Pilbara Project Prize Winners!

To celebrate the launch of the inaugural Pilbara Project exhibition 52 Weeks On FORM gave away two hardback copies of the limited edition publication The Pilbara Project: Field Notes and Photographs Collected over 2010, and two prints from the book by feature exhibition photographers Tony Hewitt and Christian Fletcher. Winners were drawn from new or renewed members during the 52 Weeks On exhibition.

Membership Print Winner #1
Andrew Auret, on behalf of ABN Group from Perth (Group Membership)
Congratulations on winning on Salt, Dampier by Christian Fletcher

Membership Print Winner #2
Rebecca Clarkson from Perth
Congratulations on winning ‘Tidal Creek’ Dampier by Tony Hewitt (Individual Membership)

Membership Book Winner #1
Steve Harris of West Perth (Individual Membership)

Membership Book Winner #2
Suzette Worden from Perth (Individual Membership)

Pilbara Project SLR Camera Winners

To celebrate the launch of the inaugural Pilbara Project exhibition 52 Weeks On, FORM and the Courthouse Gallery each gave away a digital SLR camera. Winners were drawn from postcards handed into each of the galleries.

FORM Gallery Pilbara Project Camera Winner
Sarah Hope from Perth

Courthouse Gallery Pilbara Project Camera Winner
Petra Kerr from Port Hedland

Pilbara Survey Winner
Amber Fletcher from Port Hedland
Congratulations on winning Industrial Lines 7 by Peter Eastway

A special thank-you to the Artists for their generosity with the Artwork.

Principle Partner:

True Pilbara Colours

Went to the FORM Gallery in Perth today to this amazing Exhibition. I just loved the geometry of all the photos, all lines and curves and true pilbara colours. The simplicity and design were so inspirational and I loved Michael Fletchers film, especially the time lapse shots at night.

I had to buy the book and was thrilled to see my name in print and my blog as the first story in the book.

Thank you, it made my day and I am very proud to have been apart of the Pilbara Project.


Maureen Allert

Pilbara Project Exhibition opening at FORM Gallery

On February 10, the Pilbara Project launched its first exhibition “52 Weeks On: A Pilbara Project Exhibition” at the newly renovated FORM Gallery in Perth.  The exhibition also opened the following night at the Courthouse Gallery in Port Hedland, details shown on the previous blog post here.

Tony speaking along with the rest of the artists

The exhibition features new photography and film by renowned artists Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and Peter Eastway.  It is curated by William L. Fox, Director of the Art + Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art.  More details on the exhibition can be found here.

Squeezing in to see Michael's film launch

Les talking with filmmaker Curtis Taylor

Hon Troy Buswell MLA opening the exhibition

The book launch for “The Pilbara Project: Field Notes and Photographs Collected over 2010” was also a great success, with the artists on hand for signing.

Photographs by Michelle Taylor

52 Weeks On: A Pilbara Project Exhibition Opening Night

On the evening of Friday the 11th of February roughly 450 people attended the opening of 52 Weeks On: A Pilbara Project Exhibition at the Port Hedland Courthouse Gallery. Throughout the evening words such as “stunning”, “vibrant” and “breathtaking” were used to describe the beautiful and awe-inspiring photographs presented in the exhibition. Adding to the experience was the magnificent film created by talented videographer Michael Fletcher titled A Pilbara Project which documents the three journeys the five artists (Les Walkling, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher, Peter Eastway, and Tony Hewitt) undertook through the Pilbara for 52 weeks.

52 Weeks On: A Pilbara Project Exhibition runs at the Courthouse Gallery until 7 April 2011. Come in and have a walk through and feel free to stay and watch the movie screening in the back gallery room.

More photos on the Port Hedland opening can be found here

The exhibition is also on view at the FORM Gallery in Perth.  More information about this opening event will be coming shortly.

