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The Art of Photography in the Age of the Selfie



Peter Walsh is a Tasmanian Wilderness photographer. I caught up with him at His Ancestral Dreams Exhibition at The Art Society of Tasmania's Lady Franklin Gallery just before I left.

Peter talks about his work

Peter is passionate about trees. At a time when almost anyone one can take a picture of what they see, Peter seeks to capture what he feels when he sees them. Peter is a thoughtful, softly spoken man. He gives me the impression that he would rather be out among the trees than talking about his work. He tells me that he is inspired by the words of legendary photographer, Ansel Adams:

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses

what one feels, in the deepest sense,

about what is being photographed.”

~ Ansel Adams ~

Here's how Peter describes it:

"I enjoy spending time in the forests of lutruwita/Tasmania. After a while, plants and trees begin to take on their own identity, a more sentient presence. The trees often emit an eccentric persona, previously concealed, perhaps the making of imagination or subconscious memory, but uncannily and immediately present. It’s hard to ignore. They are curious, commanding, familial. Sometimes foreboding, always communal. I’ve been left with a deeper understanding and recognition for the Indigenous reality of family in nature, kinship in country...."

To explain what he means, Peter shows me a photo in which a fallen tree lies across the branches of another. This had immediately made him think of  Michelangelo’s La Pietà - the marble sculpture now in the Vatican, of a sorrowful Mary cradling Christ after he has been taken down from the cross. He shows me the image he means in an  Art book.


This photo of La Pieta is by Jean -Pierre Dalbera

In another work there is a tree which appears to be supporting its companion. This pair reminded Peter of Jack Levine's 1962 painting “The Last Waltz.” The last Waltz was in reference to the fact that these trees were in a coup that was to be logged. However, fate - possibly in the form of the Bob Brown Foundation, intervened, and they were spared.

The Last Waltz

While there is an air of tragedy about many of these images, as indeed there is upon seeing some of these ancient trees in our forests -they have survived so much – centuries of storms, fires, the depredations of loggers and insects, and are now threatened by climate change, but not all the images are sad. One for example, shows a venerable old tree appearing to pass on wisdom to the next generation. 


 Peter’s techniques are unusual too. He renders his images in greyscale on rag and linen. We aren’t distracted by colourful fungi or glowing mosses. This lays bare their form and texture and makes them appear very tactile. Touch and feeling are closely aligned in the English language. For example, we say that’s touching, when we mean that something moved us emotionally.

There's another quote which inspires Peter:

"..isn’t it that one wants a thing to be as factual as possible, and yet at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensations other than simple illustrating of the object that you set out to do? isn’t that what art is all about?”                                                               - Francis Bacon 

It seems to me that Peter has succeed admirably on both counts. He really does make us feel for these trees, even the sad and broken ones.

By the way, I've just found out that this laptop doesn't render things in their true colours. The originals are much more vibrant, so it's best to see them in a gallery if at all possible