The Pilbara Close Up

My name is Christine and I live in Aubin Grove south of Perth.

My family and I began travelling around Australia 10 years ago and didn’t make it home. ( We come from NSW )  My passion is macro and close up photography and last July I spent a week in Karijini with my husband and daughter and a borrowed camera.  I loved it and am planning another, longer trip with a much better camera ( I hope ).

2011 Karijini Workshop with Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt

At the end of March i ventured off on my long awaited trip to Karijini National Park for a photography workshop to be held my by photography idols Christian Fletcher, Peter Eastway and Tony Hewitt. I had been waiting for this trip for a year now, ever since i found out about last years trip.

So i knocked off work at around lunch time, pack my camera gear and borrowed Macbook (cheers Manda!!), said goodbye to my girls and off i went. There was some really low cloud forming up over the pilbara and there was many chances to pull over and shoot off a few rounds but i resisted as i didnt want to be the last one to Karijini.  I’d hate to miss something haha.

3.5 hours later i had arrived and what an awesome drive it was through the end of the Hammersly Ranges. I went and check into my shared accomodation. I met with my room mate Karl. He runs his own photography and framing business in Gero. He is a top bloke and man did he have some camera gear!!! Check out his blog: so we headed back to reception to see who else had arrived and settled in with a few quiet beers. Christian and the boys rock up about 7:30 and everyone introduced themselves and gave a bit of a run down on whats going to be happening over the next 4 days. Its now become quite clear that there wasnt going to be much time for sleeping.

Day 1 – Oxers Lookout Sunrise Shoot

4:00am the alarm goes off for a 4:30 start down to Oxers Lookout. This is the place where 4 gorges come together (Hancock, Weano, Joffre and Red). Everyone is very excited to get out there and start shooting. I set my camera up on the tripod, find a nice position on the lookout platform, point my camera in the general direction and wait for the vivid light the Pilbara is famous for. I start shooting and as the photos show up in the lcd screen im quite pleased. This is going to be a great trip i thought to myself. I end up shooting about 1.3GB worth of RAW photos and im looking forward to getting back to start editing the photos. After the shoot we head back to the Eco Retreat where everyone freshen’s up and started downloading their cards. As im looking through mine i realize there all slightly out-of-focus due to the small amount of movement caused by people walking around on the lookout platform!! AMATURE!!! i thought to myself, Ive got a lot to learn! Anyway here is 1 shot that i managed to get away with.

After that we head over to the caretakers quarters for a few presentations and lunch.

Day 1 -  Sunset Shoot Over the Range’s

We headed off about 4:30 in the afternoon to see if we could capture some magic sunset light. There were a few clouds around but they were very thick and mostly hanging around the horizon. The boys had since told us about the technique of Focus Stacking where basically you take several photos of the same scene and blend them all together so in the final photo the whole scene is in focus. Sounds like a good idea to me! everyone set off on there own little adventure centered around this hill. There was plenty to shoot, sometime a little too much. Again when i got back i wasn’t happy with what i produced and its was then i really started doubting myself and wondering what the hell i was doing on this course!

Here are a couple from that shoot.

Day 2 – Sunrise shoot and Weano Gorge

We got up again for an early morning shoot close to Weano Gorge. We were let down by the lack of cloud. Only very light cloud around the horizon and not much else. It also made for a very chilly morning. Tony grouped us all together and gave us a very informative lesson on how light plays a very important part in not only portrait photography but all kinds of photography. He used the early morning glow for a couple of portrait shots of the group. It was great advice and a very fun start to the morning. We then wondered around the bush taking a few snaps before heading down to Weano Gorge. With the recent rains accross the Pilbara there was plenty of water in the gorges. Its always a great sign when you can hear the waterfalls before you even come close to seeing them. I was getting very excited! Ive been wanting to shoot some waterfalls for a very long time. We get down there and the light was just starting to filter in. As the sun comes up, it hits the walls and reflects onto the water making for some pretty spectacular scenes. The waterfall systems in Weano are fairly tight and compacted together and we seemed to be getting in each others way, so the decision was made for half of the group to stay and the other half to head over to Hancock Gorge. I stayed in Weano as i had just set up and was in a very comfortable position and could see the red reflections starting to light up the water.