Pilbara Project Trip – September 2010

This September I had the great privilege of taking a creative journey with the Pilbara Project team which included, this time around: Christian Fletcher, Bill Fox, Tony Hewitt, Larry Mitchell and Les Walkling. Our mission on this particular journey was to solidify a vision and gather new material for the photography exhibition that we have opening in Perth and Port Hedland in February 2011. In particular we were geared up for an ‘industry-packed’ adventure. I thought I might, belatedly, share some of my field notes and photos from the trip:

Tuesday 21 September

We took the first flight up to Karratha and were welcomed by gusts of wind blowing dirt across the flats.

Unlike previous trips which have involved moving through places, we were based this time in Karratha alone for four days. Giving us the chance to look at and consider community, at the ‘in-between’ of nature and industry.

Gathering supplies in the Karratha shopping centre I found it fascinating to witness the social and cultural phenomenon of towns that are substantially populated by fly-in-fly-out workers. It is like a void, a lapse in time and place where things work differently. It is accepted and common practice for two men to do pedestrian, domestic activities together – like grocery shopping or dry-cleaning. Expected social practices are warped to accommodate the strange lifestyle and social make up of mining towns. I remember a friend once comparing it to the army – a strange and unbalanced network – which makes me wonder what the long term social repercussions will be.

Next stop: the lookout behind the Visitors Centre – a place to get our bearings and make plans. Unloading tripods and hauling large camera bags on their backs the photographers spread out: Christian perched on a heap of red-brown rock poking out from the grey-Pilbara-green; Tony looked to the juxtaposed gazebos and large water tanks on the top of the hill; Les made his way quietly out of sight.

Looking out over Karratha town centre, the sprawling housing, everything simultaneously made sense and entirely didn’t. I wondered what it would be like to be born here, to live here only (not two on, one off).

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It was obvious immediately that these photographers have a wonderful team dynamic, a healthy playful rivalry accompanied by a willingness to share. It is more than just sharing their images – it is now also their collective memories that enrich their relationship with the Pilbara and with each other. To think the amount of times they have stood in a row all photographing the same place, or moment. However, it is beneficial to be solitary sometimes – to have the opportunity to hear a place its quiet stories. As Les said, it is in embracing of the banal reality that “we will find our story in this place.”

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After lunch we took a dirt track off the east road along the coast – a well worn car track that shines with use. Around a bend or two there is a natural salt flat, pink and dull, that has abandoned car bodies at various stages of decomposition, rusted red against their original white. Running down the front of the flats, through the firmer mud near the road, are fresh tyre tracks – as if the corpses of old vehicles are not warning enough.

It is all about surfaces in the Pilbara: the salt crusted red mud, the dried and cracked earth behind, the shine of the roads worn by heavy industrial vehicles, the debris.

As we drove west out from town, passing the residential houses that look a bit like bunkers (with rooves almost touching the fences, one next to the other) we hit peak hour traffic; an onslaught of white 4WDs and buses denoting a change of shift.  We stopped at the place where the Dampier salt flats meet the highway, and walked along the paths that segment the small areas of salt between the road and railway line. Layers of colour, texture and transport – trains, planes and cars – all crossing over the sometimes matt, sometimes reflective surface.  It is interesting that it was there, standing for some time on the salt pans, that Bill and I began a discussion about place-based spirituality. Although there are so many layers, multiplicities and differences it was obvious that almost everything we could see was based upon and exists because of a singular purpose – wealth generated through primary industry. This place is volatile and unsustainable, which no doubt only adds to its beauty.

Wednesday 22 September

On Wednesday we ventured to Cape Preston to visit the power plant that is under construction as part of the new magnetite mining project. On the way we paused at a truck stop – perhaps in an attempt to capture the ugly and the usually uninspiring. It is interesting that in such a relatively young town there can be such a strong sense of desolation and abandonment. Places like these seem to forecast a future full of haunting and dry nothings, while also seeming to be so full of hope, movement and potential – how is this possible?

