Consider the example below. In northern New South Wales, a dozen nude models float in a deep, darkly coloured channel. They’re now posing for Australia’s hottest art photographer. “You must know this is a breeding ground for bull sharks?” a passer-by warns Tamara Dean as she prepares to film “Shoaling” with her digital Hasselblad camera. It’s up to you to get everyone out of there.” Tamara is instructing her models to leave the river immediately. For the daring photographer, entwining her human subjects with natural forces and forms to tell stories about humanity’s fragility and the world we live in is all in a day’s work.
One of her large-scale works from her latest 2018 collection, In Our Nature, is on show with Sydney’s Martin Browne Contemporary at Auckland’s Art Fair. One of her large-scale works from her latest 2018 collection, In Our Nature, is on display at Auckland’s Art Fair with Sydney’s Martin Browne Contemporary. The 41-year-old, multi-award-winning artist has works in galleries all over the world. From her home just outside of Sydney, she says the 21-image series “is a symbolic reminder that we are neither sovereign nor superior to nature, and that wreaking havoc on nature leads to our own downfall.” These epic, large-format photos were taken in the bushland and ponds of the Adelaide Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, giving the viewer a sense of being there physically. The four seasons affect the imagery, which draws parallels to the human ageing process.
A group of children kneels in a field of daisies, covering their eyes with their hands and looking up at the sun, as if they are imitating a young plant fighting for light. In another shot, pink-haired adolescent girls are entangled in a lotus pond; they, like the budding lotus, are on the verge of blooming. It took a long time to bring this series together. “I travelled to Adelaide on a scouting mission, and the lotus flowers had disappeared by the time I returned three days later,” she says. “It took another year for me to regain the ability to fire.” Even though she reappeared the next year, nature had the upper hand.
Her aim was to photograph the scene at dusk, during the golden hour just before the sun sets and the colours glow with warmth. Flowers, on the other hand, had different ideas. They needed Tamara to finish the scene in under 30 minutes because they were closing up shop at 4.30 p.m., which was quite an achievement when you’re leading a group of models in the water by yourself. She claims that the concept, the location, and the models are just a few of the elements that come together to produce a powerful image. Her social media appeals were largely successful even without payment deals.
One of the call-outs said, “Call out!” A new series in Adelaide is looking for models aged 80 and up.” The fine print notes, “Models must be comfortable posing naked.” Tamara claims that her models’ reactions to the concept had a huge impact on the final product. She laughs as she says, “At one point, the two, uh, more elderly models just started dancing around this tree on their own.” Tamara also struggled to select the final shot because each scene had too many frames to choose from.
“I avoid using faces to avoid over-personalizing the images, so when you look at it, it could be anybody in the scene.” Tamara worked as a staff photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald for the majority of her early career, but she was dissatisfied with the job’s high demands. “There was never an opportunity to perfect any aspect of your art,” she recalls. Her art career has benefited from the people and direction skills she gained on the job.
Now that she and her small family live on acreage a few hours outside of Sydney, she is more at one with nature, which is at the core of her work. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be in nature. I feel like I’ve returned home when I step into a forest.” Conor Clarke, a Berlin-based photographer, yearned for something special. To make a living as a painter. She fell in love with photography during her first year at Elam. Her large-scale, hand-printed work, which is shot on film rather than digitally, often looks at nature, especially water and epic landscapes, as well as how humans communicate with places and what we consider beautiful. She is intrigued by the idea that a location is so beautiful that you must go see it for yourself. “You know what the Eiffel Tower looks like, but you go anyway, take a selfie, and voila, you have evidence of experience.”
Conor, 36, tries to flip this idyllic landscape notion on its head by photographing a scene that, while not classically stunning, has all of the qualities of beauty when viewed in terms of shape, colour, and light. Take, for example, her steaming water tower photographs from the In Pursuit of the Object, at a Proper Distance sequence, one of which is on display at the Fair and was taken during a trip around Germany. These towers, which are actually water-cooling turrets, may turn off New Zealanders because they associate them with industry or pollution, she suggests, but for the locals who live among them, they are a sign of home.
“The puffs are really steam, not pollutants,” she says. And it was at sunrise and dusk that Conor captured them at their finest, with the sun reaching the steam and turning the puffs into otherworldly clouds. Conor graduated from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in 2005, but has remained in Berlin for the past nine years. “I believe many of us at art school fantasised about living in Berlin, despite the fact that we had little knowledge of the city.”
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