Dr. Les Walkling (b. 1953)

Les_Pilbara_S Les Walkling by Christian Fletcher, Pilbara, WA, 2010

In 2000 my ‘new millennium resolution’ was to encourage my creative output into collaborative projects interweaving local histories, perspectives, resurgence, and ‘re-existance’ as an alternative framework of being, analysis and thought in Western contemporary art.

Professionally I divide my time between ten related and overlapping activities;  researching, writing, creating, thinking, exhibiting, consulting, traveling, mentoring, lecturing and teaching. Some of this work is seasonal, in the sense that in the five months from November to March I spend much of my time researching and writing, while most of my teaching, consulting and exhibiting takes place in the seven months from March to October.

Before turning to the world of contemporary art in 1975 I had been studying science and philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Largely self taught as a photographer, I had the privilege in 1981 and 1982 of living in the USA supported by Australia Council Arts grants, studying and working with the artists Emmet Gowin and Frederick Sommer, who were my most defining and critical intellectual influences at that time.

I have exhibited widely, including the retrospective one-person show ‘So to Live as to Dream’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1990. My work is also represented in many public collections including The Center for Creative Photography, Arizona, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, The Art Gallery of NSW, and The National Gallery of Victoria.

I presented my first analogue photography workshop in 1977 and have conducted regular digital photography courses since 1993 through the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), and training seminars and professional development programs for the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), the Australian Commercial and Media Photographers (ACMP), and many of our cultural institutions including the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the Australian War Memorial.

My first university appointment was in 1983 as a lecturer in drawing, and subsequently in fine art photography and media arts history and theory. I am the former Program Director of Media Arts at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia (1993 – 2005), and a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Art (2006-2010) where I supervised over fifty MA and PhD research candidates to successful and timely completions. My final Australian Research Council Discovery Project (ARC) grant was Genealogies of Digital Light with Dr Sean Cubitt (Melbourne University, now Goldsmiths, University of London) and Dr Daniel Palmer (Monash University, now RMIT University). It was the first interdisciplinary account of practice in light technologies and provided a critical evaluation of the techniques and technologies used in depicting, recording and projecting light including the capacities and limitations of contemporary digital light-based media. The outcomes included print and online publications, an international conference and collaboration between three Universities.

In 2011 I took early retirement from RMIT University in order to remove all administrative constraints from my practice and to better monetise my research and creativity, though I still continue in my role as an external PhD examiner, and as an external auditor and examiner of accredited Higher Education programs, as well as regularly contributing to RMIT’s Master of Photography post-graduate program.

My current fine art research investigates the formation of identity, environmentality, decoloniality, preoccupations of beauty, and genealogies of digital light theory and practice. My post doctoral research has included the independent management of luminance and chromaticity in colour managed digital capture, editing and fine art printing workflows. My consulting services include the design, evaluation and implementation of digitisation, preservation, archiving and colour managed workflows, production standards, staff training and quantitative and qualitative digital systems analysis.

My clients are professional artists, photographers, designers, publishers, writers, printers, photo laboratories, service bureaus, and state and federal government institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, National Museum of Australia, National Library of Australia, Australian War Memorial, Australian Museum, Western Australian Museum, Melbourne Museum, South Australian Museum, Queensland Museum, National Archives of Australia, CSIRO Atlas of Living Australia, Department of Defence, Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre, and Australian Universities, Art Schools, TAFE and Independent Tertiary and Secondary Colleges.

In 1985 I established our first Collaborative Production and Research (CPR) facility and over the years have had the great privilege of collaborating with hundreds of other artists, including Virgil Donati since 1985 as photographer, writer, producer and director (video), Peter Kennedy since 2000 as a digital compositor, editor and printer, and from 2005 with Polixeni Papapetrou in the creation of ten bodies of her work (including Haunted Country 2006, Games of Consequence 2008, Between Worlds 2009-2012, Dream Keepers 2012, The Ghillies 2013, Melancholia 2014, Lost Psyche 2014, Its all about me 2016, Eden 2016), and since 2008 with Bill Henson during his initial transition from analogue to digital production and subsequent revelations. In 2016-2017 I worked with Liz Dombrovskis and the National Library of Australia on the Peter Dombrovskis archive and the restoration, editing, pre press, and printing for the publication and retrospective exhibition Journeys into the Wild: The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis. And Peta Clancy has also been a joy to work with since 2012, beginning with Aurelian 2012-14, and more recently Fissures in Time 2017Undercurrent 2018-2019, and Portrait of Monash: the ties that bind 2020.

In 2010 under the auspices of FORM (Western Australia) I began collaborating with fellow photographers Christian FletcherTony Hewitt and Peter Eastway, film maker Michael Fletcher and the curator William Fox (Director, Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art) on The Pilbara Project. This initial coming together has continued as the artistic collective known as Ninety Degrees Five (ND5) producing five bodies of work; South West Light (2011-12), Shark Bay – Inscription (2013), East (2013-), and North (2014-), and South East Light (2015-) and resulting in sixteen exhibitions on three continents since 2011. Each exhibition is supported by public performances and events, including broadcast media, workshops, master classes, and artist talks. In 2015 I co-curated with Stephen Zagala (previous Senior Curator at MGA) the exhibition Earth Matters: Contemporary Photographers in the Landscape featuring ND5′s collaborative video and photographic works and writings as MGA’s contribution to the first Climarte ART+CLIMATE=CHANGE Festival across Melbourne.

Since 2011 my son Andrey has worked beside me as an exhibiting artist, researcher, fellow consultant, and teacher in our educational programs, and in 2013 we incorporated all of our combined activities into the entity Les Walkling & Co Pty Ltd to not only formalise our business structure but to also significantly extend the range of services and products we offer.

From 2010 to 2012 I was also appointed as the digital imaging consultant on the Atlas of Living Australia. The project was an initiative to improve access to essential information on Australia’s biodiversity, and was a partnership between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Australian natural history collections community and the Australian Government.

In 2012 I was appointed to the Committee of Management of the Monash Gallery of Art (The Australian Home of Photography) where I am also a member of the Art Acquisitions Sub-Committee contributing to the development of the collection and MGA’s acquisition policies and procedures. In 2012 I was awarded the title ‘Fellow of the Australian Institute of Professional Photography’ (FAIPP), the Institute’s highest honour, in recognition of my contribution to the worlds of professional photography, and in 2015 I was also appointed to the Banyule Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee supporting the strategic direction, policy and planning of arts and cultural development in the City of Banyule, which is also my local community.

In March 2020 we took all our consulting and teaching online from our multi camera broadcast studio. Given I was an early pioneer of distance learning in 1998 I’m surprised it has taken us this long to complete the transition, though we have been virtually consulting since 2011 and many of our services have been contactless and remotely facilitated since 2000.  With increased equity and access advantages and cost and time savings people from all over the world are now able to easily access our events and benefit from our consulting and support.