wotwedid

Victoria Cooper+Doug Spowart Blog

Essay for BEN KOPILOW’s “BLACK SUMMER – THE AFTERMATH” Exhibition at PhotoAccess Canberra

with 2 comments

Burnt trees – Namadji

Burnt trees – Namadji

.

Revisiting the Fire Ground

.

The Australian summer of 2019-2020 will be remembered for the catastrophic and devastating fire disasters that wrought havoc to the east coast of the country. It was not hard to be affected by powerful, confronting, heart-stopping, emotion and grief laden images captured of this event by Australia’s best photodocumentary photographers including Nick Moir, Dean Sewell, Kate Geraghty, James Brickwood, Stephen Dupont, Adam Ferguson, Brad Fleet, Sean Davey and Elise Searson. Their images, seen at the time, are emblazoned in our memory of Australia burning that summer. 

.

While considering the theme of the exhibition Black Summer – The Aftermath by Ben Kopilow showing at PhotoAccess in Canberra, I wondered whether we were emotionally ready to relive THAT inferno through more documentary photographs…?

These fire events cut a swathe through the eastern part of this country and since then many of us in our travels have witnessed how the landscape was transformed. We have seen the skeletons of trees that have been killed in the firestorm or, if they have survived, the epicormic sprouting of new leaves from the blackened trunks. Perhaps we have also witnessed the landscape’s response to fire by triggering the germination of a new generation of native plants such as banksias, wattles and eucalypts. On seeing this flush of regrowth, we may feel reassured that renewal is possible.

However there is another experience of post-wildfire landscape – one that has for many of us, been laden with a deep existential distress or Solastalgia[i] caused by the ongoing loss of the natural environmental. I pose my question again.  Are we ready for more photos from the fire…?

.

Burnt tree Snowy Mountains

Burnt tree Snowy Mountains

.

In his artist’s statement for the exhibition Black Summer – The Aftermath, Ben Kopilow makes the comment ‘… in that tragedy, a raw beauty can be found, and new connections with the landscape made’.  His photographs present these fire-altered landscapes made weeks and months later usually of natural environments in national parks and places that are devoid of human presence. Kopilow presents the viewer with dramatic pictorial photographs – richly coloured images, with strident design and subject juxtapositions. 

Many of his works reveal the naked landscape created when the usually dense understory has been removed – reduced to ash leaving the skeletal shape of the land dispersed with charred remains of the once flourishing forest. In one image made in Namadji National Park granite boulders lie scattered amongst a forest of thin black tree trunks whose leaves are tinged with the same red colour of the fires that consumed them. There is theatrical drama in Kopilow’s burnt and scarred landscapes created by the use of perspective and colour enhanced by the capture of distant swirling mists. This work evokes in me a feeling that after the raging fires have passed, there is now stillness, a pause, when the land takes a long deep breath.

.

Ghostly trees at sunset

Ghostly trees at sunset

.

Though Kopilow’s fire-grounds are devoid of flames, curiously many images show colour accents that are uncannily characteristic of the fire now past. A dramatic sunset with palls of smoke-like red clouds is contrasted by a silhouette ridgeline where the denuded and leafless shapes of trees stand in death. In another photograph, mist swirls around blackened trunks rising from an understory of trees where the leaves are glowing red as if still being consumed by the fire. In a photograph depicting fire-damaged spotted gums at Clyde Mountain we are again presented with a view where the colours of the background tree trunks evoke a red and yellow flames of the firestorm.

.

Bushfire damaged trees in the mist, Namadji

Bushfire damaged trees in the mist, Namadji

.

Again I reconsider the question – are we ready for more fire photographs? As I reflect on the representation of the challenged and changing landscape that Ben Kopilow presents in this exhibition, I am reminded of the role of the photograph to witness and share a story. Kopilow’s work in this exhibition is the story of the transient moments captured just after the fires. Even now, as we view the exhibition the landscape has changed yet further beyond what is presented here.

.

Snowy Mountains

Snowy Mountains

.

It’s interesting to consider how we’ve always connected to the notion that the photograph tells a story but ultimately for me a photograph acts as a trigger to evoke recollections from personal experience. Perhaps my response to these images takes the form of visual metaphors that represent my personal experiences of the events of 2019-20. For me somewhere in each image there is the promise of renewal – the call of a black cockatoo, the soft thud of a kangaroo moving through the forest, the sound of cicadas and quick dart of a lizard over rock at the corner of my eye. 

Perhaps at this time we are now ready to view and respond to the photographs in Black Summer – The Aftermath

PhotoAccess: 13 May — 5 June 2021

https://www.photoaccess.org.au/see/exhibitions/black-summer-2020-the-aftermath/

.

Doug Spowart with edit by Victoria Cooper

.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solastalgia

.

AUTHOR’S BIOGRAPHY

Doug Spowart has an extensive involvement in Australian creative industries as an artist, educator, curator, commentator and reviewer. His reviews and commentaries are published in the www.wotwedid.com Blog that he shares with his partner Victoria Cooper. They have also been published in journals including the Australian Centre for Photography’s Photofile, Art Monthly and the La Trobe Journal of the State Library of Victoria.

.

.

.

.

.


2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I saw the exhibition at tonight’s opening. I went in with something of the same feeling – do we really need more exhibitions about these disasters? Speaking briefly to Ben I commented that if we didn’t have the catalogue or the words and title of the show on the wall we would just see a set of stunning landscape images. Now all I have to do is write my review of the exhibition for The Canberra Times!

    Brian Rope

    May 13, 2021 at 10:53 pm

  2. If you are in Canberra or planning to visit in the next couple of weeks then get on down to Photo Access, Manuka, and catch Bens’ exhibition… you won’t be disappointed, it’s well worth it. Thank you Doug for your spot on review.

    David Paterson

    May 14, 2021 at 2:04 pm


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: