My first hour

I first arrived in the Pilbara after already spending most of the year traipsing the globe, my most recent sojourn being a leisurely three weeks sunning myself on the Greek Islands. Returning to winter in Perth left me restless. Seeking instant change and Vitamin D I migrated North to Port Hedland in search of warmer weather and a career in journalism.

I touched down on the late afternoon flight, met by my manager and an exquisite sunset - those in the know will tell you this is prime landing time in Hedland. What we see at ground level translates to ethereal in-flight views as twisted creeks snake through mangroves and the stillness of salt lakes meet with rough red earth.

Following a brief stop at my new office I found myself  largely outnumbered by men – all orange and steel capped - at the local pub, perched on the waterfront and catching the cool sea breeze perfectly. With drink in hand (the house white in a plastic cup) I was introduced to ”the cricket boys” and had my vital statistics assessed: How long have you been here? How long are you staying? Got a boyfriend?

I was feeling a little out of my depth in my new surrounds, and when somebody handed me a grubby looking stubby holder to cool my drink the look on my face must have said it all. ”Ah she’ll never make it through the summer” said one particularly loud orange man. A challenge, “Oh I’m pretty sure I can handle a couple of hot days thank you.” Politely accepting, I slipped my plastic cup o’ wine into the stubby holder.

It was right then, with a determination to prove to myself I could “make it through the summer” in this dusty red town, my Pilbara adventure began.

Pilbara Time

T-shirt modified by A.B.

When it comes to Port Hedland I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Over the past two years or so Hedland has become such a  part of me that I’ve become immersed in this surreal place – so different from anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s ingrained in all of my senses: red dirt, mammoth skies, searing heat, sea breeze, the horns of  trains and ships sounding in the dark, a horizon flecked with lights.

The pointed intersection of sand, red dirt, industry and sea fascinates me. As does the notion of the weather dictating everyday life – from November to March air conditioning becomes a luxury that we cling to as best we can, and come winter there’s barely a moment spent indoors as we try to soak up as much of the outdoors as possible.

For me the Pilbara engages an unabashed mix of beauty and brazenness that can leave me exhausted but always wanting more. Most people come here with the aim to leave but find themselves enveloped in an unlikely comfort that seems to make time go by with the blink of an eye. Perhaps this is the true meaning of ‘Pilbara time’ – the phrase originally coined to reflect the laidback attitude and diregard for real time that Pilbarians frequently display.

All I know is I came to Hedland for six months and more than two years later I’m still here…

The Pilbara Project Teaser

The Pilbara Project from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.

Well here it is. A post at last. In my defense editing video is a longer process than editing one still image at a time. Those stills guys, Tony, Les, Christian, and Peter have it easy.

It was a real honor to be involved with “The Pilbara Project” and many thanks go to FORM for giving me the opportunity to hang out with some amazing photographers and not just the professional ones. It was also great to see the graduates of the previous photographic courses enjoying the experience of shooting with the pros and not being intimidated by their experience.

This clip though short took a lot of time to produce and I am already seeing ways I could of done it better but it’s just a taste of what is to come. I have hours of footage and audio to sort through and hope to add to the project in future visits to the Pilbara with my new mates Les, Tony, Peter x2, Carolyn, Linda, Jane, Faye, Judith, Nicole, and Simon. Christian didn’t get a mention because he’s my brother not my mate (too long sharing the same room hehe!!) but I must say that he is instrumental in all of us being here and for that reason I think we all cant thank him enough.

Cheers for now guys……

Mike Fletcher


*I sat down and wrote this one for my blog as well*

Remember there are many ways to tell a story, even one story can have many takes. Well, this story along with its vastness will always going to be enchanting, exciting and above all unique.

