The Photograph Explained: Two Tall Trees, Mollymook by Stacy Arezou Mehrfar
In March 2010 I set about on a journey through New South Wales photographing for a collaborative book project entitled Tall Poppy Syndrome. Working alongside my friend and fellow artist Amy Stein, we traveled for one month exploring this complex cultural phenomenon and its manifestation in regional communities.
We left Sydney with a strong concept in mind. Having grown up in the States (Amy still lives in the US, while I was raised in New York but now live in Sydney), the notion that one should not ‘stand out from the crowd’ was a foreign and curious one. We realized early on in our research that the crux of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ lies in the relationship between the individual and the group and so it was this dynamic we sought out to explore.
Our schedule was intense. We were shooting from dawn till dusk, often driving a few hours in between each location. Prior to our departure we put together a shot list – we called it our “wish list”- which we referred to throughout our journey. Specific subjects included on the wish list were school children dressed in uniform, rugby teams, and social groups such as the CWA. In addition to the more specific subjects, we were also looking for the intangibles -the indescribables – the obscurities -that would speak to our concept. We had limited time in each location so many of our subjects were lined up before we started our road trip. However we also left ourselves open to the chance encounters that occur while photographing on the road – making sure to leave time at each stop to discover our surroundings.
This image was made in one of those ‘chance’ moments and ended up becoming the cover of our book. The two outstanding trees were a perfect fit – portraying the idea of standing out from your surroundings. When I first stepped out onto the balcony of the motel we were staying at and saw those trees peering at me I knew that this was an important photograph that had to be made.
Between us we had 2 Mamiya 7IIs, 1 Mamiya RZ, and 2 4×5 field cameras- a metal Toyo 45 CF and a wooden Zone VI. We chose to shoot the majority of the project in large format to keep in the tradition of social documentary photography. We wanted the details, the straight lines, the infinite information that large format affords the viewer. Using large format also forced us to slow down and contemplate our surroundings offering us a more controlled perspective. We had very limited time in each location so we decided to keep one field camera fitted with a 150 mm lens and the other fitted with a 135mm.
Two Tall Trees was shot with the 135mm at F45 with an exposure of approximately 2 minutes. I wanted the wide perspective that the 135 afforded me (I have an affinity for Telstra phone booths and felt it was an important part of the composition). The ‘two tall trees’ are both ominous and awe inspiring at once, while all the other objects seem mediocre in comparison – this is due to the combination of lens choice and large format camera. The image was made at dusk in order to create a more dynamic photograph – the balance between the daylight and tungsten of the photo booth, street lights, and cafe lights all add to the ambience of the space.
All the images in Tall Poppy Syndrome are scanned with an Imacon scanner and printed on Canson Baryta paper. Two Tall Trees is exhibited at 30×40” and framed with a white wooden frame.
To purchase a signed copy of the book, please check out the publisher’s website.
I have included a photo of myself from our road trip (I was about 7.5 months pregnant at the time) with the Zone VI – this image was taken in Grenfell NSW.