bay.

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Groundhogs Day

Jarrah blossom and seed pods, Western Australia

Jarrah tree blossoms Urban Landscape Perth Polaroid Type 55.  I often rise early before sunrise. I like to think its because I am a dedicated landscape photographer, but truth is this: the cat has me trained so well to let her out at that time in the morning it has become a habit. When I am at home the morning starts with a brewed cup of coffee. As the predawn light softly filters through the kitchen window I survey the sky for a whisp of cloud or any other clues as to what the day is bringing. At this time of year, Perth summer weather can be very predictable, just like in Groundhogs Day. Today was no different, the cloudless grey sky was slowly turning blue and a gentle but persistent easterly breeze was coming off the scarp, just like yesterday.

I went into the backyard and stood under the jarrah and marri trees with my cup of coffee. Above me in the trees I could hear the industrious sound of insects buzzing. Looking up, the jarrah tree was heavy with tiny yellow blossoms, which stood out in the soft predawn light. With the extent of its flowering I wondered why I had not noticed earlier? During the day when the sun is blazing in the cloudless summers skies, these soft yellow flowers become almost invisible, lost amongst the bright light and glare.

I got out the 4×5, and focused in tight on the tiny flowers and a cluster of seed pods. The magnification was life size on the film and with every breath of wind the pods and flowers jumped in and out of my ground glass viewing frame. Working at this magnification depth of focus is very shallow and I used some back tilt on the camera to help bring the foreground seed pods into the plane of focus. For just a moment the breeze stopped. In a rush I placed a single sheet of Polaroid Type 55 PN film into the camera back, set the shutter for 1/2 second at f8. Both these settings were a compromise to sharpness, but it was all I could get. To make matters worse I could hear the leaves in the tops of the trees rustle in the breeze as I pressed the cable release to make the exposure.

I like to process my Polaroid in the darkroom, preserving the negative and clearing it in sodium sulphite solution whilst in complete darkness. Most my Polaroid prints are overexposed as my aim is to obtain the negative, which I expose at the slower 32ISO rather than the recommended print speed of 50ISO.

The first rays of sunlight began hitting the blossoms, the sky turning a bright pale blue. It was going to be a fine summer’s day in Perth. What remained of my coffee had gone cold, but at least I had awakened my senses as to what was happening in my own backyard and saw something anew. Maybe it wasn’t going to be another Groundhogs day after all?

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Be tenacious.

Be tenacious Cape Naturaliste, Western Australia.

Be tenacious. These wind swept branches are an example of how tenacious life really is, even in adverse situations. With its roots wedged between massive granite boulders, the sheer force exerted by millions of minuscule living cells is sufficient, over a long period of time, to lift and displace these rocks just enough to allow this tree to grow. And given its size it has successfully adapted and overcome environmental extremes such as no soil, prevailing winds (sometimes at gale force), salt spray, diminishing rainfall and intense sun exposure.

I can only guess how old it is, but this is one of a few larger specimens that sprawl out for several metres over the boulders at Cape Naturaliste.

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Studio Gallery Yallingup

Studio Gallery Yallingup

The Studio Gallery Yallingup, has just opened this week with its official launch on Saturday  October 2nd, 2010, 6 to 8pm. If you would like to attend, RSVP to Lizzy – download the invite for details.

Amongst the artworks on display I was invited to exhibit several of my large format black and white prints as part of the gallery’s opening. The Studio Gallery is one of the region’s most modern purpose built galleries with a studio and an adjoining bistro. Located towards the Yallingup end of the Capes, it is well worth a visit if you are in the region.

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IRIS AWARDS Semi Finalists Carlo Margaret River

IRIS Awards Carlo Margaret River Bronica 645 Kodak Tri-X. Back in 1987, I started a personal photographic project: photographing some of my family members and relatives around Margaret River. I didn’t set out with any particular plan such as a start and finish date, or a wish list of images, as perhaps you would for a commercial project. It simply took shape as I visited the region, usually several times per year. It depended solely on what opportunities presented themselves, at the time of those visits, for photography. Naturally, at some point during my visit I would ask if they would mind if I made some photographs whilst we talked. In some instances, there was only ever one photographic session, the confluence of opportunities and circumstances never re-emerging. Luckily in those situations I got what I thought was a pleasing image, so mission accomplished.

When I first photographed Carlo, above, he was already 83 years of age. I would often find him out in the paddocks, fossicking around for wood burls or looking for field mushrooms when in season.  Before his passing, at nearly 90 years of age, I had the pleasure of making several memorable images.

Most times I used my 4×5 field camera for the portraits, even leaving 4×5 Polaroid prints with my subjects after my visit, which was always a nice way to say thank you. Other times I used my 645 medium format camera, such as in the image above, which was easier to handle in rapidly changing circumstances. I used Kodak Tri X for both roll and sheet film, metering was all hand held, both film and prints hand processed by me.

I entered this image in the recent Perth Centre of Photography 2010 IRIS Awards, a national photographic portrait prize, some months back, and then actually forgot all about it. Unfortunately it didn’t make the judges’ selection for the final exhibition, but it did apparently make it through as one of about 30 semi-finalist images, according to a PCP flicker posting. How many of these made the final show I don’t know.