Here are some shots from Weano Gorge.

Day 2 – Joffre Gorge Sunset Shoot

After a few more workshops back at the Eco Retreat we headed out to Joffre Gorge for a sunset shoot. This is the closest gorge to the retreat so the idea was to get out, get some shots, get back to the Retreat for a night time photoshop workshop run by Christian. We walked down to the top half of the gorge and there were a lot of little waterfall systems to keep everyone busy. I headed down to try and get a good angle of the main waterfall but everywhere i tried to set up there was something in my way. Some rock just poking into the scene that just through the whole photo off. So i just sat down and watched the waterfall for a while. 2 young German backpackers jumped down to the ledge i was sitting and and started having a chat about what we were all doing. Now me sitting with these 2 young, attractive German backpackers provided alot of entertainment for the rest of the group haha cheeky buggers!! After about a 20 minute chat with them and a few photos of them in the gorge, i was back into the action. Im very happy with my shots from this gorge, especially the last shot of the day. The waterfall with the tree over the top. The sun had well and truely started to go down and the rest of the group had started headed out of the gorge when i spotted this. I just had to take a few snaps. I havent even put my shoes and socks back on yet!! I set the camera up, 30 second exposure, manual focus on the rocks and away i went. While it was shooting, i raced over and started putting my socks back on. Next i focused in on the tree above the waterfall and get the shot off! I quickly pack up and race back up the gorge.

We head back to the retreat for dinner and then settle in for Christians photoshop tutorial. Now i dont know if everyone had 1 too many beers or a touch of sun stroke, but man this was a tough session to get through. It wasnt tough in the sence of actually being hard to follow but tough in the sence people were getting left behind and getting stuck and slow computers. Im sure Christian had a few more greys in that head of his by the end of the night. It was a really good session actually with plenty of laughs. Peter Eastway didnt really help the situation either with his brilliant 1 liners.

Here are some shots from Joffre Gorge.

Day 3 – Hancock Gorge Sunrise Shoot

After our midnight finish last night, we got to have a bit sleep in this morning due to the lack of any decent sunrises. 5:00am was our starting time! The group that went to hancock gorge yesterday morning will do weano today and vice versa! We headed down the steep gorge and i was at the front of the pack. Theres only enough room for 1 or 2 photographers at kermits pool without getting in each others way, so i made my way down there first. Its a bit of a mission to get down there with alot of rock climbing and a nice refreshing swim chucked in for good measure. I charged ahead, coming to a bit of a dead end. There was this waterslide like section which lead to a nice little waterfall at the end. I approached it from a few different angles and still had no idea how to get down to the bottom of it. Maybe i’ve taken the wrong track? That’ll teach me for rushing off hahaha. So i headed back towards the group. They were all still coming this way, i must be right, so i took off back towards the waterslide. I looked around a bit and then saw the sign “Kermits Pool”. I was already there hahaha. I later found out you can get past the waterslide section, but its a massive mission and you need a tour guide. So i got my shots of Kermits Pool and head back up so others could head down and get their photos. There are a lot of waterfall systems in Hancock aswell, plenty to keep me busy. I think Hancock would have to have been my favourite gorge.

Here are some shots of Hancock Gorge.

Day 3 – Dales Gorge Sunset Shoot

After some more workshops back at the Eco Retreat, we headed out to Dales Gorge. This is probably the most “touristy” of all the gorges. It is home to Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool. Most of the group stayed around the main falls, Christian and a few of us when in search of a few of the smaller waterfall systems. We treked down about half way between fortescue falls and circular pool and found a bunch of flat rock and some beautiful colour reflecting off the rocks. We got a late start getting into the gorge so we didnt get a lot of time in there. Here are a few i managed to get.

