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An account of the Friends of Photography Group trip by Gary Sauer-Thompson
I recently spent a weekend photographing at Mount Arapiles with a group of large format, film based landscape photographers from Melbourne, who come together under the Friends of Photography Group (FoFG). I hadn’t meet any of the group previously, and I didn’t know much about who they were prior to this weekend. Since few of them have their own websites I knew very little about their photography, apart from what I’d seen on the insightful and informative View Camera Australia blog.
I don’t consider myself a wilderness photographer, and unlike the FoPG photographers, I do not develop my (colour) negatives or make fine prints from my black & white negatives in a darkroom. I did, however, want to link up with some other large format photographers in Australia who were both serious about their craft and whose landscape photography was location based. FoFG’s excursion to the Mt Arapiles-Tooan State Park was my opportunity, since it was closer to Adelaide than some of FoFG’s favourite locations in eastern Victoria.
There were about 14 of the FoFG who made it to the Mount Arapiles weekend. Like myself, several of them camped at the Centenary Park campground, amongst the various groups of the dedicated and serious rock climbers. The group was open, supportive, knowledgeable and generous. I was impressed by a couple of the FoFG using 11 x 14 cameras (both field and pinhole) as I struggle to handle an 8 x 10.
I guess that some of the photography that I make along the coast of the southern Fleurieu Peninsula would fall within the landscape photography category eg., the photographs of the rocks, trees and coastline that emerge from my various poodlewalks. So I do have a foot in this kind of landscape photography, without considering it to be within the tradition of wilderness photography.
Mount Arapiles was new territory for me as I hadn’t been there before. I didn’t even know that it was regarded as Victoria’s climbing Mecca, the premier destination of traditional climbing in Australia until I started doing some online research. This was my first time with FoPG and I had no idea how they photographed as a group whilst they were on location. Did they do their own thing or did they walk to specific locations together?
I didn’t have the confidence to walk around the area with the Linhof 4 x 5, the pack and tripod, which I presume is what the FoPG members did. So I used my poodlewalk routines as a stepping stone to get started: I wandered off on my own in the morning, walked around looking for suitable subjects, scoped them with a digital camera, checked out the light (morning or afternoon photo session), then I came back and photographed in either colour or black and white hoping that the weather conditions were suitable.
As I just didn’t know where to begin at Mount Arapiles I started at Mitre Rock, which is an isolated outcrop to the north of Mount Arapiles. It wasn’t as over powering as Mount Arapiles itself and I could manage Mitre Rock since I was able to easily walk around it looking for possible subject matter.
On the Saturday morning at Mitre Rock I was able to find shelter from the gale force, south-westerly wind and the squalls that swept across the western Wimmera landscape. Whilst waiting for the squalls to easer I dove up to the summit of Mount Arapiles at lunch time, then returned to Mitre Rock on Saturday afternoon for more explorations.
I was able to make two 4 x 5 colour photographs of the two subjects illustrated that day. All in all, given the weather, it was a pretty fruitful day for me. Of course, there is my usual lag time to have the colour negatives developed by Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide, then scanned, and posted on a blog.
In looking back on my brief experience at Mount Arapiles I can see that it took me a while to photographically orientate myself, given the awesome power and seductive presence of the Romantic sublime. After looking through the digital files from the trip on my computer screen I now have a couple of spots to go to with the Linhof 4 x 5 the next time I visit Mount Arapiles. This would probably be a side-trip when I go to the Wimmera for the Mallee Routes project.
Main photograph above: Gary Sauer-Thompson’s 8 x 10 camera at Mount Arapiles
Gary Sauer-Thompson is a photographer based in Victor Harbor, South Australia. He runs Encounter Studio.