Shapes and shadows, reflections, shining light, dappled skies. Red and yellow cliffs glittering bright under a summer sun, a monochrome mirror on a fading winter day. First impressions of the world came to me from the Hawkesbury River as my father steered the old inboard motorboat Quiet Life upstream from Brooklyn, put-putting along through the water, sometimes green and glassy, sometimes rough and choppy under a grey sky. The desire to capture and re-visit this ancient landscape has never left me. Photography, writing and painting on the river rise from this impulse towards preservation and continuity. The older I get, the more important it feels.
The lower Hawkesbury is an amazing place. Just a little over an hour from Sydney, isolated communities with roots in the nineteenth century endure, without roads, piped water, town facilities. Each community has its own rhythms and rules. Some have their own identities and flags with mottos, and know themselves, ironically, as democratic republics. The nearest police presence is at Hornsby and Gosford. Most houses are only known by the name of their wharf or jetty: there are no streets, and no house numbers. These communities must look after their own laws and help each other survive through bushfires, floods and occasional outbursts of wild behaviour.
You can never take enough photographs on the river. I have taken photographs of the same outlook, through the changing seasons, year after year, for as long as I can remember, the same spaces made rich with clouds, reflections, light, always the same, always different.
I have collected old photographs of my family and preserved copies of them, although all the original negatives are long gone and many of the people in them are no longer remembered. Some appear on another page on this site. My investigations into family history have expanded enormously since the arrival of internet genealogy sites and public access to public records such as those at Births Deaths and Marriages. All of this is threatening to take on a life of its own, joining photographs, historical documents, imaginative texts and memoir into something which might, or might not, turn into a book, or a website, or both.
The photograph is not only an image reproducible through modern technology but a key element in the way contemporary humans experience the world, a world we have created through manipulation of images. “Nature”, whether it exists or not in a philosophical sense, is constantly present to view but is overwhelming in its totality. The camera allows us to create a different kind of seeing, framed through the view-finder. Every photographic style has its own glories. I love old-fashioned black and white photographs printed on heavy paper but the quick snap on the I-Phone has its pleasures too. The quality of mobile phone cameras has improved so much they are now an accepted part of the photographic language. Sites like Flickr and Instagram allow images and lives to be shared in ways unimaginable just a few short years ago.
Photography and painting for me are deeply entwined. There is a lot of debate in fine art circles about the use of photographs as the basis for paintings. Most painters today take it for granted that their paintings will emerge, one way or another, with reference to photographs. Plein Air work is highly regarded but everyone looks at the photographs the took while they paint later in the studio. Then again, the greatest German painter of our age, Gerhard Richter, created paintings to look as much as possible like photographs, and then deliberately blurred them so that they didn’t. The philosophical issues behind the photography/painting intersection is still a mystery. I have written a little about Richter on my art-writing site here. A recent project on deliberate blurring in photography reminded me to think about this again. Visit my Flickr site for a few of these experimental images.
So my photography proceeds along with my writing and painting. On this site I am recording, exploring and playing with ideas. Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions (use the Contact field).
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