Day 4 – Altered Landscape Sunrise Shoot

With most of the gorges now done, we were given the task to shoot Altered Landscapes, Christian’s latest fasination. Its actually a good concept, how much we have impacted the landscape, and how much we will impacted in the future, well thats my take on it anyway. Even at a place like Karijini, in the middle of no where, you can find places where we have change the landscape. Some people were really keen on the project, a few others not so much. I have got a few shots which i still want to process when i get the time.  Here are 2 of my favourite ones from the morning.

Day 4 – Dales Gorge (Circular Pool)

The last night of the workshop and we headed back to Dales Gorge. The group split in 2, half went to the flat rocks we went to the day before and the rest of us made our way to Circular Pool. I was pretty disappointed when i got there. There wasnt much of a waterfall. I had also left my zoom lens back at the retreat so i couldnt get in close enough to the falls. I noticed on the way in a few smaller water falls through the rocks so i thought i’d head back and have a crack at them. I havent had much of a chance to edit any of these yet, mainly due to the fact i dont really like them haha. Once back on top of the gorge, the sun had set and there was some really nice afterglow. I decided i wanted a nice Focus Stacked Panorama so off i went.  This is a 7 image focus stacked panorama. Once finished i tried to save it as a .tiff file but it was over 4GB.  I flattened the image and saved as a .jpeg and its still 38MB in size.  Im going to enter this in the up coming Epson Pano Awards. I’ll let ya know how i go.

This has been such as awesome 4 days with a great bunch of people. People i hope to stay in touch with. A massive thank you to Christian, Tony and Peter for the time, help and general banter! I dont think there was a serious word said the whole trip. I already cant wait for next years workshop. Bring on Karijini 2012!!!

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



Head’n down that dear old road
The fragrance of wattle pungent
Crossing over dry creek beds
Tall Cadjaputs and River gums abundant.

Our dust appears suspended
In sunlight shafts extending
As  closing of day draws near
Timeless vistas and plains never ending.

A nice camp fire in mulga
Stars so bright, the wind ever sighing
The cold grey light of dawn
Brings a Honeyeater, her faint calling.

A bleary eyed peep from my swag
Finds me in this peaceful place
With dew drops on branchlets sparkling
As the first rays of sunlight embrace.

My thoughts in contentment now
I must quietly depart thee
To continue along this dear old road,
Towards distant blue ranges, that beckon before me.


Passion of the Pilbara

Together with my very young family we lived in Port Hedland from the years 1977 – 1986.  It was not long before I found myself involved with a small but keen arts group.  There were probably no more than about six of us that were into painting along with a number of folk who were involved with pottery and one or two others who were into textiles/weaving.

The  old Port Hedland Wittenoom  road became one of my most travelled routes. It led my young family  safely all the way to Wittenoom at a time when very few  locals were able to share much knowledge of Wittenoom or about driving the old road (the only access to the town from Port Hedland unless one was to travel via Marble bar or south to Roebourne and then out via Millstream (indeed a very beautiful route).  There was  a very small tourist center in the main Street and when enquiring as to Wittenoom and how best to reach that town the young lass could give me little or no info. Perhaps she was just filling in for someone who may have had a bit more knowledge.

That first trip to Wittenoom was to be the turning point in my life and opened a whole new passion and desire to explore, photograph and more so to endeavour to paint this amazing and timeless landscape.  Soon after arrival in the then still thriving town of Wittenoom we visited the very excellent tourist center which back then was owned and run by the Mcguire family. The family also ran the Pilbara Pathfinder tour coach. I remember seeing the coach in Port Hedland on a number of occasions.  The staff recommended we visit the Jabiru Art Gallery and see the works of its owner, (now the late) Leslie Styles.  I was so immediately impressed with her work. Lesley Styles’s fine painting was to have a profound and everlasting effect on me and a new found  wish to try and capture this amazingly beautiful Pilbara.

Images of Karijini

Marching Through the Pilbara

Earlier in March, the journeying of creative minds through the vast Pilbara landscape continued as internationally renowned writers Barry Lopez, William (Bill) Fox and Mark Tredinnick, landscape portraitist Larry Mitchell, photographer Paul Parin and FORM facilitators, Mags Webster and Carolyn Karnovsky descended into the gorges of Karijini and wove through kilometres of dusty roads up into Millstream before hitting the cooler shores of the Pilbara’s west coast.

