Analogue in Wonderland by Christine Scott-Young

A report of the ‘Friends of Photography Group’ Grampians weekend, led by David Tatnall, 7-9 October 2016

Allow me to set the scene… It’s October in the Grampians National Park. Recent heavy rainfalls have sent water gushing through the waterfalls and creeks, discreet Australian native orchids wave in the spring breeze, and giant craggy boulders jut out at unlikely angles. A little footbridge crosses near the Venus Baths. And up-and-down stream, a large group of analogue photographers have planted their tripods, scattered through the bush like seeds blown in the wind. Some are reading light meters, others are under their dark cloths peering at the ground glass, and another is waiting while a pinhole captures the passage of time. Who are they and how do they come to be here? Let’s rewind a little…

The roots of this photography group were formed in early 2015, over a weekend pinhole workshop by renowned photographer David Tatnall. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this gathering would eventually crystallize into the Friends of Photography Group (FoPG). Under the careful guidance of David, the group has grown in number and activities, with trips to interesting spots in and around greater Melbourne, and sometimes further afield. Regular print viewings are also held to show and discuss the results of our excursions.

This brings us to the FoPG Grampians weekend of October 2016… Our first meeting point designated by David is in the Langi Ghiran State Park, west of Melbourne and en route to the Grampians. Here we will spend Friday afternoon, and as the members of our group trickle in to the picnic area, there is a real sense of enthusiasm in the fresh air. What types of cameras will people bring? What innovations have been made since last we met? After a hot drink to warm us up, we begin our little trek. Meandering along the path, I feel my brain slowly unwind from city-pace and my eyes adjust to the rough yet delicate beauty of the Australian bush in spring. At the same time, a magnificent display of different analogue cameras is starting to bloom – over the course of the weekend our kit includes 4×5 and 8×10 field cameras, medium format SLRs, pinholes, a 6×6 folder, and a 3D camera. After several enjoyable hours, we are back on the road again, making our way further down the Western Highway to establish our base for the weekend in Ararat. The fun of the day spills naturally into dinner, where 14 of us gather around a table with the kind of conversation that adventure and good company generates.

Early Saturday we arrive in the Grampians National Park, ready for a full morning of exploration in the Wonderland area. After lunch, we head to Heatherlie Quarry where rusted old machinery rests in the landscape. On location, it is fascinating to observe the processes each photographer undertakes in order to make an image with their specific equipment. Less visible to the eye, however, is the exchange of knowledge that a weekend like this makes possible – questions are happily answered, discussions are many and varied and experiences shared, all helping to build a vibrant community encouraging creativity and technical experimentation in our practices. Meanwhile, back at base, a pop-up portrait studio has appeared in the cabin of one of our group, and this is followed with a print viewing and then dinner.

Sunday dawns, our last day for this trip, and we are at the Venus Baths where my review began. But the story isn’t quite over yet…

At home, attention turns to the darkroom. Film is processed, scanned and then emailed out. My inbox for the next week or so is filled with amazing images of dramatic rocks and swirling water, as well as digital documentation of ourselves in action. David arranges a print viewing afternoon for mid-November, which means a new round of darkroom activity in order to print our images. And so, the energy for analogue photography is kept vital, bubbling away like the streams we have just spent the weekend photographing.

Photographs of the photographers by David Tatnall.

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