The natural environment of the Pilbara is harsh and arid, and in so many ways the industry reflects and repeats the land. I have seen this is the aerial photographs that Les took in Port Hedland – where the natural patterns of Cooke Point water ways reflect the industrial developments of the harbour. It is the same here in Karratha; there are so many repeated patterns like the tidal flats mirrored by industrial salt pans. It is all part of the consideration of scale.

Debris and detritus – another repeated vision up. The natural formations of the rocks look as though they have been spat out by the deeper earth, or dropped in piles from something way above. There is also so much litter – beer bottles, cigarette packets, plastic wrappers and plenty of tyres.

There is something wonderful about moving through places with photographers, they make you stop and spend time in places that you would never have previously have considered of interest. Us non-photographers are able to sit, consider and discuss the intimacies of the places we find ourselves, the smells, the sounds. We are able to be truly present in these places – all of which seem to talk to one another in a dialogue about who and what the Pilbara is.

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Upon arriving at Cape Preston, after going through multiple, various and excessive site safety inductions, we were allowed to enter the largest scale diesel and gas combination power unit in Australia. This was a rare opportunity, although the plant is nearing completion it had not yet been commissioned. Once the plant begins commissioning the site becomes volatile and significantly more dangerous and the amount of people on site will be restricted to the bare essentials. They certainly will not be allowing guest tours for the aesthetically inclined!

When we enter the offices and the guys introduce themselves as photographers working towards an art exhibition of images of the industrial landscape of the Pilbara the idea that we might find this place interesting to look at, let alone aesthetic, seems to baffle everyone on site.

Darryl, the construction manager, offered to be our tour guide. Initially apprehensive he quickly warmed to the idea of spending an afternoon admiring the project that he has spent the last 18 months constructing.  He took us immediately to high ground, scaling the silver scaffolding surrounding the high turret, so we could look out beyond the plant over the whole project that is transforming the Cape. You could see in the distance the row of white cylindrical plants where large balls will crush the magnetite into grit whilst adding water, turning it into slurry which will get pumped through pipes underground to boats coming in at the tip of the Cape. It will then be sent to China. It is estimated that there is one billion tonnes of magnetite at this site and the power plant we stood on has an expected life of 25 years.

Nine weeks on and one week off, that is a standard swing for the key staff on this project at this stage of its construction. On this topic Darryl’s colleague comments: ‘That’s what I do, I build shit.’ Later another worker is asked, ‘So do you have a missus?’ to which he responds ‘Yeah, half-on, half -off.’

The plant is like a fortress or castle, being so new it is yet to be muted with an encasement of red dust; shining silver with hints of bright yellow, blue, red and green. As we climb back down Darryl tells us that during the cyclone season it gets 68 degrees on the ground and 98% humidity. Reaching the red floor once again I look up and see steel sheets of metal that encase the turbines: sprayed with the mark ‘Made in Thailand’.

Thursday 23 September

The morning started out early with three first-light flights in a four seater Cessna, one for each photographer.   We had the door removed so the photographers could have a clear view below. Taking off from Karratha airport we banked around over the salt flats, which looked like freshly churned and swept ice skating rinks. Also, in less salinated ponds, you could still make out the natural patterns and formations under the surface of the water. The interference of human industry was visible, but so was the defiance of nature to adhere to such linear boundaries and limitations.

The afternoon was occupied by a tour with Shane Peters on the Burrup Peninsular. He took us first to the Climbing Man. Unmarked, unsigned and unpathed, you would have a lot of difficulty finding the same spot again – which is fortunate considering the propensity for people to damage or even steal these greatly precious cultural objects.

