Black Mountain Tree. Silver gelatin print. This is a photograph…
Nelson Trees – Silver gelatin print
I am a photographer/educator who resides in Tasmania, in a town called Penguin on the North West Coast. I have been documenting my ‘space’ for the last twenty years. I photograph people, domestic spaces and landscapes. I am interested in the quiet folk, the individual and the humble. All my images are a documentation of my home. I notice an interesting yard and the image taking evolves from there. I went to the School of Art in Hobart in the 90s and then completed an education degree.
On completion of my studies I returned to my home, the North West Coast of Tasmania. I teach photography at a local College. At school, students are totally intrigued by the darkroom experience. We spend more than a term looking at film and how to print silver gelatin images. Students will photograph using 35mm but the passionate will, at times, move into 120 film. We do not offer anything bigger due to the cost and gear needed. I find it is a great foundation to the digital world and using Photoshop. Most students are consumed by the instant. I find the students that continue with film are motivated, passionate and most of all, have patience. Students are choosing to attend our college based on the darkroom experience, news has spread!
I have a darkroom at home as well. I find my time in the darkroom is just as much therapy as it is the end product. When your day is spent with young people, I crave a quiet, dark space. I print to silence.
I photograph with a 4 x 5 view camera. I purchased my camera when I gained my first ‘real job’. I was in my early 20s and took photographs for a local paper. We were still using film and printing silver gelatin prints in a darkroom. It was madness, however, it taught me to print quickly and under pressure. The newspaper world then was totally male dominated. I learnt lots of life skills standing over those developing trays listening to life stories. With my first pay check I bought my 4 x 5 camera. I bought it because I was intrigued with pinhole photography. I started making my own lens’s using an f stop of 64. I made them out of sheet metal and small drill sets bought from the model shop. I spent a couple of years creating pinhole landscape images, mostly of buildings and trees. I was invited to show work in Hobart for a show titled ‘My microcosm’. This opened the doorway to portraiture using a standard lens for the 4 x 5. I started documenting family and my father’s friends, this being my microcosm. This lead to intimate spaces and backyards. I print mural prints in my darkroom using a drum roller and I use cattle troughs to wash.
For those amongst us printing large silver gelatin prints you would totally understand the patience and fitness this requires. It takes hours and hours to create one image. The process involves creating large test prints, making notes in regards to filter selection and decisions regarding dodging and burning and making the tools needed. I print mostly of an evening while my neighbourhood sleeps. I am fortunate to have a darkroom at the back of the yard that looks over a bay. It is very majestic.
I use 4 x 5 film because of the size I print. I print my silver gelatin prints around one metre square. My subject matter is about the small objects someone collects and displays on their mantel piece, the poetry a hermit writes on their lounge room wall, the giant cactus garden hiding away in a suburban backyard. For this I need the detail large format will give me. The viewer, in a sense, needs to be able to step into the image. It is also important that I follow the entire process of taking the image to the print created in the darkroom. When photographing a space and a portrait a lot happens. I am interested in the recluse or the non-conformist and in most cases this absence from community living has happened for a reason.
There have been some very emotional moments and stories that are shared. Using large format processes gives me the consideration and time needed to document these spaces after all someone has opened their door to me; opened their private world to an audience. The process needs to be thoughtful and considerate. I also like to relive these moments in the darkroom and there is nothing more magical for me than to see a print ‘arrive’ in the drum. Each print is a lesson and a short story to me personally.
The print I have included is titled ‘Nelson Trees’. It is part of a show I have at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Melbourne at the moment. This landscape is situated at the back of the shack we head to most weekends. We have been building it for three years. It is on the West Coast of Tasmania. This is my western backyard. It was part of a large body of work titled ‘Raw Backyards’. This show illustrates the wild backyards found here in Tasmania. It is also interesting to revisit this site. The landscape on the West Coast of Tasmania continuously changes based on the weather. It is a wild part of the world. This landscape no longer remains, the wind has thrashed through this melaleuca and it now all has become part of the swamp floor. Seeing the demise of this landscape makes me content that I have a permanent document of this space on large film. I feel the same in regards to the people I have photographed. Everything is temporary and it makes me happy to know I have a record of a time, a special person or place. Photography gives me peace.