Book Review: The View Camera Gathering – The First Five Years

thegatheringbook

Hardcover. Pp133
Published by: Lulu
Price: $65

ISBN 978-0-646-90639-3
ISBN 5 800095 630947

Quirk attracts attention. So the images on the front and back covers of this book, shot by David Tatnall and Danielle Edwards respectively, draw one to the publication. More on this later.

This book celebrates the first 5 years of the annual get together of large format (LF) photographers at Ellie Young’s Gold Street Studio at Trentham East, Victoria. Ellie facilitated the publication with assistance particularly from Danielle Edwards and they are to be congratulated for the labour of love that brought the book to fruition.

LF photography is a serious pursuit, but this does not mean that LF photographers are not fun people. A bit of serious stuff and a bit of fun – that is what The Gathering is about and that comes across in this book of record of the people, events and images.

Michael Prior with 8x10 camera

Nothing can trump living the dream of spending a weekend with a group of like-minded photographers in an environment abundant with photo opportunities, and discussing matters from photography to the meaning of life. If one tried to communicate the incommunicable in tangible form, what would The Gathering look like as a book? It would include lots of images made by the gatherers. But if that were all it did, it would be a unidimensional picture book. A multidimensional approach would include images of the gatherers at work doing what they like to do – out in the field with their cameras. It would also include some insight, written by the participants, into why they love LF photography, and why they keep returning to an annual meeting of a disparate bunch from beginners through to seasoned professionals, but all with a shared passion.

Fifty-three photographers have attended the event at least once. Images they have exhibited in the annual Gathering Exhibition constitute the major content component. Images are appropriately grouped into sections: Curley’s Hut, Kattemingga, Farms, Trentham Village and Surrounds, Trentham Falls, The Environment, and The Locals. Unlike a coffee table book of the work of one artist, there is no uniformity of style, tonality of images etc. But this would not be expected when the original images are a mixture of silver gelatin, toned or untoned, or alternative processes. What is true though is that each started as an exhibition quality print on photographic paper. It is disappointing that a lot of the original quality has been lost in the translation from exhibition print to image in a book, loss of detail in low tones having suffered most. But this book is about more than these images.

Thirty-nine candid views of photographers doing what they do – having a chat, hugging their camera, enjoying anonymity hidden under a dark cloth, having their portrait made, lying on their back on a hillside underneath their camera, being interrogated by a goat, examining images – all contribute to the sense of purpose and also fun.

Gatherers were asked to write a short piece about why they attended The Gathering, why they are passionate about LF photography and what equipment they use. The synopses make interesting reading, notwithstanding the essentially shared views expressed in diverse ways. But what makes this section particularly compelling is the addition of a portrait of the photographers with his or her text response. When, in the early meetings, David Tatnall was quietly recording candid images and portraits of individuals with their wonderful apparatus, I wondered why on earth he was doing this but it quickly became apparent that he was creating a valuable archive of the event and its people. And how correct he was! To me, the value of this publication hinges not on the exhibition images but in combining these with the wonderful portraits of the photographers.

Angie Turnbull by David Tatnall

On the one hand the choice of the front cover image must have been a ‘no-brainer’. On the other hand it was an inspired choice as it really represents a visual metaphor for the event. There is an inherent absurdity in the concept of large format animal photography. But the apparently anonymous photographer – Angie Turnbull – is showing extreme dedication and enthusiasm, as well as a sense of humour, in the expectation that two dogs will sit and wait while the pantomime of setting up an 8 x 10 LF camera is played out before them. Turns out that she was perceptive. One of the dogs is clearly a canine media tart enjoying the celebrity, while the other, relaxed and comfortably lying down, is clearly accustomed to the rigour and demands required of a LF photography model. But the metaphor does not end there. Several of us were sitting 5 metres away enjoying a Sunday morning coffee, offering gratuitous encouragement to the dogs and Angie, in that order, as the scene unfolded in front of us. But while we were being entertained, David Tatnall, the quintessential contemplative LF landscape photographer, showed his street savvy by quietly and unobtrusively capturing this apparently inane scene with his non-LF camera.

So within a circle of a few metres there is dedication, vision, enthusiasm, enjoyment, relaxation, fun and quick wittedness. And that is why this image, and indeed the book, is so good – it captures, in its multidimensional approach, the essence of ‘The View Camera Gathering’.

For the local community, this book should serve as a visual reminder of what is good and what they have preserved. One day it will fulfill a role as an important regional historical record. The images remind us that even the most seemingly useless or decayed object can be transformed by somebody prepared to recognise an intrinsic quality or beauty, into an image that can speak to the soul.

For the photographers, it should serve as a powerful generator for their future memories.

Lloyd Shield
January 2014