I only became aware of the above posting quite by accident, I certainly wasn’t contacted by PCP. Whilst on the subject of the Perth Centre of Photography, isn’t it time some of the digital savvy members amongst the PCP brought the website up to a professional standard? These days it’s not hard, difficult or expensive. The current PCP website has been under construction for far too long, which is farcical if they are a “centre of photography” running “national” awards.  Given that Perth Centre of Photography receives funding from WA’s Department  of Arts & Culture to run two national awards (IRIS and CLIP Awards), it would be nice to see an up to date and informative web site about the awards’ results, both past and present. It certainly would be a more inclusive way, for people outside of Perth of staying informed of the results, after all it’s meant to be a national award.

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Cape Clairault region

Cape Clairault region, Margaret River, Western Australia.

A few weeks ago I was visiting the Cape Clairault region, below Yallingup. It was one of those rare days on the coast, barely a whisper of a breeze. The clouds moved slowly across the sky and the sun shone sporadically through the small gaps. Up on the cliff tops there was the sound of crickets amongst the coastal heath and a wonderful sense of peace. Beautifully formed lines of waves broke upon the shore.

The view up and down the coast was expansive, in front of me was a tumbled down line of old wooden fence posts ending abruptly at the cliff’s edge. They once marked the extent of the property boundaries which have since retreated inland from the ocean, leaving behind this very narrow coastal strip, in parts only several hundred meters wide, as part of the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park.

At the start of my walk I had no real objective, other than to visit a small waterfall, something I have done many times in the past.  A school bus parked at the walk’s commencement announced that  there was going to be company on the track.  I couldn’t help but reminisce about the first times I had walked this area, over 20 years ago, before there were walk tracks and wooden bridges. You could spend hours here and meet no one. This area is now part of the Cape to Cape track, although the route to the waterfall is a slight detour. Not far along I met a party of young primary school kids returning from their walk. How lucky these local kids are, to enjoy a school outing in such a location.

I had a relatively easy walk, along the cliff tops and then down into the sand dunes as I followed the passage of the small brook snaking inland. Reaching the waterfall, I had the place all to myself and I was delighted to see it was flowing, given the dry winter.

On my way back, I picked my way through the dunes towards the ocean, pausing frequently to absorb the view and perfect conditions. When I came to the mouth of the brook I made this image.

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Lesmurdie Falls Perth

Lesmurdie Falls Perth Western Australia

Near the Perth metropolitan region there is a transition zone between the coastal sand plain and the higher inland plateau, referred to as the Darling Scarp. Here the land falls several hundred metres  creating hills and valleys and there exists just a handful of brooks with small waterfalls. In summer these brooks are reduced to a trickle, only revealing their true extent during the winter months after heavy rainfall. Near the metro region these brooks eventually feed into the Swan and Canning Rivers, connecting the inland plateau to the ocean. Lesmurdie Falls is one such waterfall, which joins the Canning River a little way upstream from the Nicholson Road bridge.

In winter, after heavy rain, it can be quite spectacular as far as local waterfalls go. Several years back I made a series of images, but amongst my favorites are those which were made just prior to heavy rain, where only small streams ran down the rock face. I decided it was time for me to revisit the falls, and perhaps discover something I had not previously seen. When I arrived at the falls there was a small trickle of water down the slippery rock face which was promising, but something was not quite right, something had changed. Someone recently said to me that you can always go out and photograph the landscape, its always there, unlike people. But change is often perceived over a period of time in all things, even the landscape.

I realized  what had changed at the waterfall since my last visit about 5 years ago. There was some obvious graffiti painted on one of the main boulders. But more importantly, one of the tops of the boulders had been broken or levered off, I doubt it would have fallen by itself. Finding the best camera position for the composition raised a number of considerations. Camera positioning is limited by the slope of the rocks on which I was standing. I chose a position at an angle to the graffiti to avoid showing it. The gross white lettering was for me out of context and served no aesthetic purpose, but I did want to record the fallen boulder as it represented a lasting change. Returning home I pondered the interconnectedness of the plateau, its water catchments, the rivers and the ocean, and ultimately the impact of our actions with their often unforeseen consequences.

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Swamp Sheoaks Canning River

Hesperantha falcata Canning River

Swamp sheoaks Canning River

Living in Perth I am lucky to be so close to the Canning River and its reserves. There are  kilometres of cycleways and walkways traveling up and down the river, passing through parklands of flooded gums and sheoaks, were you can always find some peace  and quiet. Then there is the river itself, which is wonderful to paddle your canoe or kayak on.  Upstream near my neighbourhood, the Canning River diverges into many leads with dead ends. The river banks are covered with bushland, giving you an impression you are anywhere but in the city. There is a multitude of bird life from ducks and swans, even large kites.

This image of the swamp sheoaks, Casuarina obesa, was taken during Spring, just on dusk. The little white flowers (Hesperantha falcata) open up only in the full shade or very late afternoon. Like so many of our most successful weeds, Hesperantha falcata originates from South Africa, and it literally carpets sections of the Canning River reserve. In previous years during Spring, I have resisted making a similar image, because I did not want viewers to misinterpret these as wildflowers native to the park. Eventually, I decided to work amongst the swamp sheoaks over the course of a 12 month season, recording the changes in their immediate environs: from sombre deep winter tones to abundant white of spring flowers, then to the stark black charcoal from summer fires.  Even though the photograph may not show an ecological ideal of native bushland, it never the less offers a glimpse of its seasonal state during these times.