Climbing over the unsteady rocks in the midday heat I thought about Picnic at Hanging Rock: there was a distinct eeriness about the little red valley we were climbing through. It would beeasy to get lost in this place had it not been for the bright flame of the highest Pluto Plant tower being visible over the hill to the north. We stopped to look at a flat rock tucked up to the right of the valley path which was covered in an intriguingly figurative design. Larry and Shane discussed the unusual nature and style of this particular piece of rock art – its dissimilarity to the work that is traditionally ‘of the Burrup’

Later, on our way to the rock art cemetery, as we drove up the out-of-the-way 4WD track, I could feel a quietness come over Larry and Bill. I guess I was somewhat prepared for this visit, after conversations and readings, but it certainly did not deaden the emotional thunder that this place caused in me.

Fenced in, face down and senselessly graffitied by cataloguing numbers these rocks seemed to hum. The fence imprisoned these works, rather than protected them. This was simply the saddest place I have ever been. It was only that evening, that I realised that this place was also profoundly beautiful.

Upon our return that night Larry, Bill and I each found a lone spot on the hill to watch the sunset cast a glow over the southern-most hills of the peninsular. The day’s light went first from the valley below where the imprisoned rocks lay and was then absorbed deep into the rocks that covered the hills. Sitting silent we could hear the persistent hum of the gas plant, whose lights were conspicuously visible to the west. Below the rock art cemetery appeared to me like a singular freshly dug grave – with the piles of rocky earth set close behind ready to bury what lay below. Looking from the gas plant across to Hearson’s Cove to the east I wondered what would come of this place over the coming century; I thought of the inevitability of erasure and change and I wanted to preserve this light – to take it away and keep it close.

When darkness came over and mosquitoes came out, we ventured down to the car. As we passed the small rocky hill the full moon was rising, casting a yellow glow into the rich darkness of the deep blue sky and red/grey earth. What timing, what a place for this to happen! It was comforting and pleasing to realise that this moment was unrecordable, not photographable: a spectacle and a display which felt as though it was just for us and for that moment.

We followed the moon the Hearsons Cove, apparently the best spot for seeing the ‘Stairway to the Moon’. People lined up along the beach to capture the light darting across the tidal flats and the ocean with their tripods and SLR cameras. This white light, on what was promptly becoming a greyscale landscape, felt like a cleansing and pleasant end to the evening. However when turning around, looking to leave, I was awestruck and horrified to see a second moon rising in the north. In the muted landscape the orange/yellow moon of the Pluto Plant flame will remain the image that sums up the trip and this place: an image of the industrial sublime; a spectacle of lights.

Friday 24 September

The last day was full of images of the banal: Karratha’s back streets, local ovals, residential developments and industrial estates. Les and Christian even found themselves gazing in wonder at a washed out Chinese restaurant behind the main shopping centre.

Our last stop before the plane ride home was a beach in Dampier. The photographers spread out, finding new perspectives on the industry that they photographed from the sky the previous morning. Bill and I ventured down close to the shore to find a stream of clear salt water running into the silty ocean. I picked up a dark shiny shell intrigued by its tiny pattern only to discover it had legs. When I put him down and watched him walk off I noticed another shell moving beside him, and then in my stillness I noticed hundreds, even thousands of crabs enjoying the shallow clean water. It takes an interested eye but you can find endless amounts life all over the Pilbara – which is so comforting.

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The five gentlemen on this trip taught me new ways of looking, and what a thrill that is. The day of my return to Perth I wrote in my journal in gratitude: ‘The last few days I hope to preserve like a jewel in my life’s memories. I want to keep it, close and complete – like something precious.’

Cast of Characters (Belated Observations)

I wrote this a couple weeks ago, intending to post it, and just today realised that I neglected to do so.  As many of you know, a group of professional photographers and students traipsed through the Pilbara maniacally taking photos – some of which have been appearing on this blog the past couple weeks.

It has been very humbling traveling with the group of photographers including Peter Eastway, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher and filmmaker Michael Fletcher.  It allowed me to not only see through my own eyes, but also over the shoulder and through the viewfinder of these great imagemakers.  I am trying to decide if it is a comfort or discouragement that even they at times had difficulty capturing what lay before us in the Pilbara.

