The Photograph Considered number forty seven  – Keith Mallett

The Photograph Considered number forty seven – Keith Mallett

Boulder Beach — Mimosa Rocks National Park, NSW. 1996. Transparency scan. 

This image, Boulder Beach, was made at Mimosa Rocks National Park on the NSW south coast on a spring morning in 1996. This coastline is one of my favourite areas to explore because of the natural beauty of its many forested beaches, inlets and headlands. 

A year or so earlier I had visited the same beach and made a similar image on 35mm Fuji Velvia. That image was strongly backlit by the morning sunrise and made a graphic moody print that caught the eye and later worked well as a printed card in a range I produced and sold in the early 2000s. However, although the contrast highlighted the shapes of the boulders it precluded capturing their subtleties of colour and form. I was hoping to make a similar image on large-format film that captured both aspects using my recently acquired Toyo 45A folding field camera. My fascination with the beach and its boulders is captured in the caption I wrote for the back of that card.

The shapes nature makes are infinite. These smooth boulders have been rounded by years of abrasion by rock, sea and sand. Here they lie, relatively undisturbed by the regular rise and fall of the sea: until a storm rearranges them.

I had to make a very early start that morning since I wanted the boulders top and back-lit by the pre-dawn eastern sky which, as you can see, gives a broad and soft rim-light that wraps itself around the smooth wet boulders. I made the beach with time to spare: but then lost some of that wrangling with an unfamiliar camera and dark-cloth while using my 210mm lens for the first time (I wanted a more distant viewpoint and the resulting perspective compression). Then after carefully focusing I had to replace the ground-glass with the 6×12 roll-film back loaded with Ektachrome 100S. I then lost yet more time fiddling with my new spot-meter! When the film came back from the lab I discovered that — with more luck than judgment — I had at least one hero frame with detail in the highlights, adequate shadow detail and interesting water movement. And, most importantly, that lovely light!  The image shown here is from a high-quality Imacon scan, but I did have a beautiful metre-wide optical Cibachrome print made by the talented crew at ChromaColour in Adelaide (a business sadly now long gone).

My decision to buy the Toyo 4×5 camera was driven by the quest for better image quality and the desire to make large prints — partly inspired by the work of large-format photographers such as Peter Dombrovskis, Harry Nankin and Joe Cornish. Up to then most of my personal and public relations/wedding-portrait work was made using 35mm or 645 and 6x7cm roll-film cameras. I learned to use a monorail 4×5 at Tech College and used one occasionally in my early years working in a university photographic department — but that was a good while ago. 

These days I consider myself primarily a landscape photographer: though I often focus on the small details rather than the wide view. My love of landscape is driven not only by visual beauty, but also by a fascination with how the view I’m observing came to be: how it was formed by both natural processes and by human influences. I have always been fascinated with the evolution of landscapes, an interest that led me later to tertiary studies in geography and geology. But my motivations are not purely academic. I find a great sense of peace and belonging when immersed in the natural world: and photography enhances that by encouraging keen observation and awareness of one’s surrounds. I’m sure this is related to the freedom and solace I found in the Hampshire countryside in my early teens in the farmland and woodlands surrounding the boarding school I attended. And that sense of place is what I’m forever trying to illustrate. However, for any image, the larger part of the appreciation lives not in the image, but in how the viewer relates to it. I suspect most photographers hope a viewer will have a similar emotional response to their own. But in reality that is unlikely unless the image invokes memories in them of their own love of the place or some similar experience.

Duck Point Dawn — Duck Point, Yanakie, Victoria. 2019. Negative scan.

That brings me to a more recent image, Duck Point Dawn, made early one morning during a ‘Friends of Photography Group’ trip to Wilsons Promontory in Victoria in April 2019 and exhibited in the group exhibition later that year. We were staying at Yanakie campground on the shores of Corner Inlet: the broad sheltered and shallow bay that is hidden behind Wilsons Promontory. The bay is a protected marine and coastal park and teems with birdlife. 

That early morning I shouldered my camera backpack, grabbed my tripod, and headed down the short track from the campsite through overhanging Coastal Tea-trees and Banksias out to Duck Point — a sand-spit covered in low grasses that curves out into the inlet. The shelter of the point is used as a roosting spot by a large flock of Black Swans: though on this particular morning they had already dispersed out on the inlet. The sun was still low and only occasionally broke through the clouds to add a sparkle to the water. The view across Corner Inlet over the waving grasses was dominated by the long undulating ridge-line of the Prom’s remote northern ranges. My morning quest was to try and capture on film the silhouetted line of peaks and its underlining stretch of water and the beautiful sense of peace, light and space. I quickly set up my field camera on the tripod, clipped on my 135mm lens, and found it nicely encompassed the view I wanted. Once I swapped the back for the 6x12cm roll-film holder (loaded with Ilford FP4) it was just a matter of waiting for the sun to break through the clouds again to add some highlights to the water. I also made some similar images on colour negative at the time, but much prefer the simplicity of the black & white image since it emphasises the forms of the grasses and the silhouetted peaks without the distractions of colour.

Keith Mallett with 4×5 camera.
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Keith Mallett is a landscape photographer based in Phillip Island, Victoria.

There are 4 comments for this article
  1. John Power at 10:39 pm

    Very nice images, Keith, and I certainly agree that an interest in and appreciation of how these landscapes came to be adds depth the places and images.
    I was on the South Coast of NSW on the weekend, not far from Mimosa Rocks, and was really blown away by the rock types and their arrangement. I’ll be back with my 4×5 very soon.

    • Keith Mallett at 6:02 am

      Thanks for the comment John. I have to admit that for this image, the simple beauty of the light on the lovely shapes of the erosion sculptured boulders, rather than their geology, was the main reason for making the image. But as I stated, time and tide are forever reworking the arrangements: which has a certain additional fascination as well. Hope you get the right light for your visit.

    • Keith Mallett at 6:05 am

      Thanks Mat. I hope you get the chance to cross the borders soon! The drive up the NSW south coast offers some amazingly beautiful coastline and mountain ranges.

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