Interviewed by Amy Marjoram
A lot of photographers seem to approach landscape in quite an epic way, especially with Australian landscapes where mysterious gothic undertones or romanticised vastness are often present. I find your work to be much more intimate, literally taking me to the levels of mud and sludge and twigs. To me your landscapes are inhabitable and approachable, there is still mystery there but it isn't aggrandised. Is this something you are specifically angling for with your work or is it coming from your own relationship to the land?
I try not to over think where my work sits in relation to other Australian landscape artists although, due to my background in art, whispers and traces from artists and literature inevitably rustle away like a vein of strange, melodic white noise. You can’t un-know what you know, in regards to the politics of vision and the gaze. Australia has a fundamentally divided identity. Many re-presentations of Australian landscape have an extended history of promoting a colonial nationalist consciousness. This still reverberates a silently profound impact of negation on the First Australians relationship to land and place as well as a continued reinforcement to the general population of a colonial gaze overlooking Australia as if it’s ‘ours for the taking’.
Many artists, in photography and other mediums for the past few decades, take their work up to previous romanticised landscapes with refreshing iconoclastic clout or with more nuance and a decentered open mystery. For myself it feels instinctive to photograph fragments of landscape. My work has to do with a relationship to land that goes back to my childhood. I grew up on farms and orchards. I’d love it when big rains came to the farm and how the water would make furrows in the land assisting the ground to not flood. My dog and me would make obstacle courses from these drains; there was a sense of unabashed rawness and adventure. Then we’d rest, prop up on a log and I’d stare into the water that was merged with the grasses and the mud that also came with the rains.
I remember from a young age the fascinating transformations I’d see in these tiny spaces; I felt like I was looking into a never-ending galaxy in the earth. And sometimes the sky is in the water, reflected, and the ground is in the sky to make the clouds. It dawned on me very young the truly awesome messy interdependence of absolutely everything. So, I guess my photography attempts to let the land speak its own mysteries rather than be filtered through the gauze of any genre. Photography’s magic has always been that it portions out a section, a slice of place/space; therefore context can be removed allowing an open space for interpretation. I try to be sensitive towards details of the elements and the elemental and to let these speak through my work. Photography is a strange thing, a photo is a veneer really, so if a sense of the elemental and an intimacy can be conveyed in my work then I’m really pleased.
Where are these photos taken and what is your connection to the places?
I live in West Gippsland on the outskirts of the town of Drouin. All of the shots you’ve selected here, bar one, are taken close to where I live or towards the hills at the edge of Bunyip State Forest or in a grass drain on the nature strip of a neighbour’s place or in an old quarry I used to ride my horse in as a teenager. I’m very spontaneous with taking photos; it’s usually when I’m out walking the dog at the same places along a couple of creeks or when we go out discovering together.
One year after I moved to Drouin the diabolical Black Saturday bushfires roared all around and very close. This event held excruciating symbolism for me as I was also in the midst of a violent crisis of health that resulted in moving to Drouin, a place I swore I’d never, ever return to. I was in a state of total disconnection to everything. The blackened destruction of the landscape, houses and the lives lost of people and countless animals around the corner from where I was shacked up reverberated in me like an emotional earthquake, mimicking the violence and grief I was enduring in my body and self. An intense connection to land and place resurfaced. Soon the re-growth started shooting up lime green epiphytic tendrils and blades everywhere. I tell this story because it’s crucially interwoven in my practice of photography of the land and of recovering a sense of meaning and purpose. This new connection to place felt literal, real and brutish. The violence and eventual rejuvenation of the land around me became intrinsically linked to my own physical and emotional circumstances.
Out of the blue a beautiful friend bought me my first point and shoot, wow was I excited in between the persisting nausea. Eventually I started focusing on the world outside of my body. Slowly I started to pay attention to light again. Not too long after I became fairly obsessed. Photography restored a sense of purpose and has been a link to the land and my creativity again. So I cannot now untangle the connection to place here with the connection to body now with a connection to the aperture.
'Can you think of any photographers, artists, filmmakers etc whose work you connect with in terms of the way they depict landscapes?'
Oh gosh, yes! But I don’t think I know how to tell you about that or even name them, there’s too many.
What do you love most about taking photos and what annoys you? I guess I am wanting to find out more about your compulsion to take images, what it means to you and how it fits in to your life.
The compulsion to take photos itself is more than enough. It’s the verb that is needed to do. I love editing in the digital darkroom too; it’s an immersive space where I can sit with the image again from another vantage point. I also love that I’m not trained in photography and have no want to be aside from learning via looking at the world around me and a peer group of some incredible photographers on Flickr and the Internet.
Hmmm…. what annoys me, well the more photos I take the less I know what I want to take photos of, as my practice is not just situated around the landscape.
I think I may have gone some way to answering you how taking photos fits into my life above where you asked me about connection to place. So I’ll leave that one there.
I have only seen your work online, do you have plans to exhibit these works or publish them in a book or something? Of course I think presenting works online is a really important platform in itself but I am interested in your relationship to photos as a print.
In the near future I do have plans for a book as well as extending my online involvement via my own website. Recently I’ve begun to do some thorough mastication of b&w images into quite graphic, abstracted works. My vision for these is to transfer them onto various size plaster cubes and slabs. I think photography will eventually lead me to a broader art practice, like I had in the past. I’m excited about this. It’s the part-sculptor in me trying to bust out and break-dance.
Print will play a large part in the process of my first book. For me it’s; prints first, book second. One has to be cut-throat brutal with editing work and sequencing. The only way I can imagine coming at this with any rigour is to have the prints, put them up and live with them while rearranging over time. I cannot imagine sequencing a book totally from screen images. A book is held with the hands so it’s important that I see and feel that each image works holding in it my hand first before committing to publish. I think photo books are very seductive on top of being an excellent format to view photography. I like the idea someone will sit on a couch and stare into my images weaving their own narratives freely and privately in the comfort of their home or on a tram or on the loo.
Aside from the prints being essential to the creating of a book, overall my ideas around print is, I could fairly say, that I probably sit with many others in that I’m still trying to work out where the print now fits and if it does in what way and how. A couple of months ago I did get some prints. I was curious to see whether the images translated from mediums successfully or whether they’re best displayed in light-boxes, as a continuation of the screen. As yet I’m still uncertain.
More of Julie Paterson's photographs can be viewed at