When invited to be part of the Pilbara Project late last year, I was ecstatic to even be selected amidst lots of enthusiastic photographers and I am so honoured to be chosen. Like any other person who first arrived in this town, the thought of spending days in the heat and dust wasn’t very appealing, I soon got distracted after buying my first SLR camera months after we arrived. The view through my lens was much more intriguing and exciting than the heat and red dust. And that was nearly 7 years ago.

Last week was a blast, as the photographers arrived to start The Pilbara Project. It was exciting seeing the town again from fresh new eyes; Eyes that have been honed for decades to see beauty, colour and light. We started with a tour of the town and just minutes after we took off driving around town, I could already sense the excitement the town is bringing to the group. A drive to a very familiar street took new meaning as I study the light that is hitting the buildings and structures. The camera started clicking non-stop until the harbour cruise at sunset.

An early morning shoot kicks off on Monday and a drive to Roebourne took on a new twist as we stop to every photographic location possible, thanks to the pros. Tuesday seen us taking the BHP tour, who is a major sponsor of this project, thanks to their generosity, this project is possible. The next two days were spent driving to and from Marble Bar and experiencing the coming of the thunderstorm first hand (well, more like right there happening in front of me). Thursday also was the opening night of the “I took the time to look” exhibiting photos from last year P.H.otography workshop as well as “From Somewhere Else” painting exhibition from local artists. It was a great night showing all the very talented people in Hedland. We finished off on Friday with a tour of the Port Authority and Dampier Salt as well as a night with the photographers.

It was a week that is truly an experience to be treasured. You remember the time when something happens to you and you know that it will forever stay and be a part of you. I felt that way, I knew my experience last week will shape the kind of photographer I will become in the future. I have learned heaps from each of the photographers and I will always be indebted to them for freely sharing their knowledge to me.

An Amazing Journey!

I have lived in the Pilbara for the past 15 yrs and I see it as one of the most amazing and interesting places I have ever been. I am still in awe of the colours, textures and the vastness of my home.

I am one of the PHotography students who got to spend time with and learn from the ‘Pros’ – Christian, Tony, Peter, Les & Michael along with fellow students Judith, Simon & Nicole. Last week was spent seeing my stomping ground through their eyes and I have to say it was amazing! It was also at times comical to see who each person was watching and which way each camera was pointing. Thanks to Carolyn & Peter for their fantastic organisational skills, along with some fantastic conversations.

I am so thrilled to have been selected (thanks Christian) to participate in the Pilbara Project. (I have bruises from pinching myself) The concept of this project is brilliant and I am grateful to be a part of it. I have taken part in the PHotography 08 & 09 courses and have gained so much from the experience. I have always loved taking photos but now I love photography.

My photography journey has truly only just begun and I am so very pumped to continue on my way, and through this blog, share my journey with others.

Amazing Thunderstorm

Photo by Peter Eastway

It was pretty hot yesterday. On the road it was definitely 50C due to the heat radiated by the back bitumen, but possibly the official temperature was closer to 43C or 44C. Either way it was hot and in the mid afternoon, I was quite comfortable, cocooned in our 4WD with the air conditioning on full blast.

As we drove towards the Marble Bar turnoff from Pardoo Station, we watched a wet season thunderstorm grow and develop. The road seemed to be skirting around the edge of the weather cell and in the distance we could see some willy-willies forming – small tornados of red dust climbing into the dark sky above. As photographers, it was more than we could resist.

We found a side road that lead to a slightly raised vantage point above the Pilbara plain. Thunder rolled ominously as we walked around the flanks of a small hill in the stifling heat, but heat was the furthest thing from our mind as we watched Nature unfurl the most remarkable display I can remember. Lightning ripped through the cloud mass, starting spot fires on the grassy plain, and the willy-willies merged into a minor dust storm, picking up red earth in its path. It felt like we were on the edge of a huge amphitheatre.

They say that travelling in the North West during the wet season isn’t necessarily a good idea because of the heat and the wet, but after our experience today, that little gem of advice has been relegated to the dust bin. Simply amazing!

Peter Eastway

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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