Ian Lobb and the Black Range – David Tatnall

Ian Lobb and the Black Range – David Tatnall

The Black Range series by Australian photographer Ian Lobb and collected by the National Gallery of Victoria has always been a great source of inspiration to me. A great number of photographs of European or North American landscapes show lush and ordered scenes, easier to photograph and look at. But the scene photographed by Ian Lobb shows a very different landscape; a much drier and harsher scene. There is order and rhythm here although difficult to be seen at first by eyes unaccustomed to it. 

Ian first came upon this stand of Casuarinas (also called She-oaks) on a car trip with his parents when they stopped for morning tea; thermos tea with fruitcake. Ian wandered a short distance from the road and came upon these trees. He returned to the car for his camera and tripod and a short morning tea stop become a much longer stop.

Ian didn’t drive a car; he never got a driving license. To return to the Black Range Ian went by train from Melbourne to Horsham. He then took an hour-long taxi trip to the site. He arranged with the taxi diver – who for the first time thought it all rather strange  – to pick him up in time to return for the train trip home. Over the three year period of making these photographs, the same taxi driver looked forward to taking Ian to the “middle of nowhere” to make photographs of “nothing in particular”. I asked Ian about his motivation for making these images, he replied he “wanted to see what the lay of the land was… “ When arriving home Ian would often go straight into the darkroom to develop the film, regardless of the time of day, always excited to see if the spirit of the land was there. 

Photographers in Australia taking up landscape photography will often use well-known American photographers work as role models. I’ve taught large format photography workshops where people have become frustrated at the landscape not fitting their expectations and I would use one of Ian’s Black Range photographs as an example of how to see differently. Not every photograph has to look like somewhere else. Ian could see the Australian landscape.  

In the early 1970’s Ian received a grant from the Australia Council to go to America to study photography. He did workshops with Ansel Adams and Paul Caponigro and he met Eliot Porter, Brett Weston, Ralph Gibson, Emmet Gowin and worked in Wynn Bullock’s darkroom. On this return to Australia, Ian with fellow photographer Bill Heimerman ran The Photographers’ Gallery and Workshop in Melbourne in the 1970’s. The gallery showed the work of Australian photographers including Carol Jerrems, Bill Henson, Ellie Young and Les Walkling, as well as international photographers such as: Paul Caponigro, Brett Weston, Eliot Porter, Harry Callahan, Wynn Bullock, Emmet Gowin and Ralph Gibson. Workshops were conducted with Ralph Gibson, William Clift, Harry Callahan as well as Ian and Bill. 

Fine art photography in Australia was all but absent in the 1970’s. The Photographers’ Gallery was the first in Australia to show work of international excellence in photography. I can remember clearly the phone calls I’d get from Ian Lobb saying, “we’re hanging the Caponigro prints, come down and have a look before they go under glass”. That experience of holding the prints of master photographers was fundamental to my understanding and appreciation of fine art photography.

Ian Lobb became a master printer using skills he learnt on the American workshops. He would spend hours working on one print, returning to it day after day, sometimes re developing it, bleaching it and sometimes tearing it up to start again. He would recall an event at the Paul Caponigro workshop where a student had spent most of the night making what he thought was the best print he could make of a stream. Caponigro looked at it and said, “print it again, the water isn’t wet… “ Ian’s photograph reproduced here doesn’t show the real tonality and depth the actual silver gelatin print does, seeing it first hand takes your breath away.

Ian Lobb used a Rolleiflex SL66 and FP4 film, which he developed in pyro developer. When Ilford ‘updated’ their film to FP4Plus, Ian stockpiled all the old film he could and stored it in a dedicated refrigerator, saying when it runs out “I’ll stop using the camera”. He did. Sadly, the long refrigeration affected the last rolls of film and the numbers on the backing paper became visible on the negative.  

Ian was a brilliant educator and mentor; he taught photography at a number of places including RMIT University in Melbourne. During that time he began using a digital SLR. In recent times Ian was making a series of photographs of one particular Eucalyptus tree in Fairfield, his lifetime home.

Ian Lobb died suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2023. Only days before I had taken him on a field trip to Cape Paterson, the site of one of his most well know photographs. He hadn’t returned there since making the photograph in 1975. 

Ian and I use to regularly meet to have coffee in Fairfield and talk about all things photographic. He is dearly missed.

Photograph above: Untitled. Ian Lobb. Black range series 1986-89. 35.6 x 35.6 cm silver gelatin print. National Gallery of Victoria collection.

Ian Lobb talking about his Fairfield tree project. November 2021. David Tatnall.

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David Tatnall is an Australian fine art photographer & editor of View Camera Australia.

There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:45 am

    Hi David,
    many thanks for this personal post.

    I didn’t realize that in order to photograph in the Black Range Ian went by train from Melbourne to Horsham, took an hour-long taxi trip to the Black Range site, photographed, then arranged with the taxi driver to pick him up in time to return for the train trip home; and that he did that over a 3 year period!

    I had just assumed that he would have camped in the state park for several days at a time so he could work with the right kind of light.

    This Black Range series indicates that Ian was very familiar with, and understood, the local Victorian bush south of the Grampians. It also indicates and that this intimate body of work can provide a valuable reference or orientation point for Australian landscape photographs.

  2. Mat Hughes at 6:54 am

    Thanks David. A lovely article about your good friend Ian. Cor, what a life. Inspiration to aim as high as one can. I look forward to seeing this photograph first hand one day. The composition speaks for itself and is perfect.

  3. Mark Darragh at 6:24 am

    A great article, David. Thank you for writing this piece about Ian. Through our conversations over the years, I’ve come to appreciate Ian’s influence on your photography and his great contribution to Australian photography more broadly. His legacy will continue to live on, not only through his work but perhaps more importantly, in the photographers he taught and inspired. I can relate to Ian’s stockpile of FP4; it rather reminds me of the boxes of Provia I have stored in my fridge.

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