The hard summer dryness in the parkland around the Canning River is slowly softening. Yesterday morning there were signs that the seasons were changing with our first mist for the calendar year. The daytime air is still warm but the sun is getting up a little later each day. I took an early morning stroll with my camera, the landscape enveloped by a gentle glowing light, something we don’t see too frequently here in Perth. A few early morning joggers and walkers were out enjoying the cooler air, but mostly I had the misty forest and pathways to myself, it was a quiet and peaceful morning of a long weekend. You could barely believe that this regional park is bordered by suburbia, shopping centres and highways. For those of us who live near the Canning River in Perth, we are just so lucky to have this wonderful asset at our doorstep whilst being in the middle of a city.
Changing Places Photography Exhibition at Barracuda Studio Gallery, Fremantle is only about a week away and final preparations are well underway.
This morning I fired up my old Seal Commercial press to dry mount my gelatin silver fibre based prints onto museum board ready for framing. If you haven’t received an invitation yet, then please consider this quick note as your invitation to drop by between the 17th and 31st March, Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm, as part of the FotoFreo 2012 Open Exhibition Programme. Or if you would like to catch up with Peter and myself you can come along to a special evening viewing on March 24th. Look forward to seeing you there.
During summertime I have to vary my darkroom routine to account for the heat. This means that I usually like to get to work early before the heat of the day sets in. With tasks like film processing it is important to be consistent, and that means keeping the temperature of the developer constant with the use of tempered water baths. It’s simple to do really, just add refrigerated water (during summer) to the room temperature tap water. You may also like to use a pre-rinse which can help adjust the temperature of developing tanks, film and reels prior to the actual development process. These days I just stick to a water bath and choosing a time of the day when you don’t have to fight too great a temperature differential between the room temperature and developer. Anyway, my point is that the window period for film development for me during summer is shortened, so it can take a while to catch up with a back log of film. So I was delighted when I viewed this morning’s processed black and white sheet films and rediscovered what I was photographing exactly one month ago during a trip to Augusta; in this case, bracken ferns. Developing films can be a bit of an adventure, you can never be absolutely sure what you have on film is what you see, and in this case I think I see more in the image than what I remember at the time on the ground glass.
Don’t overthink it. I have been playing around with my 35mm film camera lately, taking it with me on my daily travels. It’s an activity which I have found both challenging and rejuvenating. Unlike using the 4×5 where everything is slower, more contemplated and on a tripod, finding images on the move pushes me to the other extreme. I fumble as I try to control all the variables that rapidly present themselves, and then, in a leap of faith, I ignore this desire to control and let go. Fluid moments form and disintegrate before your eyes. There is so little time to process in your mind what you are seeing before another image appears. I think that’s part of the buzz I get after developing the film, finding those little surprises on the contact sheets. For a split second did I really see that?
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.
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.
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.
Wave Rock Hyden Exfoliating Granite
A few days ago I visited Hyden a small country town about 350km inland, east of Perth. Hyden is famously known for its nearby tourist attraction Wave Rock, a 15 metre high, 100 metre long granite wall that has weathered into the shape of an enormous breaking wave. The rock is one of a series that are spread throughout the region and there is a strong Nyoongar history present amongst them. During the last century Europeans settled within the region to farm wheat. This is an area of low rainfall, about 300mm annually, possibly less now with the impact of climate change. Another 100 kilometres east and you enter isolated desert country.
An obvious photographic subject would be Wave Rock with all its immensity and streaked rock face, however, I was interested in other aspects of the rock. This fractured layer of granite, virtually an exfoliating layer from the larger body below, with its zig zag of lines, caught my attention. The early morning sun had just risen over the rock summit, lighting its western flanks and I was needing to look straight into it. Using the combination of the rise on the lens board, pointing the camera down and using the double dark as a lens shade, I was able to minimise lens flare, whilst preserving good contrast. The negative was given about half a stop more exposure with N-1 development, film was Tri X Pan.
Play a little with composition design. I was “down south” for a couple of days recently and covered a fair bit of ground, traveling from one country town to another. Whilst I wasn’t strictly on a photographic trip I took my 4×5 anyway, and some double darks loaded with T-Max 400 film. You never know what you might find. Through the car window I often glimpse fleeting images and compositions. My usual thoughts are that I would love to stop the car, get out and set up the tripod and camera, but usually time constraints apply, and the idea remains just that. On this trip I decided things were going to be a bit different. Rather than making a mental note of a potential image and coming back at a later time, I made an effort to stop and make a photograph. I figured if it looks rights now, let’s not wait until another time when probably the light – or inspiration – has evaporated.
I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Even though I am working with a slower 4×5 camera, it sometimes pays to have some fun, play a little, and take a chance by seizing the moment as it presents itself. The spontaneity of subject matter and composition can be quite refreshing.
The real Margaret River in detail. On the day I made this negative it had been drizzling consistently with rain, a typical winter’s day with an overcast sky, and then a late afternoon burst of sunlight. The river was flooded with fresh rain and the noise of rushing water could be heard several hundred metres away from within the marri -jarrah forest from where I had emerged. The forest (now a proposed national park) formed a natural buffer between my grandparents’ farm and the river valley. I have fond childhood memories of the river in various moods, with its secret rock pools, forested banks, jumble of dark rocks and fallen trees. But it is during the midst of a winter flow, with the rush of water over submerged rocks, swirling around partly submerged peppermint trees, that the rhythm of the river is most mesmerising. Kodak Tri X 4×5 film, exposure was probably f22 at 1/2 second, Rodinal developer.