The Photograph Explained: Autumn, West Coast Range by Rob Blakers

Autumn, West Coast Range

That which remains of the West Coast Range pretty much sums up what is so delightful about Tasmania. This highland alpine plateau is unburnt since the ice age that created the landscape itself. Ancient King Billy pines and Australia’s only winter deciduous tree, the deciduous beech, both Tasmanian endemics, grow between, around and over morainal boulders and ice-scraped bedrock. The view into the hazy morning sun is to the remote and rarely visited western region of the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, part of the Western Tasmania World Heritage wilderness.

It’s a privilege to be here.

This was the second attempt at this image, the first being the previous morning, when I’d realised after exposing a number of sheets of film that in my haste to set up in the pre-dawn the placement was askew. The tripod and camera position was too far to the right, precariously balanced on the sloping glacial erratic, and the whole composition was just out of kilter. Miraculously for Tasmania, the second morning was a twin of the first and with marking pebbles placed in hope the day before the positioning was more balanced and considered.

I could never shake the habit from smaller format days of replicating exposures, just to be sure. At $12 a click that becomes expensive, with landscape and portrait versions of the image and several of each, to be successively processed with any push or pull (very rare) adjustments as required. But it was better than the alternative, of being beaten by a fast changing light.

This image was made about a minute after sun-up, using a 65 mm wide angle lens on a 4 x 5 view camera, ASA 50 Quickload film. Forward tilt on the lens and around f16 at a second. I didn’t get the tilt and focus quite right, it’s a little soft where the ground falls away in the middle distance, discernible when the image is printed large. But the beautiful foreground detail, golden leaves and King Billy pine branchlets are, thankfully, crisp.

The image was part of a body of work that went towards a publication entitled “Endangered – Tasmania’s Wild Places”, published in 2007. This was a collaborative work of more than 20 photographers, all contributing images of wild places in Tasmania that lacked the legislative protection appropriate to their natural value. The book included images from the Styx, Florentine and Weld, all of which were under threat from logging at the time. These forests are now protected as World Heritage as a result of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement, although both state and federal Liberal parties insist that logging will once more be allowed in these magnificent forests, a move that would be opposed by both the Tasmanian logging industry and environmentalists alike.

Other places, such as that shown in the image here, remain available for mining exploration and mining.

Imagery can play a large role in conveying a sense of the extraordinary beauty of nature, to bring forest and the mountain to the city, so that the wild places that stand to be lost become more than just names on a map.

In the years since this image was made I transitioned to digital equipment. First to a DSLR which, after the large files obtained from scanned large format transparencies was frustratingly inadequate. The next step was to stitch multiple digital files to create large composite images which, in terms of composition, was disturbingly hit and miss. The final leap was to a medium format digital system.

An 80MP back on a technical camera body (a simplified view camera with limited movements) and good digital lenses delivers 480MB 16 bit tiff files that have incredible colour accuracy and detail. The scope for review whilst shooting, the convenience of handling files, the ability to focus-stack using multiple exposures, the facility to compose, preview and complete an image without changing backs, freedom from the cost of film, and most importantly, the delete button, all make for a system that is a joy to use. Indeed, the only downside is the hideous up-front outlay, especially of the digital back, which costs considerably more than a respectable car.

But the cost is forgotten when a large print is viewed, or when the file is explored on a good computer screen. Then, a landscape image becomes a wonderful and illuminating mosaic of the detail of nature.

Rob Blakers with 4x5 camera

Rob Blakers

Endangered – Tasmania’s Wild Places