Christian Fletcher, the fearless leader, is well known to many in the Hedland community from his workshops and many trips to the area.  Knowing the area well, he brought together a superb group of photographers for this project.  While there was great camaraderie and banter between the artists, there was definitely friendly competition as well.  However, Christian was always there to make sure things didn’t become either too serious or silly.  Forever the teacher, he would talk his way through the photographing process, with the students hovering around picking up his knowledge.

Les Walkling, scientist and intellectual, saved his energy by avoiding frivolous banter.  But when he spoke, everyone listening dropped their jaw in either amazement or incomprehension.  A great teacher like Christian, he navigated the balance between technical prowess and conceptual thinking more than anyone else I have worked with, and was more than happy to share this knowledge. When he took a photo, he also became a photo, striking an epic figure in the landscape.

Tony Hewitt was the hardest for me to photograph.  Being primarily a portrait photographer, he would restlessly move in and out of the other people.  Unlike the landscape photographers who set up in a prime vantage point, he would look for the stories in the land as though he were taking a portrait.  A consummate mediator and generous of spirit, he always made sure the group was happy.  This is why he is one of the most sought-after photographers and public speakers in Western Australia.

Like Tony, Peter Eastway was also difficult for me to track.  He would immediately disappear when we reached a new location.  After a bit of searching, he could  be found in a prime location away from the others, discovering a sublime panorama or a gentle image of solitude in the vast horizon.  He  knew when he had a good picture, and didn’t waste his time if the light wasn’t perfect or the feeling wasn’t there.  These skills of discernment help make him one of Australia’s best photographers, as well as publisher of two of the most important Australian photography magazines.

Michael Fletcher, like most great filmmakers, studies how the scenery unfolds.  He can predict when something interesting is about to happen, and be at the perfect place to capture it.  Always watching, silently listening, he looks for the subtle moments or dramatic events that a single frame cannot interpret.  Working with manual focus, which is unique to many filmmakers, he is able to articulate the point between the vastness and intimacy of the landscape.

What reminded me I haven’t posted the above thoughts yet was that Mags from FORM just left for the Pilbara today with a new batch of professionals – two writers, a poet, a painter and another photographer.  I look forward to seeing and reading what they experience.  However, we will not forget the above mentioned photographers (and filmmaker), all of which promised to return to the Pilbara again soon.

The Pro’s

Here are some of the photos I took of the Pro’s in action.

The Pro's: Tony, Mike (or is that Christian?) Peter and Les

“OK, now let’s act normal”

After the “real” photo was taken the (colour co-ordinated, arms folded, looking off into the distance); it was time for the guys to act normal. Laugh, joke and takeout knee caps with Ninja Karate chops….!

Acting Normal

Battle Stations! When the car stop, it is every man for himself! A flurry of activity to get cameras, tripods and the best vantage point

The Cool Fletcher. Even on the hot salt flats Mike still manages to be cool.

Pete on the salt.

Christian and Tony shooting from the top of a rocky hill

My Pilbara Project

On Landscape:  Inherited expectations are reduced to no more than a hinderance against the vast spaces that belittle my concept of time and distance. Work dominates this landscape but doesn’t define it.  Vast projects shrink beside the land they try to possess, while everything is overpowered by the magnificent skies. Gold mines, both literal and imagined leave their mark, in both the landscape, and our dealings with it. The lie of the land can be deafening out here.

On Photography:  The colour palette I’m working with encompasses the entire visible spectrum: from purple, blue-cyan, green-yellow, to orange-red. A palette as broad and as muted as the land that reflects it. Even the most beautiful lenses fall short of seeing everything there is. How can a single plane of critical focus capture the complexity and sheer majestic presence of the Pilbara? I’m finding I need to combine numerous optical layers to even reach its surface.

On Editing Images:  I find myself needing to reduce the dominance of red. This washes clean the magenta-purples of distant ranges, clarifies the yellows in the spinifex, releases the vastness of the sky, adds vibrance to green foliage, and highlights the orange of the rocks and soil. This simple act shifts the land (orange) and the sky (cyan-blue) onto the colorimetric colour temperature curve. Light then appears to emanate from the land, and the land in turn lights up the sky.