For Barry, Bill and Mark this was their first Pilbara experience. How fitting it was that it started at the tiny, quintessentially ‘outback’ airport at Paraburdoo. As we stepped off the plane and into the enveloping wall of heat and ducked our way past giant, flying grasshoppers into the arrivals shed it was clear from the wide eyes and huge smiles of our intrepid travellers that the adventure had well and truly begun.

After loading our gear into the back of a couple of utes we hit the road (keeping an eye on the bags and backpacks that threatened to bounce off the back of the tray), arriving in Tom Price just before sundown.

That evening the true conversation began over the experience ahead of us. What would we see? Who would we meet? How would the experience change us?

Our first full day started at a bleary-eyed 4:30am which, despite being difficult for some, was well worth it for the incredible dawn light that welcomed us as we entered Karijini National Park.

, Barry, Mags and Mark listening to the hum of bees in the morning sun

Guided by Paul (a frequent visitor of the Park) our first stop was Oxer lookout to take in the breathtaking views of the junction point where Red, Weano, Joffre and Hancock Gorges intersect.

Mark, Paul, Larry and Barry peering over Oxer lookout

With the promise of a cooling dip, we descended the rocky steps down into the prehistoric terrain of Weano Gorge. Cameras and notebooks were packed safely away as with both hands we gingerly navigated the slippery rocks and ‘abseiled’ our way down into the black waters of Handrail Pool. Our reward for exploring Karijini during the searing summer temperatures was being able to swim in the pool which at other times of the year is cold enough to warrant wearing a wetsuit.

Mags gathering herself before navigating the slippery rocks and later, calming herself in Handrail Pool

As tempting as it was to continue floating in the pool all day, we slowly snaked our way up and out of Weano Gorge (taking one or two breathers along the deceptively steep steps) and continued down into the rocky amphitheatre of Kalamina Gorge.

Barry, Mark, Mags and Carolyn at Kalamina Gorge

After a short visit to the lookout over Joffre Gorge we continued to what would be the highlight of the day- Hamersley Gorge. Nothing can prepare you for the dramatic colours and the complex patterning of the rock faces caused by millions of years of complex geological forces. The purple hue of the surrounding rocks is quite astonishing and something that can’t be captured on camera, despite even Paul’s best efforts.

Paul Parin getting into position at Hamersley Gorge. Photo on right by Paul Parin

With the heat of the day and muscle fatigue finally taking its toll, we finished the day with another swim before heading back to Tom Price for a solid night’s sleep.

Day two began at a much more leisurely hour and by mid morning we had reached the top of Mount Sheila for an unforgettable morning tea, courtesy of Elaine and Frank Argaet (graduates of FORM’s P.H.otography workshops).

Bill atop Mount Sheila. Photos by Paul Parin

Elaine and Frank are Tom Price residents and kindly offered to be our guides for the day, taking us along the private road that connects Tom Price to Millstream-Chichester National Park. The road is long and unless you’re Car One in the convoy, very dusty… What met us when we finally reached Millstream was a lush wetland oasis, springing from an underground aquifer and fringed with date palms and paperbarks. The water, which is fed from the Fortescue River through porous dolomite rock, is crystal clear and luminous, shimmering shades of turquoise and vivid green. The site branded any of us speechless for quite some time as we all took a quiet moment to take in the majesty of the place.

Chinderwariner Pool, Millstream Chichester National Park. Right hand photo by Paul Parin

By late afternoon we had reached the Dampier coast, welcoming the sea breeze that we had been without for the last three days.

By Sunday we had reached the midway point in our journey and in many ways, this was the day that really connected the experience for the group. We had journeyed from the centre of the Pilbara where much of the State’s resources are extracted and followed the ore trains and gas pipelines to the coast, arriving at the Dampier Archipelago to see the huge port operations which ship these resources offshore.

