Selfie Fetish Phase

For a couple of years before I moved to Australia, I had developed a growing interest in photography. Lacking proper opportunity to develop my skills in the UK, I took the opportunity to start practicing in depth once in Australia.

One particular trope was inserting myself into photos, trying to build some sense of drama or something artistic. Maybe it was a narcissistic streak, who knows? Some of the photos look peculiar now, and raise a self-deprecating chuckle or two, but I can also see some familiar elements that carry on to this day. Notably, there is a darker theme in some of these photos, which manifests now in my fiction writing more than my photography, but I guess it’s a universal artistic trait. It was also winter when I took these photos, so maybe that was an influence too.

Reflecting on it, I think I may have been more experimental back then than I am now, but with less focus. I was just keen to take photos of anything and everything, thinking less of composed form and more of pure trial and error. Back then my success to failure ratio was quite poor, but I probably second guessed myself a lot less than I do today. I miss that old me sometimes; innocent, green, but being more spontaneous.

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Fremantle Power Station

Ever since seeing the old hospital at Mount Gambier, abandoned buildings have held something of a peculiar fascination for me. They give rise to presentations of light we don’t always get to see in fully developed and in use buildings.

Fremantle power station was one such abandoned building. Situated by the ocean, it was another dormant urban behemoth. A group of us went to photograph the interior one early Sunday.

There was security, who had a party issue about people going in and out of the building. There was even a security guard circling the building in a small car, like some cartoonish authority figure. It appears he had good cause though. One time he passed, and about five or six teenagers scrambled out of an opening and ran across to the fencing where we were shooting the exterior.

In the end, the security seemed a little daft. At one end of the building the fencing was uprooted and there were huge gaps to walk through. There was no way you could logically stop people walking on site unless you posted a guard. We just walked right in. This was back in 2013, so I have no idea what the site is like now.

The interior was hollow, beyond the structural stuff. Graffiti was everywhere, sometimes in ludicrous locations. Unlike the hospital, this building exuded nothing of mystery. It felt like everything was on show. A relic of the past it may have been, but it was a vain one to be sure.

I met some other photographers inside, from Brisbane it turns out. At one point we decided to go upstairs, which meant walking out of the building, then climbing in a small opening (the same those teenagers jumped out of).

Upstairs we found more kids hanging around. They seemed harmless and completely unsurprised by our presence. This building has been photographed a lot.

I took plenty of shots, both digital and film (the images here are film). The building had its own richness, but akin to the more material qualities of urban versus rustic country, there was something lacking that the old hospital had. I realised one particular thing was noise – there was a highway close by, and Sunday morning traffic was increasing on a warm summers day.

I liked the building though. It had its charm, but I’ve never been back. Whereas I have fond nostalgic memories of the hospital, this was an experience that I simply passed though. Happy to remember it, but less treasured, if that makes sense.

Fishing at Fitzroy

I spent a week at Fitzroy Crossing in 2014, acting as a relief worker for the local child protection office. It is located in lands of the Bunuba people. I arrived late morning on Monday, and departed mid afternoon on a Friday. Not the longest stretch of time.

It was very hot, but dry. I’ve always found humidity harder to manage. They put me up in a local hotel, which was very good quality with a pool.

One of the workers at the office, whose name eludes me now, told me her partner was into photography and she kindly arranged with him to show me a section of the river.

We went after work, down a 4WD section of track through the undergrowth, before coming out to the river. It was approaching sunset, and delightful colours reflected off the water.

Close by a family we’re fishing. They were Aboriginal. It looked like they were catching fish for dinner, because the kids were gutting the fish. I envied the family that moment, a mixture of calmness and family life. It made the place seem less remote, even though they were strangers.

I got some good photos that evening. Never got to try the fish though.

Bait, Tackle, Ice

Travelling up from Kingston SE in South Australia, there’s a prolonged stretch of road, encompassed by bush land that obscured the horizon. It’s almost like a tunnel, and somewhat unappealing aesthetically. The reward is seeing the lakes, sometimes with water, glowing pink, or with snow-white sheets of salt. Either way it’s a pleasure to the eye when you get there.

Before reaching those lakes there lies the Heart of the Coorong roadhouse. I rarely frequented it, except as an occasional toilet stop (gold coin donation). It seemed an unusual sign of civilisation in the midst of dense scrubland.