On Weather:  A massive dust storm erupted, sucking vast quantities of soil into the sky. Between the lightening flashes and the spot fires they created, the sky had challenged the earth, and inherited the land. Later as the storms raged ahead of us, the storm clouds reflecting the land below shifted to purple. This dialectic between land and sky upstages our pictorial expectations. Yet another welcome surprise in a land full of surprises, both ancient and new.

On Art:  What I’m doing here comes from personal necessity. We all collect the richness of human significance in the best ways we know how. I’m no different. I’m just trying to visualize and analyze those ideas that don’t make sense to me, and hopefully this material thinking will be of some delight for others. Its genealogy is what delights me. Though ultimately my opinion is less interesting than what it might mean for someone to hold such an opinion. Like the land, I’m so happy to just be here.

Les Walkling

A New Pilbara Experience

Feb. 1, 2010.  Today is my first day of work.  I recently joined the team at FORM out of desire to work in regional Australia.  However, my prior experience traveling in Western Australia hasn’t brought me further North than the beaches of Dongara, further East than the farming communities surrounding Northam, or further South than the wineries enveloping Margaret River.

Previous to making Australia my home, I lived for a couple years in the Northern desert region of Mexico where I taught art at a University in Hermosillo.  When I first entered Mexico, I considered myself primarily a painter, with photography playing a supporting role.  After months of struggling to find my way with paint, photography soon became my dominant means to interpret the world around me.  The sublime landscape was filled with contradictions, bending my logic of space, colour and texture.  But rather than try capture what can’t be contained, my lens would find its way to the periphery, the small edges and ruptures appearing on the endless horizon.

Now after living in Australia for a couple years, the smell of oils and turpentine once again pervade my studio.  We will soon see if the Pilbara air has the same affect on me as the Sonoran Desert.

I lived in a new development on the outskirts of Hermosillo where cinderblock houses were erected daily in the liminal space between the city and the desert.

Day 1: Not long after we landed in Port Hedland, the group of photographers and filmmakers spread throughout the port.  The group includes Peter Eastway, Les Walkling, Tony Hewitt, Christian Fletcher, Michael Fletcher and local P.H.otography graduates Nicole, Simon, Faye and Judith.

Day 1: Peter Eastway shooting around Port Hedland

Day 1: Harbour tour of Port Hedland

Day 2: Making our way to Karratha

Day 2: Stopping at every panoramic view along the way

Day 2: Les Walkling in Cossack

Day 2: Michael Fletcher and P.H.otography graduates

Day 3: Tony Hewitt and Christian Fletcher touring the Dampier Archipelago

Day 4: Storm chasing on the way to Marble Bar

Day 4: Evening shoot at Marble Bar

Day 5: Morning shoot at Marble Bar

Day 5: Les at Marble Bar Pool

Day 5: Michael filming near Comet Gold Mine

Day 6: My first trip up to the Pilbara is beginning to wind down and this is the last day of shooting.  I will be spending much of the day in the Courthouse Gallery, surrounded by the brilliant P.H.otography exhibit (‘I Took The Time To Look’ Perspectives of the Pilbara), which had a grand opening last night.  Hopefully we will see a great showing for the ‘Meet the Photographers’ event tonight as well.

The past week has been an amazing experience.  Although we travelled non-stop, it only showed me how much more is out there.  It has been very humbling traveling with this group of photographers.  I am trying to decide if it is a comfort or discouragement that they even at times have difficulty capturing what lay before us.  I am traveling light as usual, using the Olympus E-P1 with the collapsible M. Zuiko 14-42mm lens.  Further observations on each of the photographers will be posted soon.

Day 6: Tony giving advice after the 'Meet the Photographers' event

Day 7: Final thoughts at the airport

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