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 Nature Photography :: Essays :: Musings

This is an eclectic collection of thoughts about photography; thoughts that that aren't really worthy of a whole essay, but that may, or may not, illustrate a point.


I've just watched one of those reality TV shows where several interior designers are placed in a house and have one week to redecorate the place.

Well, what a bun fight, these people's egos are such that they cannot agree on anything. There was arguments over colours, vases, skirting boards, you name it. And there was nothing at stake, no competition between them, no payment, nothing. Imagine what it would be like if there was a prize for the best room?

Contrast this with the two-week trip I've just been on with other photographers. Now photographers often have large egos as well, and on this trip we were competing to have our photos included in a book.

Was there any arguments, any bickering, maybe even a raised voice? No.

In fact it was quite the reverse. There was a sharing of techniques and ideas, explanations of different equipment, and generally a great feeling of camaraderie.

We even shared equipment. On one occasion, after hiking for ages to the bottom of a waterfall, one of our group realised that a piece had fallen from his tripod, rendering it unusable and ruining any chance of using his camera (a large format camera that cannot be used without a tripod).

I had just photographed the falls when I heard of his predicament and offered the use of my tripod, knowing full well that his photo would be on large format, and therefore would probably bump mine from the book.

You would think that there would be some clashes of egos with all these photographers in one place but there wasn't, we just got on with the job, got some great photos and had a great time.

So what does all this mean? I've no idea, but I do know that I'd rather be a photographer than an inferior desecrator...oops, sorry, interior decorator.


I've just returned from a two-week trip in the Tarkine Wilderness. The trip was organised to produce photos for a new book on the area, and some of Australia's leading photographers (plus me) were invited to do their stuff, with a view to having the results published in the book.

My first reaction was to take the large format camera, after all that's what I've been using for landscapes for years, and the results will be more publishable.

But stories I'd heard about the notorious weather on Tasmania's west coast, plus the weight of my pack, started me thinking about the large camera.

On the night before the trip I went to bed still thinking.

An hour or so later I sprang up and removed the Tachihara from my pack, I had decided to go 35mm.

Next morning I was having second thoughts, and nearly put it back, but time was pressing.

All during the trip into the wilderness I was thinking about the wisdom of my decision, but when I got there I simply used the equipment that was to hand.

For the next two weeks I used only 35mm, and I have to say I think I made some of my best ever photos.

I certainly got images that would have been impossible with the large camera, and I got plenty of them.

But what would I have made with the large camera?

Of course I'll never know, but it doesn't matter, I'm very happy with the results. The photos are great, and there's more to photography than perfectly sharp and grain-free prints.


A friend recently observed that she thought my more recently produced photographs had become "deeper" and more "spiritual". I had to confess that I hadn't noticed.

Later, after spending some time with my friend, I realised that in fact it was she who appeared to have become more spiritual.

It's often said that photos reflect the person who made them, but I think that they also project a different image according to the person viewing them. Just as some people look at a cloud and see an Indian on a horse, while others see a submarine.

Perhaps it's not my photos, but my friend, that has changed.


While preparing for yesterday's talk I opened a box of TMX Readyloads, intending to use one in the talk as an example of my preferred method of packaging sheet film.

When I opened the box I found that four of the Readyload envelopes had "Exposed" stickers on them.

What's on these sheets? As far as I can remember, the last time I used this film was in April '98 on a walk into the western Budawangs.

I'll get them processed when we reach Canberra in a few weeks time.

What long-forgotten masterpieces await?


I gave a talk at a local camera club today. After the talk a young lad approached me and asked if he could show me some photos.

"Of course" I said, secretly hoping that I would be able to say something positive about the work. It's often not easy to find a positive aspect to a collection of snaps.

Rather than produce the usual pile of 6x4s, he pulled out a small satchel, and from that came his camera (a digital point and shoot) which he handed to me.

I flipped through the photos that had been downloaded to the camera just for this occasion. There where too many really, and the camera was so small that my hand started cramping, but I kept going because there were many nice images. Two or three of which, subject to the technical quality being OK (impossible to judge on a 1" LCD screen), I would be happy to have in my collection.

There was of course many not-so-good images, but this isn't a reflection on the young photographer's talent, just his editing skills. Most of us take bad photos, we just learn not to display them.

The best photos were close-up shots of insects, and the lad professed a liking for this type of work, so I praised these ones in particular. Maybe we'll be seeing his by-line in the nature magazines before long.


This afternoon I just wandered around with a 35mm camera. I climbed a few hills, explored a cave or two, sat on top of the odd rock. I made photos of whatever caught my eye with no thought about how good they were, whether or not they would look good on a gallery wall, what size they would enlarge to, or whatever.

I just wandered aimlessly with no purpose other than to make some pictures of things that interested me. This is what photography was like for me twenty-odd years ago.

Where did I go wrong?


One of Edward Weston's most chronicled acts was that of crossing out the word "artist" following his name, and replacing it with "photographer".

Brooks Jensen (Editor of Lenswork) says EW had it wrong, and that we are artists. I disagree, sort of.

