Peter Michael has confirmed this week that Michaels Camera in…
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.
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 Since it would not have been archived by the National Library of Australia, the group only exists in people’s memories, and these fade over time.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
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.
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.
Main photograph above. Waterfall at Swallows Cave. Great Otway National Park by Gary Sauer-Thompson.