Our tour of the Dampier Archipelago started with our local guide, Shane Peters taking us to the Burrup Peninsula to view the area’s rich repository of Aboriginal rock art. The Archipelago is considered to have the largest concentration of rock art in the world, estimated at perhaps a million petroglyphs.

Barry, Bill and Mark at Burrup Peninsular. Photos by Paul Parin

Our tour of the Dampier coast continued by boat taking us through the calm waters of Mermaid Sound to Malus Island, a barren place stripped bare of all its trees during its operation as a whaling and pearling station in the 1870s. Many of the islands that we passed through Flying Foam Passage are stark in their beauty. Jagged rock faces tumble into the water, occasionally softened by mangroves or the white sands of a secluded bay.

Exploring the Dampier Archipelago with Shane Peters (top Left). Photos by Paul Parin

By Monday we had farewelled the Burrup and were starting to make our way towards Port Hedland, taking in Cossack, Point Samson and Roebourne along the way. But first, a mandatory stop at the Pilbara Perk in Wickham. This cafe provides the best cup of coffee and blueberry muffin in the whole region – official! Owner Ross Wall was on duty and he impressed our dust-stained panel of judges (as everyone knows, coffee is the fuel creativity – well, it is for some of my FORM colleagues), all of whom, since leaving Perth, had been hanging out for the real deal in caffeine.

The ideal place to work off the subsequent buzz proved to be Cossack, a place which invites contemplation, so literally does it spirit the visitor into another age with its gracious buildings and solid masonry. Established in 1872 at the mouth of the Harding River, Cossack was the birthplace for the West Australian pearling industry and was a bustling port for some years, gradually declining over the turn of the last century until it was abandoned in the 1940s.

Next stop the town of Roebourne, and Roebourne Art Group. This dedicated collective of talented Aboriginal artists was established in 2002, and through beautiful paintings it produces profound commentaries on the changing landscape of this part of the Pilbara.

Kaye Warrie and Loreen Samson show Barry, Mark, Mags and Bill their catalogue of artwork. Photo by Paul Parin

Lunch was in the lovely coastal village of Point Samson. And it was very good. If blue bone groper is on the menu, order it.

A final detour in the area took us to inspect The Claypans Project just outside Roebourne, a massive earth/art project designed and executed in the middle of 2009 by artists Arif Satar and Audrey Fernandes-Satar and around 400 local schoolchildren. Now beginning to degrade and disintegrate back into the landscape as originally planned, this bas-relief sculpture still has the power, even in the bleaching light of the afternoon, to cast shadows which trick and intrigue.

On arrival in Port Hedland (via Whim Creek and the ‘hello Harry’ cockatoo at the pub) we embarked on a sunset boat trip around the harbour. The hulls of container ships reared up in the gathering dusk, and we speculated on the size of the crews required to pilot these titan vessels. In these days of computer-aided ‘everything’, probably fewer than one would imagine. After all the natural wonders we had witnessed over the last few days, these testaments to human engineering and design, as much as the cargo they were designed to carry, were a stark reminder of what happens to the stuff that comes out of the ground where we had so recently been walking.

Photos by Paul Parin

It was perhaps no surprise that during the final day, there was a sense of ‘powering down’ as we all began to ease ourselves out of Pilbara time into shapes that would fit back into our usual lives. Goodbyes at Perth airport were quick, no need to blur them with any more words. We’ll save those for the time when the experience of the trip has settled, and some of its power can be translated. It’ll come in its own time, like the red dust, or better still, the water, working its way up through the many strata of consciousness, until it filters out into the air.

Gorge Glow

L-R, Larry Mitchell, Mark Tredinnick, Barry Lopez, Mags Webster, Bill Fox, Carolyn Karnovsky, Paul Parin

I have all just recently returned from an amazing cross country expedition through the Pilbara. My traveling companions  consisted of 4 writers, a painter, a project manager and myself, one very humbled photographer. The shared experience that followed was truly unique and indeed very special as we all brought our different skills, perceptions and broadly different life experiences along for the ride. We looked, watched, tasted, swam and sweated as we traipsed from east to west and experienced a fairly broad cross section of what this dramatic Pilbara region has to offer.

More images to follow…

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