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



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