The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis

by Les Walkling on December 16, 2017

Preparing/printing Peter Dombrovskis’ images for the National Library of Australia

The following extracts are from an interview by Stuart Westmore (SW) first published on 2 December 2017 in OnLandscape Photography Magazine.

SW: Did it feel like detective work the way you had to piece together the truth of the image?

LW: Perhaps veracity is a better word than truth, because veracity implies an ‘insistence’, rather than a ‘given’. This question comes up all the time in my Advancing Photoshop workshops. In many landscape pictures you can’t objectively colour balance with a neutralising eye-dropper tool. Not only are the surfaces non-neutral, they also point in every direction where their values are constantly changing (because the sun is constantly moving).  So in the first instance, you simply create a level playing field by equitably separating all the colours in the scene – so the reds are as red as the greens are greens, and the blues are blue. Then you apply a bias to that rendering, according to what ever principles are relevant. Unfortunately other resources were scant at best. Memories, and a few beautiful big Cibachrome prints on walls, and Liz Dombrovskis’ books of course, and other publications, along with the common-sense of atmosphere and time of day and year, plus any remaining clues I could discern from the image itself. But I also wasn’t trying to do anything more than recreate that ‘presence’, as Liz kept reminding me.

The corollary, of course, is the moral and historical question, of “how do you represent someone who’s no longer here to represent themselves?”

SW: It’s interesting that you cast it as a moral dilemma. Is there a sense it will be judged?

LW: Well, everyone’s the jury – in the best possible sense. Many people have vested and often contradictory interests, which makes it such an interesting question. The NLA exhibition certainly highlighted my concerns where we were making exhibition prints that rarely existed. The book was less complicated, because we had Liz’s books to guide us. But exhibition prints were not something that Peter did with his images on a regular or primary basis. I was encouraged by Liz, and others – close friends of Peter – that Peter would have loved to see his images presented in this way. So I felt it was an opportunity, and something that Peter himself may have prized and felt good about.

But it wasn’t until the official NLA exhibition opening – where led by Bob Brown and Peter’s family … and numerous other comments that “Peter would have been proud” – that I started to carry this responsibility more easily.

Technically, the central idea of ensuring ‘everything in the scan was on the page’ was  the most honest methodology I could come up with. But it still needed to be tempered.  After all, the same image was so differently reproduced in multiple copies of the different books I had borrowed, and the few prints I had seen. Over the years, I have had to make similar judgments on other projects, and the more admired the photographer the greater the expectations. So it’s a fascinating question, and one I didn’t shy away from, but also one that is never completely resolved.

SW: You started this adventure with a better than average knowledge of Peter’s photography. Did this process change your perspective on any elements of his work?

LW: I never met Peter in person, but I’m filled with admiration for everything he did.  My family is also a family of migrants, including Latvians, so I was equally drawn to Peter’s personal story.  This ‘adventure’ consolidated for me what an extraordinary person Peter was, and the extraordinary and undying commitment he had to his work. I know it’s easy to mythologize, especially in hindsight, but, having spent the better part of a year with Peter’s images, I also can’t say enough about the extraordinary photographer he was.

This project also reinforced in me the need to examine why environmental justice and environmental activism, and especially environmental photographers like Peter are so under represented in our national collections of contemporary art from the 1970s and 1980s. That is, relative to other political movements of the time where photography was no less central or a necessity, why does ‘environmental photography’ and especially the photography of wild places, appear to be under represented.

Today the spectacular but meaningless photography of exceptional places, in its a-political and a-historical emptiness, seems to dominate how as a culture we ‘characterise’ photographs of land, country, and place, and thereby ‘avoid’ (what I believe to be) the most pressing and important debates of our time – from reconciliation to refugees to environmental justice.

Peter, at least from everything I’ve been told, seen, and read didn’t have that kind of an ego.  He was creating his pictures for reasons beyond spectacular self interest. He believed in the preservation of this world, and our relationship with it. That Peter’s work was humble, intensely personal, informed, committed, and devoted is a timely reminder, both inspiring and challenging for anyone who is naturally drawn to landscape photography, and our relationship to land, country, place and belonging.

The Peter Dombrovskis exhibition Journeys into the Wild is showing at the National Library of Australia in Canberra until 30 January 2018. The book, The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild is available from the NLA website.

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Considering Photoshop

by Les Walkling on August 20, 2017

Les_Walkling_An_unspeakable_betrayalLes Walkling, An unspeakable betrayal 1999, 866mm x 864mm

First impressions of Adobe Photoshop can all too often be confusing, confidence sapping, overwhelming complexity, and fear about doing the wrong thing.  However despite Photoshop’s errors, inconsistency, incoherence and at times downright silliness, when employed in specific ways Photoshop can help produce truly stunning images capable of inflicting the deepest feelings and revelations.

So how might we begin an engagement with Photoshop that puts us on its ‘good side’ harnessing its magic and power while allowing us to transcend its limitations and our phobias about it?

Photoshop is what it is. Its inconsistencies aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon, and its errors can be equally of our making. Such as not understanding what we are doing, or how processes work, let alone confusion over what an image needs or can be.