The problem with the "artist" label is the picture it creates in people's minds. If you tell someone you're an artist they will assume that you are a starving, eccentric, beret wearing, paintbrush wielding, creator of works on canvas.

Apart from the starving and eccentric bits, that is obviously not the case.

While I do believe photographers sometimes create art, rightly or wrongly, the artist label is already taken.

So what are we then?

This came to a head recently when I was designing some new business cards. What do I call myself? Artist will certainly give the wrong impression. What about "photographic artist", or the pretentious "fine art photographer", or the horrible "lensman" (sorry, "lensperson").

I took the easy way out and didn't call myself anything, the card simply reads,

www.robgray.com
photography of the Australian landscape


While walking along the beach looking for a photo, I had a really bad chest pain. I continued walking for a while but eventually had to lie down on a flat rock.

Sunset was approaching, and as I lay on the rock looking at the sky naturally many things went through my mind, like I hope it's not a heart attack, I wonder what a kapellmeister is?, maybe the pain is just indigestion. But my major thought was,

Not now, I'm losing the light!


The 6x12 RFH failed to wind the film on today, thank goodness for a change bag. I use a change bag as a focusing cloth and on several occasions it has saved my bacon. Most notably with jammed Graphmatic sheet film holders.

In this case I freed the film and wound it onto the takeup spool, thereby saving the shots already exposed, and allowing me to continue photographing.


Went to see an exhibition of B&W landscapes at a nearby winery today. There were two photographers exhibiting, John Austin and Roger Garwood.

John's work was very strong but I felt Roger's, with a couple of exceptions, was fairly lack lustre.

For over an hour I alternated between viewing the prints and watching the others in the gallery. It further convinced me of the futility of exhibiting in any venue that is not specifically for showing artworks.

In other venue types, such as in this case a winery, the people are there for another purpose. When they get there most don't even notice that there's an exhibition on. Those that do give the show a once over and sometimes manage a quick "I like photography" comment as they leave.

I've seen this dozens of times over the years, from both sides of the fence, ie. as an exhibitor and viewer.

There's been times when I wanted to look at photographs hanging in cafe's and restaurants, but I'm not willing to stand and look because I would be right in the face of another patron trying to have a meal.

The photos are hung too high for the seated customers to see, and too inaccessible for anyone else.

Another time I went to eat at a restaurant that was hanging my work. The owner wasn't there and none of the other staff knew who I was.

The photos were definitely for sale, there was even a catalogue, but when I asked a waitress how much they were, "Dunno" was the hurried response.

It's a total waste of everybody's time except the landlord of the establishment, who gets free decoration.

If you're going to go to the trouble of hanging a show, do so in a venue where the clientele is there to see photographs, not scoff down profiteroles.


Stuffed up again. Pulled the RFH out from the camera without inserting the darkslide...AGAIN!

Who knows how many of the photos on the affected rolls have survived. [As it turned out the Horseman RFH handles this situation very well, you only ruin the current frame, all previous exposures survive.]

On my return from the creek I found a great semi-abandoned saw mill. For an hour or so I wandered around the mill, and made two exposures. I was thinking along the lines of the people who had presumably lost livelihoods when the mill closed, and my photos depicted that theme. For example derelict control panels that hadn't seen a human hand in years.

After a while though I started thinking about the beautiful trees that we had been living amongst for the last two weeks. How many of their kin had been fed to this machinery?

This changed my vision and I began to see different images. I eventually settled on a quite abstract photo of two saw blades lined up on a huge log, presumably the last log to be placed on the saw bed before the mill closed.

The log was of course long dead, but at least it had been spared the final ignominy of being diced into two-by-fours.


I received an order for a very large print today. I now have to get a hi-res scan made and my wife thought it would just take a few minutes to prepare the scan for printing.

I found myself explaining how I now have to "interpret" the scan to produce a file that will in turn produce a print that looks as I want it to.

This is exactly the same terminology I used to use when I had a darkroom. As all darkroom workers know, a print is not just the reverse of a negative. It can take a long time to interpret a negative to produce a good print.

Also, this interpretation may change over time. A print produced in a year's time may well be different from one produced today, from the same negative.


Major stuff up today. While photographing on a narrow ledge I made two exposures of a nicely backlit rock then pulled the RFH out from the camera without replacing the dark slide. Aaargh!

I've certainly lost the current exposure and most of the previous one, hopefully the three photos already on the role will survive, they should be safe on the spool and inside the holder.

I wound the film off and went to reshoot but the light had gone. I should be able to have another go tomorrow as the photo didn't require any special, once-in-a-lifetime light.

After that debacle I went down to the rocks to find another shot. There are a lot of great looking rocks here, but the wind is such that it's impossible to photograph most of them. It's a case of finding a sheltered position first, then seeing if there's any photos to be had from that position. Somewhat back-to-front, but that's life on the WA coast.


Woke at about 3am with the feeling that I should revisit the idea of doing a book. This time about national parks, and hopefully with a publisher that won't run out of money.

I couldn't get back to sleep. While thinking about the book I realised that I take photos "in" national parks, not "of" national parks. Many of my photos are of a single rock or a few leaves. They could be anywhere.

