Back Stories

Every quarter I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the June 2018 issue now in newsagencies.

As published: EPSON MFP image

How well a photograph tells a story is something many of us look for in our own imagery and in other images that we view. Those of you who subject your images to critique by judges will often have heard them speak about the story it tells them. At my local photographic society a few nights ago, the judge told us he thought an image was powerfully showing the pain of a woman with cancer wondering whether she would survive to see the child her daughter was carrying. I have no idea whether his interpretation was correct, but it resonated with me.

In recent times I have begun exploring the stories behind some of the places that I photograph. For example, near to my home in a new suburb there is a hill that, when climbed, provides great views of the surrounding area – especially at sunset. They used to do hang gliding from the top. I recall seeing them often as I drove past.

Near the lower end of the path to the hilltop, there is a playground enjoyed by many neighbourhood children and their parents. Some elements of the playground are very useful for framing images of the hill. Others make interesting subjects in themselves because of their vibrant colours and angular shapes. Of course, images of your children or grandchildren enjoying the play equipment can also be captured.

As I make your way up the hill, camera in hand, I pass by four installed large rocks into which have been set the verses of Henry Lawson’s poem, Rain in the Mountains. Depending on the weather and time of day when I go for a walk, I can photograph images on and around the hill reflecting phrases in that poem. Misty cloud. Frowning mountains. Leaden grey sky. Night coming early. Rain passing. Golden afternoons.

Towards the top of the hill is a lone tree which makes a great focal point for images against the changing cloudscapes and moods of the sky. At the very top of the hill is a historic trig station as well as recently installed features, pointing to the various high points in the surrounding landscape and providing artworks for contemplation.

From the slopes of the hill you can see an historic building in the surrounding paddocks that have not yet been developed with townhouses and apartments. In the right late light, the building glows golden.

Along the paths that go around the hill as well as up it, there are information boards providing knowledge regarding some of these things, such as the trig station. Others share information about something I have never seen and previously knew nothing about. For the parkland slopes of this hill are the habitat of the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth (GSM).

When I put together illustrated articles for my occasional blog, I seek to learn more about things that I have photographed. I search the Internet. Working on articles about the trig station and the hill in general, I got quite a surprise. A biologist and environmental consultant that I know, Alison Rowell, has undertaken monitoring of the GSM and its habitat in this area during the very short lifespan of the adult GSM. Sadly, I am most unlikely to ever photograph a GSM. Adults are only seen under suitable weather conditions during a few weeks in spring and early summer. The males fly low and rapidly over the grassland searching for the females, which sit in areas of short grass.

However, I have learned what I think of as the back stories – about the hill, the trig station, and the historic building in the paddock. Reservoir Hill was so named because it once was the site of a reservoir – no surprise there.

The trig station was part of the national network of triangulation pillars providing reference points for measuring distance and direction and assisting in the creation of maps. A trig point typically consists of a black disc on top of four metal legs or concrete pillar, resembling a navigation beacon. It is also accompanied by a metal disc, which is located directly below the centre point of the tripod or on top of the pillar itself. This one is no exception.

The building in the paddock was part of Bells – the most powerful naval wireless base in the British empire and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.

Members of the APS often tell stories about their images – such as when they are putting together a series of images for a Conceptual Art Portfolio Award, when they are posting on the Friends of APS Contemporary Group Facebook group, or when they are presenting a talk at the annual convention.

Reservoir Hill Trig Station - by Brian Rope

Reservoir Hill Trig Station

Late light on Reservoir Hill - by Brian Rope

Late Light on Reservoir Hill



Presentation About Contemporary Photography

Last week I gave a PowerPoint presentation to members of the Canberra Photographic Society about Contemporary Photography. I promised to make the contents of that presentation available online. Here they are.

  • It is a lot about today’s lifestyle and about knowing the reasons for our images and about conceptual photography
  • Series are about a number of works based on an idea but the works need to be contemporary not traditional
  • It is not about competition or honours. It is about challenging ourselves in our thinking and in our photography
  • It is where the artist/photographer has imbued their own personal expressions/feelings of the life around them and of their own life experiences, moods, feelings into an image or series of images

2016 Iris Award

Winner 2016 IRIS AWARD

First Impression © Chris Bowes

The IRIS Award is an international prize recognising new and outstanding portraiture in photographic art. The criteria for selection focuses on portraits that are unique, compelling and engaging whilst maintaining excellence in photography.

Is this a Contemporary image? Is it even a portrait? Undoubtedly, there would be various responses to those questions.

2017 Olive Cotton Award

2017 Olive Cotton Award for photographic portraiture

Maternal Line 2017 © Justine Varga

This image was created without a camera. Its selection caused a great deal of controversy which, in turn, generated a lot of discussion and debate – including amongst members of the friends of APS Contemporary Group Facebook group. I welcomed the discussion. Is it a Contemporary image? I believe it is.

2017 NPPP

2017 National Photographic Portrait Prize Winner

Portrait of Richard Morecroft and Alison Mackay © Gary Grealy

Is this a Contemporary approach to portrait photography? Or is it traditional?

2018 Scone Photographic Art Prize

Scone Photographic Art Prize Winner 2018 © Anne O’Connor

It has quite a lot of white space around it because it was printed square on Velin Rag paper within an A3 matte. A Contemporary image? Yes, in my view.

2018 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize

2018 Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize Winner

Zach (standing in front of his friend’s home in “The Pines”

– an Australian town that sits on the fringes of society) © James Bugg

This competition requires entries to be Contemporary. So, clearly, this is considered Contemporary. I had no idea where “The Pines” was located. Dr Google suggested it was on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia. However, I’ve since learned that it is actually a precinct within the outer Melbourne suburb of Frankston North.