Of course, that’s largely an illusion, because even the sea was not that far away, and occasional sidetracks could lead you to the lakes and coast. Between Meningie and Kingston is only about 150km, and Salt Creek (where the roadhouse is) is barely halfway. It represents the end of the tunnel.

I took the photo of the roadhouse back in 2011 or 2012. It’s film. The light is the biggest player in this shot; something illuminating but glaring in equal measure. I tried to make use of the negative space, creating its own tunnel effect. In many other respects it represents the roadhouse as I saw it, a place to travel though rather than a place to go. In truth I never explored it enough. I would like to though.

The Two Piers

Even though my maternal family originates from there, I’ve never felt that much affinity with Blackpool.

My experience of Blackpool was of a run down, has been town, dreaming of better days, slowly seeing out the passing of decreasing numbers of visiting ageing people who remember the town in its heyday. It was associated with dilapidation and drug use for a lot of people, with a faded atmosphere of yesteryear.

The most I ever got out of the town was enjoyment of the beach. While I saw little to warrant the historical moniker of Blackpool’s “golden sands”, I could take pleasure in the windswept bleakness, accentuated by the sharp cold weather of the north west of England.

The beach was dominated by the three piers, like outstretched fingers reaching for the sea, grasping for something that was gone. Like the town, they had an aged and rundown tone, left weatherworn from years of exposure and neglect.

One day, late on in winter, I took the opportunity to head to Blackpool for some photos. I was primarily interested in getting some long exposure shots of the sea, taking advantage of the fading light. The wind was biting, but there was little rain, just the spray of the sea.

The photo of the two piers captures for me the essence of the town. The reality, the dark frame in the foreground, seaweed hanging off, an old relic. Beyond, as though in the past, lies the full pier across a desolate beach, relatively pristine at a distance. It’s a false promise; the photographic equivalent of an unreliable narrator. One of my favourite photos.

Laverton Picnic Spot

When I was a country relief worker in Western Australia, my first post (or ‘gig’ as I preferred to call them) was in a small town called Laverton, located in the Goldfields area. The Aboriginal people call the place Wongatha Wonganarra, which I was told meant ‘the willing people’. Some 350km north of Kalgoorlie, Laverton was the last sealed section before the Great Central Road (and still another 850km from the border).

Excited by the opportunity to see somewhere I didn’t even know existed until I was told about it, I brought my camera gear eager for for my 2 week stint.

Although not as deep a shade as the Pilbara or the Kimberley’s, the soil had that reddish tone typical of Australian outback. The landscape was broadly flat, with only the occasional hill here and there, including the ones the town was built on. It was the most remote I’d ever been in Australia.

One day I was chatting to the owner of the accommodation I was staying in. He mentioned a small hill that locals used, close to the airport, and suggested I would get some good shots of the landscape from there.

The day I went was the day of a massive storm, and it seemed a good time to go. Sure enough I found a small site, with a improvised BBQ/fire and square blocks of stone for seats.

The view was magnificent, with the storm clouds passing by. Unfortunately the lighting occurred too far away to capture, but the effects of the storm were epic. It was such a mesmerising place , I could have stood there for a while, but more bad weather was coming, and pretty much stayed for the rest of my stay. I’m sure the site is still there.

Charging the tide

Part of a wider selection of micro fiction, this is a short story, chronicling a nugget of my life. Some elements may be fiction, others may be real, but I’ll leave that to your imagination. Enjoy.

Standing high up on a whale watching platform, I watched these kids, playing on the shore at a desolate beach in wintry Warrnambool. They kept running at the tide, charging in. It looked like two boys and a girl, probably brothers and sister. She was the eldest, or tallest st least, and at first seemed to encourage her siblings. When she drifted away, one brother followed, and there was just this lone boy left on the sands. Contemplating the waves, crouched against the wind, it looked like he reached a moment and, raising a piece of wood, flung it forth into the surf. If the ocean had a view of the matter it did not give it, and continued with its tidal duty. The boy walked away, but I hope whatever he looked for from the sea he got. Those children disappeared, drifting out of sight, becoming one more moment that passes through the ether of life.

Heels? On a sofa? – that photo of Kellyanne Conway

So, today I saw the photo of Kellyanne Conway, Counsellor to the President, kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office, while guests were gathered to meet POTUS. Apparently, this has caused something of a stir. I don’t really care about whether she was wearing heels. I was more interested in the photo itself.

My initial reaction was that KAC looked a little like a bored or disinterested teenager does when their parents invite complete strangers round. She’s focused on her mobile phone, seemingly oblivious to large group of people gathered around her. 

