Waiting for a Moment that Might Never Come

When people ask what type of photographer I am I answer very strongly that I'm a documentary photographer.  In years past it was a mix of landscape, aerial, portraiture and mining genres.  But now, every aspect of what I do is about history and documenting this amazing world in which we live.

It is not done with a political purpose.  It is done because I feel that it is an important thing to do, though I realise that at the end of the day ultimately nothing is important.

Every time I return to my native Pilbara in Western Australia’s far north, that point gets drilled in to me.  When I sit photographing fossils that are 3.49 billion years old.  If the first appearance of life on earth could be equated to the start of a one hour movie, humans first appeared in the last half second of that movie.  These things give one a very good sense of perspective.

So when you have that perspective to work with, one can only do what feels important.  And that must come from deep inside one’s persona.

You can never be 100 percent sure that you are doing the right thing, but at the end of the day your gut feel and belief systems are all that you have to work with.

So over the last sixteen years I have worked hard to document aspects of the Pilbara and our world that are rapidly changing.  People and their stories.  The effect of the Chinese industrial transformation on the mining industry in Australia and Africa.  Changing towns.

My landscape photographs are very different to how they once were.  In years past I chased beauty in the landscape.  I watched for the light.  Then followed the light.  But, as I learned along the way, anyone can do that these days.  If the light is on song, any person can take a good photograph, whether they are a photographer or not.

So how to do things differently…….?  How to do things differently but still work in a way that feels important?

Today, I search for landscapes that are changing rapidly also.  In Australia, this is mainly because of mining.  So I look for landscapes that might not be around in years to come.  Or I look for important historical landmarks.  I search for and find those landmarks and then wait for the light. 

My aim now is not to take beautiful photographs.  It is to take photographs of important places at their most beautiful.

This can be very challenging.  Two recent photos in the Pilbara came at the end of 17 days of waiting.  That’s 17 days camped in the bush with temperatures over 40 degrees on most days.  Nothing, until, at the end of those 17 days, the universe grants me a gift. Then there was the teaser after a 36 day wait, not the shot I was after but I love the image.

You learn much about yourself and learning to live with nature when the conditions are like that and the opportunities are so limited.  It becomes a battle with oneself as much as it does the quest to make an important photograph.  Because nothing is certain in life and one cannot be certain that the photo will even come.

Take a wait earlier this year.  To date, I have waited 36 days for a photograph in the Pilbara and it still has not yet come.  Included in there has been a direct hit from a cyclone and eleven successive days where the temperature topped 45 degrees on all but one.  But I will return until I eventually make that photograph.  Whether it takes me one day or another two months.

Working in the Pilbara has yielded some of my greatest life experiences. I live each year for the months from December to March. Working out where to wait. Deciding when to go and when to stay. It's a bit like fishing a mate once said to me. You have to know when to leave fish and when to stay for fish. Photography is no different. But in the Pilbara the journey well and truly is what makes the destination.