Made 6 photos today, something of a record I think. Three of them in a grove of trees only 50 yards across. The weather has been bright overcast which was perfect for photographing under trees. I'm glad the sun didn't come out after all.

After almost five years without any serious photography I feel I really have both the eye and the enthusiasm back.

Part of the reason for this I think is seeing the large prints I had done in Perth. Now that I know I can produce high quality results again I'm keen to create new material. Of course for a lot of that five years I was building the motorhome, and taking time off for photography was not really on the cards...actually that's just an excuse, I could have gone out whenever I liked, but not having a darkroom didn't help.


Made what I think will be three nice images today. Even though the light has been nice (bright overcast) the day has been extremely windy and, I thought, impossible to use the large camera.

Late in the morning I had to brave the elements and ride down to the loos at Injidup beach. After attending to nature's call I thought I'd pop down along the path. Before long I reached the beach where the path turned into the bushes. I took one look at the "tunnel" formed by the trees over the path, and ran back to the bike.

Ten minutes later I was back, this time with my camera. The area was in the lee of the hills and further protected from the wind by the trees, so it was quite practical to use a 5x4 camera.

I made three images with little interruption from the weather except for a sprinkle of rain.

The exposure for the third photo was measured at 8 seconds, I doubled it but don't really know what the reciprocity characteristics of Portra 160 are. Here's hoping. [Doubling seemed to work OK. For some years I've had the reciprocity adjusted times for TMX written on my spot meter. I'm now using those times for Portra.]


I'm reading an AA biography and I find a reference to the well-known idea that Adams (and many others) had, whereby nature is good. Frankly I don't see it. I love nature and natural things, but I don't believe nature is intrinsically "good", quite the reverse if your definition of good goes something like "not harming others".

Almost everything in nature survives by harming something else, most animals kill other animals to live, and those that don't kill plants.

Even the plants; some plants actively kill others (the strangler fig for example) but even those that don't actively kill others, stop them from growing by not allowing the sun through, or sucking the nutrients from the earth.

Even the water, the very basis of life on this planet, destroys, sometimes quickly as in a flood, but more often over the millennia as is slowly wears away the very earth and therefore the things that live on it.

This leaves the the inanimate objects, the rocks and the soil. These are the only things that do no direct harm to others. And why is this? Because they cannot move without help from an external force, they are not capable of causing harm .

The rocks sit there and do nothing for millions of years and, in the process, harm nothing.


I've often wet the occasional rock in a photo to bring out it's texture but today I took the technique to new heights. Earlier this morning I found a white rock surrounded by darker ones. The light wasn't right at the time so I returned later in the afternoon.

This time I set the camera up and made one exposure, it looked a little dull. However I had anticipated this, and brought along a collapsible bucket that I used for washing dishes while camping.

With the help of the bucket I drenched all the rocks in the photo.


Spent most of the day wandering around the rocks at Sugarloaf Rock. The day culminated with two photos, one of them was very difficult physically.

The only point I could get the composition I wanted was astride two rounded boulders at the top of a cliff. With a fifty-foot drop into the ocean and gusting winds I had to weight the tripod down with a large rock suspended from a rope.

Obviously balance was very important and I had to be careful about using my 3-dioptre glasses to view the ground glass, with them on I cannot see clearly more than a few inches from my face and my sense of balance is compromised severely, not a good combination at the top of a cliff.

I also tried a new (to me) technique. I wanted to show waves breaking at three different places. The trouble is that they broke at different times. So I decided to try making four exposures, each a quarter of the required amount, and each timed to coincide with the appropriate breaking waves. One wave got two exposures.

After all this I had to break things down and move around the other side of the rocks for another shot which required the last rays of the sun.

I also returned to Bunker Bay with a view to making the photo thwarted by the wind yesterday. When I got to the bay it was quite calm and I have no problems with the photo. I also found another nice image featuring two of the trees and the bay in the background.


I spent quite a lot of time in Christian Fletcher's Bussleton gallery today. Quite nice images.

He made very good photos from places I've been, and thought were not worth a second glance. That's one good thing about concentrating on an area and spending a lot of time there.

The bad thing is that your folio has a lot of similar photos, which is the case with Christian.

I emailed him to congratulate him on his gallery and work, and suggest that maybe we could have a chat.

No response yet.

I've always taken it as a given that anyone serious about their photography would welcome the chance to chew the fat with other like-minded persons. This often doesn't seem to be the case. I don't know if people are anti-social, scared to divulge their secrets, or just too busy.

[Christian did eventually respond but by then I'd moved on.]

I've encountered a few nice photographer-owned galleries over the years (I had my own of course) and everyone seems to have the same problem.

Too busy running the gallery and no time to take photos.

I say "forget the gallery, spend time with your photography".


I saw a dog chasing seagulls today, the futility of the chase reminded me of a landscape photographer trying to make a living from selling photos.

It's an almost impossible quest. But, as long as you enjoy getting your feet wet, and splashing about in water, then there's no harm done, and who knows, you might just catch a seagull.

[It was this experience that prompted me to start writing down some thoughts for posterity. So you can blame the dog.]

 

 

 





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PO Box 450, Gin Gin, QLD, Australia.
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