The Photograph Considered number five – David Tatnall

The Photograph Considered number five – David Tatnall

Forest at Crows Foot Track. Silver gelatin photograph

There was a fierce debate raging when I made this photograph. The fate of the pristine old growth forests of East Gippsland in Victoria was being decided by politicians in Melbourne. So certain were the local contractors and sawmill operators of the easy money short term clear-fell logging would bring, that days before I made this photograph I met a contractor near here who informed me these ancient eucalypts were of no interest to him, as they would be bulldozed to make way for a log loading platform where the prized Mountain ash, torn down from higher up the mountain, would be loaded onto trucks.

I spent three years during this period making photographs of these forests that grow around Rodger River and Monkey Top in East Gippsland. On this trip in mid 1986 time for the forests was fast running out.

I was camped near this spot on the Rodger River for just on a week. I walked out into the forest making photographs every day – a difficult task as the Mountain ash on Monkey Top are among the tallest trees anywhere, some over ninety metres high and massively large at the base, yet the understorey vegetation meant the tree trunks vanished into green just metres above the ground.

After a day scrambling through the trackless reaches of the forest I returned to my camp in soft rain and mist to see these trees lit by a most beautiful soft defused light. I set up my 4 x 5 camera and made one exposure.

My philosophy when making photographs has always been to honour the land through my photography.

I use a folding 4 x 5 camera as I can carry it to remote locations without too much difficulty. The camera has perspective controls that are very useful in photographing the land. The negative is large enough to produce big prints without compromise of the clarity and quality of the image.

For more than ten years I only used one lens – the standard 150 mm. I would only take a small number of sheets of film, four to six on any day out. I would only make an exposure when the light and the subject were as close to perfect as I could get.

This approach to photography has been instrumental in developing my camera technique and understanding of light.

On this ten-day trip I returned with twelve negatives; Forest at Crows Foot Track was the finest.

This photograph and others I made were used in the campaign to protect these forests. Forest at Crows Foot Track was reproduced on the covers of magazines, in newsletters and brochures. It was among a set of ten prints taken to show politicians in State Cabinet.

The huge effort by mainly volunteer conservationists finally bore fruit when the threat of logging of these magnificent forests ended in 1987, and they were reserved as part of The Snowy River and Errinundra National Parks in 1988.

The photograph went on to be reproduced as a poster for my exhibition The Alps and East Gippsland at The Wilderness Society Gallery in 1988.


The National Parks Service made the photograph into another poster in 1992; it was collected by Monash Gallery of Art in 1995 and shown in exhibitions at Warrnambool Art Gallery, Castlemaine Art Gallery, Monash Gallery of Art and Point Light Gallery in Sydney.

Early in 2014 it was exhibited in Wildcards – Bill Henson Shuffles the Deck at Monash Gallery of Art.

In 2018 it was exhibited in Legacy. Your Collection. Our Story at Monash Gallery of Art.

When I look at this photograph today it still strongly brings to mind my experiences being in those old growth forests, the incredible vistas of towering Mountain ash with bright red Gippsland Waratah flowering underneath and the night sounds of Powerful Owls and Yellow Bellied Gliders moving through the trees. It also brings to mind the times I was bailed up at gunpoint, shot at and pushed off the road by logging trucks by people who do not share the conservation view.

I am gratified this and other photographs I made at that time played some part in the preservation of these magnificent forests. I hope I was able to honour the land with this image.

Technical Information:

The photograph was made on a folding 4 x 5 camera with a 150 mm lens. The exposure was calculated using a 1° spot meter using the Zone System method of exposure. The film was FP4 rated at 32 ISO and was tray developed in ABC Pyro. The vintage prints were made on Oriental Seagull grade two paper, the contemporary prints made on Fomatone Classic MG paper. Prints are toned in selenium toner for archival permanence. The paper size is 16 x 20.


The unreserved forests of East Gippsland are still being logged at an alarming rate. Both Liberal/National and Labour Parties support and continue this logging.

David Tatnall.

This article was first published in the Large Format Blog in 2014.

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David Tatnall is a Melbourne based fine art photographer.

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Peter Kinchington at 4:56 am

    I feel like I am in the bush when I look at your photograph. I like the old trees with their knobby protuberances.
    It is a credit to you that your photography was used to protect the forest.
    I will have to see the original at the MGA.

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