Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Letting the light come in

John Austin and I met at a forest festival in Northcliffe last year. He was sitting in the pop-up café. My first impression was of a man who observed his space in a quiet, intense but unobtrusive manner. I’ve known other professional photographers who have the same way about them. Witnesses, I guess, those people astute of eye and with a mind that constantly frames the scene. They are lens rather than subject. We talked about going into the forest that day. ‘I can’t go into the forest any more,’ he said quietly. ‘It just makes me too sad.’ *
On Friday John is showcasing the very best of his work over the last twenty three years and a major part of the exhibition is about the forest protests of the 1990s and early 2000s.

 'Watch', Lane SF, detail

                                                                                              Broke Inlet

John also photographs landscapes and portraits, and is particularly enamored with the littoral . He and his wife Rae came to stay at Broke Inlet while I was there a few months ago. In the early morning, I saw their figures stepping through reeds and around trees on the shore of the inlet. They'd been here many times before to photograph the place where water and land constantly renegotiate boundaries.

                                                                                      Broke Inlet Fishtrap
Later we had breakfast in Claire House and chatted. In 1994 John had decided to move down to the southern forests, to work in a more quiet and contemplative way. ‘But when I moved into the forest I found the truth.’ The battle to save the south west’s old growth forests from large scale logging wasn’t even on John’s radar until he moved to the tiny timber town of Quinninup. ‘There was nothing quiet and contemplative about it all,’ he said. ‘It was mayhem. It was like a battle scene.’*

                                                                                       Tank Girl and her Mate
In the thick of it

John Austin's survey documents an integral part of our recent cultural clashes when it 
 comes to primary industry versus conservation in small towns of the south west. I would liken it in context to the work of photographer Ed Smidt in Albany, who documented another eco-cultural turning point in the 1970s: people protested the killing of another monolithic species -  the whales - while the industry's working class clung to 'the way things were' and the businessmen bailed when world's markets dropped out.

I'm really pleased and proud to be opening John Austin's exhibition this Friday at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery.  After I met John and Rae at the cafe in Northcliffe, he read Salt Story and asked me to write the essay for his survey catalogue. He said he wanted something different to the usual art theory essay. I was happy to oblige and after many hours interviewing John with my phone and pen and paper at Broke Inlet, and later in his darkroom, we had an essay ready for the exhibition.

John Austin: Survey II 1994 - 2017 will open this Friday at 6pm and run until 26th of November.

*Excerpts from 'Letting the Light Come In: John Austin's relationship to forest, woman and land's edge.' By me.