Our Education Programs 2018

by Les Walkling on December 29, 2017

Andrey - Orpheus Island Workshop 2013, © Greg Norris

Andrey – Orpheus Island Workshop 2013 – © Greg Norris

This is the fortieth year I have presented specialist photography workshops, and the twenty-fifth year that I have contributed to the education program at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) in Melbourne. It is also the tenth year I have been team teaching with my son and business partner, Andrey.

Artists, photographers, designers, curators, scientists and others from across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, both professionals and enthusiasts, attend our workshops and courses. Many people have repeated courses over a number of years, not only to update or extend their skills and knowledge, but also to benefit from the friendships, collaborations and networks that naturally develop out of these programs.

So much about photography has changed in this time while so much remains the same. Though the speed and ease of access and acquisition has accelerated, it still takes as long as ever to acquire those critical distinctions and essential skills that arise not from reading a web page or watching a video, but from taking photographs across varying conditions, subjects, and outcomes.

Photographic education has equally changed over this time with the obvious shifts from chemical and mechanical to electronic capture, processing and distribution. More subtle changes have emerged from the herculean task teachers faced having to learn what they were presenting while teaching it. This missing expertise produced some extreme reactions, from enslaving analogue practices in the mistaken belief that essential foundations only arise through traditional means, to a monoculture of unphilosophical and ahistorical pedagogy. In particular the dissolution of photographic history and theory abandons photographic education to the whims of reactive and passing moments, and fosters a belief that education can be self-served.

But education remains a collective experience, and many things we need to understand can’t be googled. You can’t look-up the ‘presence of a mould made paper’, or how a lens ‘draws a face’ from its optical specifications. And you certainly don’t learn to ‘see the light’ by staring at a monitor. Consequently we are encountering more and more people who have learnt photography online but are completely lost – stranded between contradictory opinions and indistinguishable misinformation and acquiescence. Webinars and podcasts though well intentioned are not unifying, and while a video might help me set my printer’s LAN address, only knowing how to release a shutter only guarantees a ‘naive capture’.

Therefore it should be no surprise that we still need as wide a range of sources and resources as ever, including the presence and scrutiny of experienced coaches, where inquiry-based learning turns classrooms into research sites and field work into adventure playgrounds. Historical and theoretical studies, instead of shunned and compromised through broadcasting them, can be individually focused and interpreted. This is the classroom gift of reciprocal conversations enriching translation, adaptation, and understanding. This is learning through experience where understanding is the outcome of critical and supported practice.

So this year we are presenting another broad range of educational opportunities, including our annual eight day Daintree 2018 residential workshop in far Nth. Queensland, sixteen specialist one day Studio Workshops in our Melbourne studio, and at the CCP we are presenting three (six week duration) Short Courses on Monday evenings, eight Weekend Courses, plus a three day January Summer School.

Les Walkling


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.


Considering Photoshop

August 20, 2017

Les 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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →


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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →

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 [...]

Read the full article →