13. 06. 2016
Two Island to Inland projects focus on photography but the shutters opened on each 111 years apart.
In October 1905 an Australasian Ornithologists Union expedition arrived at Middle River on Kangaroo Island overburdened with gear. Just the photography gear was enough to make a heart sink – cameras, glass plates and tripods, enormous and unwieldy.
Today, 111 years later, photographer Quentin Chester clambers and climbs into the island’s hidden places, places that even locals don’t recognise, with everything he needs for high quality images slung around his neck.
Both the ornithologists and Quentin are venturing into the unknown, and are discovering and revealing the new and different.
Caroline Taylor sees herself as a collector of historical items and stories. A search of the State Library of South Australia photo collection for historical details of her beloved Western River area revealed about 15 images of the Ornithologists Union’s expedition.
“The photographs highlight the, at times, threatening isolation and mystery of the extraordinary landscape and circumstances these early would-be scientists found themselves in,” she says.
Caroline is “playing with the mood” of the photos to give them new life. Her experiments include media such as oils, gesso and charcoal, additions such as colour and text from the report of the excursion, and the base material and size of the image.
“It was a significant time in scientific endeavour,” Caroline says. But, as the photographs show, field trips were once quite different outings from those of today.
“The women wore long skirts … the men smoked pipes, wore braces, jackets and hats, and scaled rocks and tall, branchless tree trucks to collect eggs.”
Even the posing of photos was a thing of rigid rules, a product of the times perhaps but also to allow for a sharp image with the long exposure times.
The Quentin Chester way has “nature dictating the exposure whereas the scientist in 1905 were imposing their needs on the landscape”. His photos, like those of 1905, are beautifully staged, but courtesy of nature and Quentin’s eye for composition.
“I spend a lot of time walking around and what I do is stumble on things, on natural arrangements,” Quentin says.
He recognises that nowadays we are so accustomed to seeing photography in our lives in all sorts of way, we “need to be able to hit them between the eyes with something that is different and one of those way is just sheer scale”.
Quentin is fascinated by geology. He is creating images of the geological system, born 800–500 million years ago, that connects Kangaroo Island to the Flinders Ranges – now that’s Island to Inland.
And the ‘prints’ will be bigger than anything he’s done before and, he intends, generate an immediacy for the viewer – “when you walk into a space and there it is; almost like the feeling when you are in that environment”.
“It’s not just a big image but something that is unsettling or unnerving in the way in which it represents itself.
“People glaze over when you talk in millions of years and its hard to make it real. A way to get people interested is through a really strong image that captures some of the richness, texture, detail and fascination of those rocks.”
The miracle of new photography technology is that now a pocket-sized camera can deliver the minute detail on a massive scale that the glass plates of a century ago are noted for.
And the miracle of Kangaroo Island is that it still houses so much of the new and different for a photographer to find.