Having despatched my entries to the Australian Professional Photography Awards, I realised that two of my entries were taken in New Zealand and two were taken in Japan. What does this tell me? Am I the next up and coming travel photographer for iconic Lonely Planet publications?
No, far from it! My entries were New Zealand landscapes and interpretations of Japanese life style as seen through through Western eyes.
I suspect that my eyes are more finely attuned when I am outside of my comfort zone; and that I am more capable of distilling visual information while in new surroundings. This is a reverse or mirror version of the NIMBY syndrome – not in my back yard. A case of distant fields being greener; when we tend to overlook what is commonplace and familiar, and get excited about new places, spaces and environment.
Yes, as a boy born in tropical North Queensland, I have to acknowledge that the soft beguiling light glancing across a Central Otago mountain range has a visual seduction that is hard to deny. And underneath the Blade Runner movie set location that Tokyoites take for granted when they head out for an after work drink and snack, I get photographic visual palpations.
Should I relax, have a cup of tea, a quick lie down; and then take up my camera and head out into my neighbourhood and shoot some images? Yes, of course I should – and of course I should take my camera on my next visit to the seductive depths of New Zealand’s South Island. As if a visit to these parts could possibly be undertaken without said apparatus?
I have indeed documented the environment within the block where my inner city apartment is situated. I even forced myself to shoot with one camera, one lens and one film. Yes, film! With my trusty and now aging Russian Lubitel medium format camera, I was forced to slow down, and observe. It was a wonderful challenge, and a test of my years of research, knowledge and ability. The results became the basis of a small exhibition. I turned opportunity into interpretation. The opportunity was the ability to keep coming back to locations at the appropriate time of day – the interpretation was my ability to use all that is creative in my being.
Like forcing one’s self to shoot with one lens and one camera as a form of visual mental exercise, we should also attempt to look at our backyard through new eyes.
Try setting out for an afternoon and re-interpreting the neighbourhood down the street as seen through the eyes of a visiting photographer who has just arrived from distant lands.
I feel that as photographers we have an obligation to document our environment – we are the inhabitants, with easy access to local knowledge. Look at the protracted argument following the Christchurch disaster, when no local photographers were contracted to document the damage. Out-of-town photographic eyes are valuable, but local eyes are aware of nuances and feelings and history – and their interpretation is valuable.
Reproduced with kind permission of f11 Online Magazine for Photographers (September 2013 edition)