Traditional non-inquiry based approaches to Photoshop education contribute to this problem. The training ‘industry’ that has evolved around Photoshop – its literature, websites, forums, tutorials, workshops and videos – is self-perpetuating and self-fulfilling. Inexperience and being ‘experienced at doing the wrong thing’ collude against knowledge and understanding. Recipes and tautologies substitute for comprehension and experimentation. And prescriptive teaching and learning outcomes conspire against creative objectives and inspired innovation.

So how else might we approach the teaching and application of Photoshop, and its integration into not just our workflows, but our creative life?

I believe there are three important considerations.

The first consideration is an ontological investigation into What is an image? That is, what constitutes an image? How do images do what they do?  And what are images capable of becoming?

Once we have grasped the foundations and limits of images, the second consideration is an epistemology inquiry into What can be done to an image? That is, what are the tools, the principles, and the process? How is an image made? And how do images influence our editing of them?

This in turn inspires the third consideration, a personal inquiry or rationale for Why we do what we do to images? That is, why do I attach certain feelings to one image and not another? Or the same image rendered in a different way?  And why render an image in one way rather than another?

Much of the ‘literature’ surrounding Photoshop, is defiantly silent on these matters. But by not understanding Photoshop within a broader inquiry into the nature and affect of constructed images, we risk denigrating our workflows into simplistic recipes, generalisations, mythologies, or plain misinformation. This in turn normalises Photoshop as a confusing, confidence sapping, overwhelmingly complex and fearful experience. This is grossly unfair to Photoshop, let alone the ‘problem’ of how wonderful images come to be created in the first place.

By understanding pictures first, and Photoshop second, we then only need to know how Photoshop helps or hinders picture making, what tools work as expected or required, and what promotes unwanted errors, collateral damage, leakage and mayhem.

Recalling that the grandest constructions evolve from, and are collaborations between, individual components and that solid foundations promote strength, stability and longevity, this seems a reasonable approach. For one thing it clarifies and separates what can be done from what needs to be done. It quickly and efficiently solves real world imaging problems thereby  freeing up time, energy and focus that can be devoted to the images’s emotional content.

Which is also how an image comes to ‘represent more than it shows’, or in other words, how an image can ‘capture hearts and minds’ independently of what it is an image of.

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On Photographic Education

June 21, 2017

Les Walkling, Moonrise Daintree 2017, inkjet pigment print, 800 x 1100 mm Education entertains nearly a third of my professional life. Therefore why I teach, and why I teach in far away places like ‘the Daintree’ are important personal, artistic and pedagogical questions. The answer, in part, is that ‘the Daintree’ doesn’t have Icelandic waterfalls, nor [...]

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On talking to dead people

June 5, 2016

Les Walkling, The site of his last embrace 1986, silver gelatin print, 953mm x 762mm Speaking with a dear friend the other day regarding our pictures, I recalled how often I have described the ‘two sides of the lens’, and the transparency and democracy with which the lens draws the world for us. And how [...]

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Photography, Cinema and the Drama of Representation

February 1, 2016

Andrey Walkling, Fictional Encounters 2015, Pigment Print 280cm x 152cm As both cinema and photography fragment and disperse across visual culture through the proliferation of small screens, social media and connectivity, photography is both socially eclipsed and socially rooted at the same time. The digital archive has also made available the histories of photography and [...]

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Battle of the Centaurs

September 4, 2015

The Battle of the Centaurs, Silver Gelatin Print, 198mm x 248mm, 1981 Wonderful surprises are not always when you need them, but recently while working at the National Gallery of Victoria I was asked had I seen my work in The Horse exhibition (14 August – 08 November 2015). I knew the show was on [...]

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ND5 : NORTH + EAST

April 1, 2015

Les Walkling, NORTH  2014, Pigment Inkjet Print 1512 x 1499mm As a collective, we share a fascination with these far-away places, though not in the way that scientists are fascinated by things collected and identified, but rather, we are fascinated by the things we can’t see; our speculation and interaction, our wanderings and pondering. And [...]

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2016 Shark Bay – Inscription

December 23, 2013

Les Walkling, Downcast Eyes 2013, Pigment Print, 1498mm x 1512mm 2016 Shark Bay – Inscription is the latest body of work by Ninety Degrees Five (ND5), a unique collaboration between four photographers, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway and filmmaker Michael Fletcher. Prior to this, ND5 worked on The Pilbara Project and South West [...]

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In This Life – Virgil Donati

July 11, 2013

My dear friend Virgil Donati is about to release his new album, ‘In This Life’. It has been more than a year in the making and I contributed the album’s liner and track notes: IN THIS LIFE: In analyzing the relationship between music and narrative it is often supposed that meaning resembles a ghoul or [...]

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Shark Bay 2016

July 5, 2013

2016 – T Landt van d’Eendracht from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo. Shark Bay is a world heritage listed area, but the incredible biodiversity behind its world heritage status is not immediately visible, and therefore not immediately known nor understood by ‘outsiders’, at least not when viewed from the ground. Although our first trip to Shark [...]

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