A report of the ‘Friends of Photography Group’ Mt Buffalo National Park weekend, led by David Tatnall, 5-7 May 2017
The rock formations of Mt Buffalo National Park are nothing short of epic. The Monolith, Leviathan and Sentinel loom over us mere mortals, and the grand tors stand as nature’s own imposing castles. But what drew my car to a halt as I travelled along the winding road toward the Horn was something a little different. It was a sight to make any analogue photographer’s heart sing… a giant 11×14 monorail camera set up on the roadside, nobly attempting to capture the magnificent Cathedral granite outcrop.
This encounter was not entirely unexpected, however, as I was there with the Friends of Photography Group (FoPG), a film photography group based in Melbourne, Australia. Led by renowned photographer David Tatnall, we have been steadily exploring the inner city, greater Melbourne and regional Victoria with our analogue cameras since the group’s formation in early 2015.
The Mt Buffalo weekend had started the afternoon before at the Gorge Day Visitor Area, with the group rugged up in multiple layers to keep out the chill of early May. With only a little left of daylight, I used the time to re-adjust my senses from the concrete grey of the city to the delicate shades of blues, greens and browns, and the sound of crunching leaves and bark under foot. Back down at our base camp in Porepunkah, the rest of the evening passed in a cheery blur of a hearty group dinner at the local pub and a photography documentary screened in one of our group’s cabins.
Saturday revealed a beautiful sunny day with enough cloud for sky interest. As the morning progressed, there was an unfurling of amazing cameras spread out across the expansive Mt Buffalo plateau. Even the briefest of chats revealed how each set-up was completely individual and personal to the user, from the complete beginner who was starting out with a pinhole, to the ultra-enthusiast who had built their own camera to suit rare film holders they had acquired. From a macro lens to a superwide lens, each piece of equipment had a reason and a story attached to it. Questions were welcomed and happily answered by all, making this an invaluable way to learn and hone skills.
After lunch on the mountain, we jostled into position for our official event group portrait. These portraits have become creative affairs, documenting the gathering at each of FoPG’s outings, often using a different method or piece of equipment. This one was no exception, using a colour negative paper technique. We then scattered again across the sleeping buffalo (as envisaged by the explorers Hume and Hovell in 1824), with inspiration and destinations gleaned from the lunch-time conversation.
We reassembled for dinner at the pub, with our whole weekend group present (11 photographers and two bushwalkers) and eager to compare notes about the day’s adventures, cameras and sights. And a real treat came after the meal – a print viewing session. These are a vital part of FoPG, held regularly to show and discuss the results of our previous outings and challenges. As the group expands and matures, the depth of the discussion and feedback grows richer and more diverse, with new people bringing fresh insight and ideas and the established members branching out and becoming more experimental, while retaining the memory of the group and its journey so far.
Our run of delightful weather continued into Sunday, perfect for scrambling over rough granite boulders for spectacular views, and balancing on rocks for prime position in front of a waterfall. The day ended with the final group dinner for the weekend.
Loading up the car for the drive back home to Melbourne early Monday morning, I carefully placed my camera bag with its stash of precious exposed film. And I wondered (as I always do in these moments) what surprises those silver halide crystals held for me. One thing was for sure… they would be the start of all new conversations for FoPG’s next print viewing.
Friends of Photography Group web site: www.friendsopg.org
Photographs of the photographers by David Tatnall. Pictured here are: Peter McDonald, Marian Schoen, Andrew Bradsworth & Marc Morel.
Photograph by Marc Morel
Photograph by Mark Killmer