That sparked a thought in my mind, about photos and their ability to ‘tell a story’, and how often that ‘story’ can be a misrepresentation.

I think this photo is fascinating in many respects. KAC’s pose is intriguing enough, but look at the whole room. It’s a large depth of field, trying to bring POTUS  into focus amongst a sizeable number of people. I don’t know how tall POTUS is, but he seems to be dwarfing those right next to him. That makes little difference, because the perspective of the shot makes those (mainly men) standing in the foreground much larger, effectively dwarfing POTUS. If the intent of the layout was to make POTUS seem like the central figure, this shot undermines that effect. Even without KAC in the foreground, there’s plenty to take attention away from POTUS. There is a type of golden triangle effect, drawing  the eye towards POTUS, the way he’s stood at the end of the two channels of people, but he’s so distant the impact is underwhelming.

I’m curious about what purpose there was to surround POTUS with women in the background, and keep men in the foreground – if any. The men, and KAC, dominate in a big way. With some of the men looking at KAC, it’s effectively turned her into the main subject. 

There’s a funny casualness about KAC’s position on the sofa. Very much at home and relaxed. In that respect, it does bring a slightly less formal atmosphere to one of the most formal political rooms in the world. 

I’m sure the media and Twitter discourse is focused on that casual positioning and with vaguely sexist undertones, her heels, but for me this is a story of context. In the linked article there’s a second shot as she’s lining up to take a photo with her phone. The context of the image becomes clear; she was in the process of setting up a camera shot on her phone. From the angle, it was probably easier to take that shot from level of the sofa than standing up. 

I find this a useful examination of the subjectivity of photos. Not all of them tell the story we think they do. People’s perceptions of the subject matter as well. Would people have had the same reaction to this photo if it were Michelle Obama? Ultimately, I think the message I get from this photo, it’s story, is one of casualness. Something about KAC’s posture suggests a familiarity about the Oval Office, whatever she was actually doing in that moment. Compare that to the formality of the men around her. It paints a telling scene for the observer, at a glance, of an arena normally so difficult to describe succinctly with words. This of course is what photos manage to do.

Photography desire

So, the other day, while on my daily commute home, I had cause to take the train home since I had missed the various buses home. I decided it was quicker to take the train rather than wait for the next bus.

On stepping out of the train at Perth station I had a view of the concrete block next to the art gallery. It was fading light, and normally the bland concrete would simply blend with the dull steel grey of the darkening sky. This time though, sunset light fell upon the building and delivered sharp contrast and lines against the background. The building was transformed under the orange glow, and simple concrete turned into vibrant urban visage.

At the time, I was moving quickly to get to my next train, only had iPhone on hand – at that distance a hopeless task of photography. The thought that occurred to me was along the lines of wanting a camera lens (and obviously camera) to get the shot. The actual words in my mind were ‘that’s the kind of view I want to make love to with a camera lens.’

…sigh. Yes, weird. 

Setting aside the distinction between badly chosen words and paraphilia, it has in fact opened my mind to a new realisation, about my passion for photography. This last year has been about writing, setting time aside to work on writing projects. I even delayed my degree by a year to do this, but the principle casualty has been photography. It’s not that I have lost interest, or passion, but time I might take for trips and camera walks, has been set aside for literary pursuits. 

I still love photography, but seeing that building reminded of desire. The desire to capture a moment on frame, whether it be film or digital. It is refreshing to be reminded of a core passion, and that moment it was about pure desire to take a photo. 

I’ve still got the love.

The photography passion and inspiration

I was very pleased to discover last night a video from YouTube I had long thought lost. It’s a slideshow of slightly blurry black and white images set to the music of Mazzy Star’s Into Dust.

I first came across this video years ago while searching for Into Fust on YouTube. I loved the video. The abstract nature of the photography really appealed to me. I was probably already playing around with the idea of taking up photography at the time, but this video cemented for me the idea of photos being inspirational.

Of course, I know that photos can inspire, but what I mean is that this helped me realise how photography can inspire me. For an interest to become a passion, there has to be a spark in what you’re doing. The difference between performing a task, and being driven to achieve something great.

I don’t fancy my photography sits in the realm of the greatest photographers, but I like to think that I’ve taken decent shots here and there. It’s fascinating to think about the things that inspire, that set you free to explore. All great passions are exploration, and I have loved this journey since the outset. So enjoy the video, and think about what could inspire your passion.