Bigfoot

 

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There have been many wonderful characters in my photographic life. The most important to me are the 40 or so models I have worked with. Many of these folk I worked with for sustained periods of time enjoying collaborative forays into creative image making. They remain special people, special memories.

I have also had the privilege of meeting and working within conference and workshop settings some iconic figures like Bruce Barnbaum, Jay Dusard, John Sexton, Robert Faber, Joyce Tenneson, David Moore, Arnold Newman and Steve McCurry.

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Models and icons alike they all offered me insights into the making of images. What they brought to my camera was a passion for their work, a generosity of spirit and a profound sense of the link between idea and the expressive power of the image.

In all of these years one character always comes to mind when I think about influences on my work. When he reads this blog he might well be surprised. Why? Simply because he would not see himself as all that important, all that clever. However, he is.  He is a delightful human being rich with wisdom and sense of being.   I know him as a humble man who migrated – perhaps fled to this country – after WW2 having lost his family, home, village and country as a consequence of the invasion of his homeland by Soviet Russia.  These were deep and tragic losses all in the space of about 10 or so days.   They are losses that are difficult for me to comprehend having been quarantined by this lovely land from the evils of political, economic, social and cultural cruelty that prompts migration. Those childhood experiences toughened him, taught him to value the simple pleasures of the family he established in this country and the power and satisfaction of hard work in the metal fabrication business where he rose to a senior position. Through to retirement he was a factory worker, a hard worker, and a tradesman. He was and remains a tough character; he was resilient, resourceful and resolute in pursuing the things that mattered. The care of his wife and family, the modest home, the pets, the garden and his love of good wine, chillies and his photography. With the latter he brings his life experiences and his rich personal qualities to bear on his way of seeing.

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I met this man at my camera club. We hit it off because he was welcoming, generous in his comments on my work and significantly introduced me to a form of photography – infrared- that I only knew from a scientific perspective whereas he knew all that needed to be known about the application of this radiation to the creation of the fine art monochrome image. He shared his unique blend of knowledge, in-camera control, and his darkroom prowess with me. I was privileged.

His infrared landscapes were exceptional. Essentially they were a celebration of the beauty of the new land he now called home. He travelled the length and breadth of Australia seeking out places that he could reveal via his unique command of the expressive power of infrared film and the combination of that film with his aesthetic prowess as a monochrome printer.aust_land-179

On one of those travels he invited me to accompany him. He said, he was going to go down to Tasmania and do some bushwalking. I could go with him if I wished. We went. It was during this 7-10 days that I obtained fresh insights into this unique character. Firstly, he did not so much bush walk as stride out at high speed – it was a land to conquer, a new space to negotiate and this he did at high speed leaving me gasping in his wake. Nothing daunted him as he sped across marsh, danced across sedge, bounded over rock and waded through tall grass. For him a rain forest was a magical mystery tour he negotiated with consummate ease. I just blundered along. It took me three steps to his one.  At one stage he moved swiftly ahead of me disappearing into the mist. His shambling gait complete with back pack converted him into a human form but one distorted by the fog and my eyes and brain wracked with the pain of trying to keep up. This was not so much a bush walk as a trial by heavy mud caked boots!  Through gasping and choking sounds I said out aloud to this rapidly disappearing human form, “from now on you are to be known as Bigfoot.”  I will get my revenge, I thought, for his tramp, his amble, his stroll across Tasmania that was in stark contrast to my stumbling, slipping, sliding, swearing and bumbling fitful attempts to keep up with him.

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He said we were going for a walk in Tasmania. What he ought to have said was that we are going for a walk across Tasmania. Moreover, we would do this in fog, mist, rain, wind, frost, and flurries of ice and accompanied at night by the friendly sounds of Tasmanian Tigers deciding amongst themselves whose boots they would eat. The only problem with their plan was that I was still wearing mine whilst my friend had his hanging from a low branch of a tree. Tassie Tigers, if given the option would go for those on the ground, on my feet!  None of this seemed to worry my Bigfoot companion. He was fortified by special food he brought with him. It was officially called beef jerky. Unofficially I called it camel’s bum. Just awful but there was method in Bigfoot’s daily consumption of beef jerky because no self-respecting wild forest animal would come near him.

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I roughed it – big time – with Bigfoot. I was pleased to see the end of the 80 km walk and made the journey back home delighting in the experience of making a new friend who I know felt really comfortable calling mate but declined to do so having resolved to use his new name – Bigfoot.  I know knew him to be a giant of a man whose reputation had soared in my view by virtue of his conquest of Tasmania.

In this walk he showed me his way of seeing, his way of relating to the environment, his way of teasing out the unique quality of the landscape that the light of Tasmania revealed and he celebrated this with his beloved infrared film. His teaching was exemplary as it was modest and undemanding. He taught me the importance of the simple love of place as the basis for the expressive landscape. Each infrared image I have made since has a lot of Bigfoot embedded within it. Thanks, Roy.

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Today I use a Nikon D200 that has been modified to be a specialist infrared camera. I use it in the landscape as well as within the studio. My adventures with this medium remain challenging, satisfying and often surprising in the subtle and soft moody images that this medium generates. It is also true that even today more than twenty years after this walk rarely do I use this camera or view the resulting images without thinking of the man that made it possible.

I still follow the basic principles he shared. I rate at ISO 200, I bracket three stops centred on f8 when bright sunny circumstances exist and adjust this three bracket approach if it is dull or super bright light. I the adjust tonality to bring in the highlights and instead of the developer choices required with analogue approaches I use a series of sharpening techniques to restore or enhance acutance. Digital infrared is just as satisfying, just as rewarding. However, with wisdom that comes from experience these days I limit my walks with Bigfoot to the local café and, to my relief, none have beef jerky on the menu.

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