Horizons - Earth and Water

From the Photo Access exhibition “Horizons – Earth and Water” © Marie Lund

Created without a camera, generated by sunlight. When I was 9 years old I was creating images by sunlight – albeit by putting film negatives in contact with photographic paper in sunlight. In my view this image is very definitely Contemporary.

Faceless Self-Portraits

Earlier this year members of APS Contemporary Group invited to produce two dimensional self-portraits that did not include their face and submit them for exhibition. This arose following the debate mentioned earlier regarding the portrait winner of the Olive Cotton.

From the faceless self-portraits that I created I submitted three and am currently waiting to hear which (if any) the adjudicators will select. Here they are together with their accompanying artist statements.

Toyed tag

Toyed Tag

 Graffiti  artists  constantly  have  the  looming  threat  of  facing  consequences  for displaying  their  graffiti.  Many  choose  to  protect  their  identities  and  reputation  by remaining  anonymous. With  the  commercialization  of  graffiti,  in  most  cases,  even with  legally  painted  “graffiti”  art,  graffiti  artists  tend  to  choose  anonymity.  Being  a graphic  form  of  art,  it  might  also  be  said  that  many  graffiti  artists  still  fall  in  the category  of  the  introverted  archetypal  artist. So,  if  I  was  a  graffiti  artist (introverted  or not),  I  wondered  what  my  tag,  or  artwork, might  look  like.  I  came  up  with  this image to  represent  myself. It  incorporates  my  hand  plus  a  “word”  which  is  a  play  on  a nickname  I  had  in my  school  days. Acknowledging  that  I  am an  inexperienced graffiti artist  or  writer (a Toy),  the  piece  is crossed  out  with  the  word “toy”.

Love Carving

Love Carving

 Lovers sometimes carve their initials inside a heart shape on a tree, thus sharing something about themselves to all who later see their artwork. Rather than carving an actual tree, here I have superimposed my initials and those of my wife inside a heart shape on my image of a tree. The peeling bark and other changes in the tree’s surface since the “carving” was made have obliterated much of it, but those who know me will still read a little about me (and her) in the image.

My Road

My Road

A traditional portrait only shows what we look like at a moment in time when it was taken. An environmental portrait reveals more because it includes something of the environment in which we live or work. This composite image portrait seeks to show the viewer much more by featuring a selection of “waypoints” throughout my life from its starting point through to the present. Each “waypoint” is “attached” to a rope (reflecting my surname) and everything is overlaid on a photograph of a piece of road (representing my life journey). The viewer who studies the image will see places where I have lived, schools I have attended, people who have been a significant part of my life at various times, images revealing things that have been important to me, items that I have made and photographs of significance for me. The future journey is unknown – as in the past there may be unexpected paths to be followed. Viewers will, of course, have difficulty understanding the complete story behind some of the elements incorporated in the portrait, but will interpret it for themselves.

OK let’s look at some other individual shots of mine:

  The Shoes

Contemporary because of the bumper sticker and the “today” spare shoes decorations. (If the driver really is Gay, shouldn’t the spare shoes be in rainbow colours?)



Listening – who to? What is being said? Who else is part of the conversation? What is the relationship between these two and others speaking or listening? In other words, what is the story in this captured image?


Safe keeping

In safe keeping. The bottle of beer that is.


Back pocket

Contemporary because it shows today’s penchant for keeping phones in back pockets and also shows a little of what we consume? (And someone in the audience suggested it was also contemporary because it showed the current style of deliberately faded seats on the jeans.)



Contemporary because it isolated an item and provides no real context?



Contemporary because it shows the decay of a section of the building but not the whole thing in context?


Popular culture

Contemporary because it shows how today’s people need to incorporate popular culture into everything?


Now let’s look at some series, again my images:


 From the series “Skies”

Five views of (essentially) the same section of the sky at different times and during differing weather conditions.


From the series “From Moving Vehicles”:

Moving 1

Moving 2

Moving 3

Moving 4

Moving 5

A short un-named series captured in a darkened room lying in bed:

Dark 1

What is there beyond the nearby pillow?


Dark 2

Sunlight penetrating above the curtains reveals little inside

but shouts that the outside is very bright.


Dark 3

Further into the room there are just glimpses where the sunlight catches the edges.


Dark 4

Below the curtains and under a closed door the light barely penetrates.


Dark 5

Between curtain drops little is revealed

other than a glimpse of familiar hanging souvenirs.


Dark 6

Through an open door the light beckons from another room

beyond the unused exercise bike.


From an un-named series taken as I walked out from the AIPP judging recently:

Marker 1

This and other arrows had been placed there obviously to show the way in but when I spotted them on my way out I thought I’d capture something of my journey out showing not only the arrows but also other “markers” along the way.


Marker 2

Mystery “markers”.


Marker 3

Don’t trip, then wipe your feet twice.


Marker 4

There’s a step to the left.


Marker 5

And steps going up.


Marker 6

Let the light show the way.


Marker 7

Going around in circles now.


Marker 8

Back that way.


Marker 9

Anyone for hopscotch?


Marker 10

Diamonds through that door.


Marker 11

It’s clearly this way.



Finally, some links for those who are interested:

Things to read and consider:

Monash Gallery of Art – Australian home of photography –

Foto Relevance Deep Focus – Appreciation, History and a Place in Contemporary Photography –

Pat Brassington: the body electric – One of Australia’s most influential contemporary photo-media artists –

Essay: The Art of Photography –

Groups to join:

Friends of APS Contemporary Group –

and the Contemporary Group of APS itself –