Abstract Australia from Above

“The real voyage does not consist in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — MARCEL PROUST

 Islands on natural salt lake, Lake Johnston, north of Esperance, in Western Australia. (Taken 2014)

Islands on natural salt lake, Lake Johnston, north of Esperance, in Western Australia. (Taken 2014)

I have been attracted to the Australian landscape because of its size and subtle differences — a sense of wonderment, how it all came about, the evolution of the landscape. Like the rest of the world it has gone through many stages to be what it is today — uniquely Australian. But it also is a very old landscape. It is the flattest and driest continent, which compared with other countries, does not manifest itself in grandeur as we know it; large rivers, large mountains and the dramatic changes of the seasons.

 The Pinnacles. Limestone formations, Nambung National Park. (Taken 2009)

The Pinnacles. Limestone formations, Nambung National Park. (Taken 2009)

However, I found that by looking at the landscape from the air, many natural characteristics revealed themselves much better, showing the evolution and the geographical variations. Nature is a great teacher. Observing and experiencing it can stimulate our creative senses which in turn is beneficial to ourselves and our environment.

 Pink Lake, north-west of Esperance, Western Australia. This is the natural colouration of the salt lake. (Taken 1988)

Pink Lake, north-west of Esperance, Western Australia. This is the natural colouration of the salt lake. (Taken 1988)

It was in 1955 that I bought my first camera, and this was the beginning of a long association with photography. Intrigued by the unusualness of the Australian landscape, I became a landscape photographer with a strong bias for aerial photography, which I felt captured the vastness of the outback best — each flight became a flight of discovery.

 Late light on a drifting sand dune, Windorah, south east Queensland. (Taken 1994)

Late light on a drifting sand dune, Windorah, south east Queensland. (Taken 1994)

There are so many Australian landscapes worthy of consideration whether they be rivers, coastal plains or deserts — all of which vary seasonally and at different times of the day. As much as possible I like to be inspired by what I see and this is where I experience a sense of wonderment of a world so complex, varied and beautiful.

 Coastline between Esperance and Cape Arid, in Western Australia. This shows the reflection of the clouds in the lake, with the beach and ocean in the foreground. (Taken 2006)

Coastline between Esperance and Cape Arid, in Western Australia. This shows the reflection of the clouds in the lake, with the beach and ocean in the foreground. (Taken 2006)

Of course there are many ways to appreciate the landscape. My own involvement is to photograph the highlights and to interpret them with the camera in a painterly way. I emphasise these highlights by pointing the camera down and focussing on the subject, excluding the horizon so one looses a point of reference and the reality often takes on an abstract view. I hope that the character of the subject is enhanced and that it reveals more through isolation by the camera angle.

 A turkey nest dam near Newdegate, Western Australia, contrasts against the ploughed fields. (Taken 1994)

A turkey nest dam near Newdegate, Western Australia, contrasts against the ploughed fields. (Taken 1994)

The aerial point of view also allows us to examine the impact of humanity on Earth. There is a beauty in the man made landscape which takes on a relationship beyond the form as we know it. Certain subjects such as mining dumps, industry and farming look mundane at ground level, but from above my eye begins to recognise a gratifying order in the chaos — crops, paddocks and ploughed fields become masterpieces in abstraction often unknown to their creators. Simultaneously, the aerial perspective can also indicate the abuse and destruction that has taken place.

 Salt lakes surrounded by wheat fields, 50 kilometers north east of Esperance, Western Australia. (Taken 1994)

Salt lakes surrounded by wheat fields, 50 kilometers north east of Esperance, Western Australia. (Taken 1994)

At all times, I take a very personal approach to my work, but I also take great care to retain the optical reality. There are a million pictures out there. I am the only limitation. I can tune in and absorb the reality of the variations, combined with my way of seeing and my attitude. The older I get the harder it becomes, and the more I am drawn to nature. It is the creation of all life and matter that appeals to me now. Maybe I can make a small contribution to its well being which is in jeopardy. If beliefs in eternity are formed, nature is a great catalyst. I often feel intimidated by a great outback landscape, but also inspired by it.

 Forrest River, Kimberley, Western Australia. A tidal river system, north-west of Wyndham. (Taken 2003)

Forrest River, Kimberley, Western Australia. A tidal river system, north-west of Wyndham. (Taken 2003)

We now have more technical gadgetry at our disposal and there is no doubt it can help us to get a better photograph. But that in itself means little unless it enhances our understanding of the world around us. It is more important to use our creative spirit and gain wisdom than purely use it as a tool. Today in our digital age we have Photoshop with its possibility to enhance or to completely distort or create our own image using photographic components. We have become so image conscious that we often forget the beauty of reality.

 Ocean between Ningaloo Reef and Coral Bay, Western Australia. The blue variation is due to the ocean’s floor level. (Taken 2006)

Ocean between Ningaloo Reef and Coral Bay, Western Australia. The blue variation is due to the ocean’s floor level. (Taken 2006)

The subject of photography can either be concrete or intangible. In the first case the picture is basically realistic, where as in the latter case it is essentially abstract. But what makes photography so interesting is that by combining both we can introduce creativity in the subject and have the best of both worlds.

 Ant clearings approx. 4–5 metres across, Great Sandy Desert, Pilbara, Western Australia. (Taken 2003)

Ant clearings approx. 4–5 metres across, Great Sandy Desert, Pilbara, Western Australia. (Taken 2003)

Although many photographers can take photographs and do it well, it is work done in the full utilization of that creative spirit that stands out. It should be influenced by the subject itself and come from within oneself.

 Tidal variations result in a coastal river pattern, Northern Territory. (Taken 2004)

Tidal variations result in a coastal river pattern, Northern Territory. (Taken 2004)

“I still can’t find any better definition for the word Art, than this. Nature, Reality, Truth, but with a significance, a conception, and a character which the artist brings out in it and to which he gives expression, which he disentangles and makes free.” — VINCENT VAN GOUGH

 Lake Dumbleyung, Wagin, Western Australia. Affected by farming this natural lake has become saline. After the first rains, it turns pink. (Taken 2005)

Lake Dumbleyung, Wagin, Western Australia. Affected by farming this natural lake has become saline. After the first rains, it turns pink. (Taken 2005)

We do not always appreciate the aerial point of view. People regard the landscape as something you fly over. But in reality it is an opportunity to see the landscape from a different perspective. I never cease to marvel at the natural variations in the Australian landscape and although I value what is there photographically, in the end it is the observation and appreciation of the diversity that is the reward.

 Top of Curtis Island, Cape Capricorn, north-east of Gladstone, Queensland. An estuary with sand banks. (Taken 1997)

Top of Curtis Island, Cape Capricorn, north-east of Gladstone, Queensland. An estuary with sand banks. (Taken 1997)

Postscript — All of my photographs are as seen from the air and are not manipulated. I feel that the beauty, colours, and uniqueness of the Australian landscape is complete and needs no enhancing.

RICHARD WOLDENDORP is a Dutch-born Australian landscape photographer, with a focus on the aerial perspective. Appointed the Order of Australia in June 2012, “For service to the arts as an Australian landscape photographer.”

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAPTIA