The friends last field trip by Gary Sauer-Thompson

The friends last field trip by Gary Sauer-Thompson

The photo below is a  behind the  camera photo  made in 2021 when I was at Lorne with the Friends of Photography Group (FOPG). It was made in the Great Otway National Park whilst we were on our return to Encounter Bay.   The location is near Joanna Beach, which   is between Apollo Bay and Lavers Hill on the western edge of Cape Otway.  I had wanted to explore the coastal rocks around Blanket Bay and Point Franklin, but time had run out. That is for another photo trip  whilst en-route  to Melbourne. 

The specific location of the photo is  the Aire Settlement Road. I was looking for the Old Ocean Road but I made the wrong turn.  No matter.  The Aire Settlement Road is easy to access and I could quickly  set up the 5×7 Cambo monorail on  the side of the road by the car.  I had seen this particular road  on an earlier trip,  when I  had briefly photographed along the nearby Old Ocean Road.   I had remembered  that photo session and I had always wanted to return to the Otways. 

Self portrait by Gary Sauer-Thompson.

Though this photo is a self portrait,  it is really a momento of FOPG’s Lorne field trip and  a good bye to  FOPG.  FOPG  disbanded just after their weekend Lorne trip in March 2021. The FOPG website has gone. Since it would not have been archived by the National Library of Australia, the group only exists in people’s memories, and these fade over time. 

I do not know whether FOPG’S Facebook page will remain, or whether the group  will continue to exist as a Facebook group –ie., the ex-members will continue to post their  large format  photos to FOPG’s Facebook page. Presumably, the various members of FOPG  will now go their own way with their photography.   Or we can continue to connect through the View Camera Australia blog, which  is run by David Tatnall and  it places an emphasis on the photograph or the print. That wonderful blog is the hub for large format photography in Australia. Living in Encounter Bay in South Australia meant that I could only be on the fringes of the primarily Melbourne-based FOPG.  I was the only large format photographer in Adelaide to do so. I participated in some of FOPG’s weekend field trips when these were in western Victoria,  but not  their  day trips,  their visits to various  darkroom around Melbourne,  or  the group’s annual,  pre-Covid physical exhibitions in Melbourne.  I was very comfortable in the group even though I was on the fringe, and  a wilderness photography centred around the beauty of  nature,  was a minor current of my photography

Seaweed. Great Otway National Park by Gary Sauer-Thompson.

FOPG  had been set up and nurtured by David Tatnall over a six year period to explore the genre of the landscape in Australia.   I found the group to be an open, welcoming one that provided a  balance to the solitary aspect of large format photography. Members helped one another, provided support and encouragement. This community ethos is a very different one  to  both the normal competitive ethos of photographic culture in Australia and the industry culture of commercial photography. It was a haven in a heartless world, so to speak.  

One way to put the significance of FOPG  into perspective is to place  the group into a relationship to the Photographic Studies College in Melbourne, which  I visited on a recent trip in late April as an old graduate (in the late 1970s).   I was at PSC to give two of my photobooks to Daniel Boetker-Smith for the Asia-Paciific Photobook Archive, Whilst there  I was given a tour of the school — it was completely  digital–no darkrooms anywhere.   Sure PSC is linked to the industry and places an emphasis on the studio: — when I was there the 3 studios were a hive of activity as the students are engaged in what is called fashion shoots.   But PSC also has art and documentary photography streams, as well as offering a Master of Arts of Photography. However, from  what I could see,  analogue was history. The future was digital. Large format  was of a bygone era.  

Waterfall. Great Otway National Park by Gary Sauer-Thompson.

So three cheers for FOPG. The culture of large format photography in Australia would have been more impoverished without them.  

It took a lot of time and effort by David Tatnall to help nurture and grow his hub of large format photography, and we owe a lot to him for his effort over those six years. The next step, presumably, is to find ways to build on what it had achieved in its six years. How that can be done us currently unclear. 

Gary Sauer-Thompson, Great Otway National Park. Photograph by David Tatnall.

Main photograph above. Waterfall at Swallows Cave. Great Otway National Park by Gary Sauer-Thompson.

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This article was written by
Gary Sauer-Thompson

Gary Sauer-Thompson is an author & photographer from Encounter Bay in South Australia.

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Avatar
    David+Tatnall at 1:01 am

    Gary, thank you. When the group started seven years ago there were 6 to 8 people attending trips. Slowly this number grew and grew. Eventually numbers had to be limited to 20 it had become so popular. It wasn’t uncommon to have a waiting list of up to 20 people as well. The group simply got too big for me to manage.

    • Gary+Sauer-Thompson
      Gary+Sauer-Thompson at 3:01 am

      The FOPG group needed to become more self-directing and to develop its own rationale and identity once the numbers had grown to be too big for one person to manage. They various members need to take up the baton, so to speak. It will be interesting to see if this happen, and if it does, how it happens. The minimal requirements would be some kind of digital presence and ongoing group activity.

  2. Avatar
    stuart at 1:13 am

    David, keep us posted on your plans moving forward. I am slowly winding down my career in Teaching so more free time may mean I can actively contribute to some aspect of Melbourne’s Photo culture.

  3. Ellie
    Ellie at 7:50 am

    Wonderful images and insight to Gary’s work, it is also a wonderful insight to David Tatnall’s passion and sharing nature
    thanks Gary

    • Gary+Sauer-Thompson
      Gary+Sauer-Thompson at 3:15 am

      The Australian world of large format photographers would surely have had a more impoverished culture without David’s passion and energy in nurture large formation photography in Australia beyond the initial 6-8.

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