Living Traces or Ghosts in the Wilderness
So there’s been no real tangible improvement of the ‘block’ and yes, it’s become it’s own beast, raising it’s ugly head and terrifying me every so often. I have however continued to plod along, photographing intermittently but consistently. I’ve learned that investing oneself emotionally in one’s photographic explorations isn’t always a good idea though I do believe it makes a better body of work. So in this regard I’m pretty exhausted. It’s hard not to take on other people’s histories when their story-telling and reminiscing is so enticing. I think one of the hardest stories to hear (and see, since photographs were shared) is one belonging to Peter. Afflicted by a debilitating and life-changing stroke at the age of 40, he now resides in a suburban nursing home, reliving memories and wading through a bureaucratic nightmare to maintain his pension. My shock came when he showed me a photograph of himself as a traveller in 1970s Europe. An image of the rock’n’roll hedonism that became the paradigm for many young people at the time. He was an Apollo, an Adonis…. and absolutely beautiful. My heart leaped when I realised who this was and inside, I cried. The stark contrast between the man in the photo and the man holding it was cruel. We talked about family, travelling and life in general. I photographed him in his room and then he went outside to smoke.
Times like this I often feel intrusive, nearly voyeuristic, but I am driven by a compulsion to know and understand the forgotten. To demonstrate that their histories are as worthy and fascinating as those that make the annals of time. In a world driven by the cult of the celebrity, is it not surprising that we are no longer newsworthy or of cultural interest? This was further reflected to me by one of our national institutions the National Library of Australia. They were interested in some of my work for their image library (a good thing!) but only of people ‘doing everyday things’. Not portraits for the sake of the person in them unless of course they were ‘famous’. I was disappointed by this direction in their selection. Throughout this process though I am learning what I am drawn to and I realise now that the underlying objective of my work has always been the composition of a requiem. I suppose in many ways I am disappointed in what Australia has become and what it continues to become. The times they are a changin’ indeed.
After gazing outwards for so many years, to look again at one’s own backyard is no mean feat. It’s challenging and forces one to rethink notions of identity and belonging. In short, it is no longer the place that I remember – the place of childhood fantasies or even nightmares – and whilst my love of this country is unwavering, I know that we are living under a darkening cloud.
I suppose my Australian landscapes and portraits aim to capture some of this feeling. Quite figuratively, that feeling of being ‘in the wilderness’ or in that ‘space in between’. Layered as we are into the world, we can’t assume any control. Our surrounds and even our own experiences are always bigger than we are. We’re simply remnants or traces; indelibly marked into the landscape by what we leave behind. Photographs of course are the perfect clue, emanating ideas of who we once were. They are keys to our past inviting one to look back into personal or collective memories and further helping to shape new identities.
I recently saw Trent Parke’s series Minutes to Midnight at the National Gallery. It was beautiful and not surprisingly since we are of the same generation, I related very well to his vision. Life is dreamlike when you really look at it and though the future seems ominous at times, we are nevertheless moving headlong into new – or repeated – possibilities.