Making the most of an unexpected meeting

When two professional photographers meet by chance what do they talk about? I found out during my first two weeks in Australia. The editor of the Hilton Magazine in Hong Kong wanted photographs by Perth-based landscape photographer Richard Woldendorp. I contacted him, got a truck to Wittenoom (of asbestos notoriety) in the north-west where he was headed. We met up and went to the magnificent Hamersley Gorges. Woldendorp was kind, patient with my naïve questions about gum trees, spinifex grass and parrots, polite and full of humour. I had also broken a tiny bone in my left foot and was bandaged so could only hobble around the top of the gorges as he scrambled down to take his usual fantastic photos. I wrote a piece for the Hilton Magazine and also this one for Australian Photography (1987) that sums up the serendipity of travel as well as giving insights into two photographers’ life on the road.

Making the most of an unexpected meeting

By Deborah Singerman

Richard Woldendorp has been up since four in the morning to catch sunrise over Mt Herbert in the Chichesters. Then he had clocked up about 600 kilometres and taken some 10 rolls of film including majestic aerial shots over the vast, rolling Hamersleys. I had met up with him in Wittenoom, a small outback town formerly the centre of the asbestos mining industry and now a bypass tourist attraction at the base of the Hammersley National Park,

We had passed only a handful of cars all day, and had anticipated an early night sleeping to the sounds of the bush. But, to our surprise, the National Park’s camping ground was full and barbecue spits were blazing.

Talking idly to fellow travellers at one does, Perth based photographer Woldendorp happened to mention his profession to a family man from Adelaide.

“Oh, there’s another photographer here,” he said immediately. Reg Morrison’s his name. He’s over in that corner,” and he pointed to a spot shrouded by the night.

People say it’s a small world but that phrase sounded triter than ever in the endless tracts. Richard was genuinely pleased to hear of this astounding coincidence. Morrison, it seemed, was one of the few Australian photographers he both respected and liked and though they had known each other for years, they had not met for a while. We gulped down our supper and armed with a torch, wandered over to Reg’s hideout. Crouched inside the cabin of what we later learned was a “long wheel based Toyota land cruiser” was the man himself, eating curry. Propped up on his knee was a large tome taken from the shelves of his homemade portable library.

Morrison normally travels with his wife, Maggie Campbell, but she had returned to Sydney briefly. It was July and Reg did not expect to be on the east coast until Christmas. His latest long-haul Australia- wide trip is to research, write and photograph a laymen’s guide to the evolution of the continent, to be published by Lansdowne Press for 1987.

Both men had made their names as photographers of the country they now call home. Neither man was born in Australia and each approaches his photography from a different standpoint.

Dutch Woldendorp was born in Utrecht in 1927 and came to Australia in the early 1950s after completing military service in Indonesia. His early training was in painting and commercial art and as a self-taught photographer his eye is still that of the artist, looking for size, shape and colour. In Asia, his focus was people, their faces, habits and expressions and it is only since coming to Australia that he has sought personality in the land itself.

Within five years of taking up photography he won a national photography competition in 1982-1983. He was named the Institute of Australian Photography’s photographer of the year, he has had several books published, the most recent being The Untamed Land, which features a selection of Woldendorp’s landscape photos taken predominantly from the air. He pays attention to nature in action, pinpointing the essential detail, as his pictures reveal.

His photographs have been exhibited widely and are included in collections at the Western Australian and Victorian National Art Galleries

By contrast, Reg Morrison’s photographic career is grounded in journalism, while admiring an artistic approach he feels that, as a photographer, he used formulas. These, of course are a secret, but he tries to get to the essence of his subject, researching it fully and photographing it for what it is. He has said of his photographs that “they are work, not art: a distinction I am glad of. They are deeply non-objective, for objectivity in journalism always was a sterile old fraud.”

After spending an eclectic childhood in London, Sri Lanka and Melbourne, he worked as a reporter on the West Australian in Perth, he then switched to photo-journalism, winning several awards for his press photography, before moving to Sydney in 1971 to join publishing company Paul Hamlyn (now Lansdowne/Rigby) with whom he has published numerous books both as a specialist food photographer and as a better-known pursuer of Australiana.

His four published works on aspects of Australia include illustrations for Australia’s Living Heritage, on Aboriginal art, craft and culture and Australia: the Greatest Island for which he was part of a team photographing the entire coastline by air.

Morrison has always favoured Nikon cameras and lenses, working almost exclusively with 200mm and the wide-angled 20mm and 24 mm. Woldendorp, a Nikon user in the past, changed to a Leica camera and favours no lenses in particular

Both photographers delve into the guts of the country, immersing themselves in the landscape. Woldedorp prefers short, intensive bursts of travel. He goes all over Australia but primarily to his first love, the northwest, whose shapes, stark grandeur and what he calls “its foreverness” fascinates him.

“Western Australia is under-photographed and misunderstood, “he says.” I like to pass on knowledge and understanding not standpoints and preconceptions.

In late 1982 at the end of the dry season, he visited the Bungle-Bungle, the now famous honeycomb striated sandstone sculptures in the East Kimberley. Not satisfied with aerial shots, he was dropped by helicopter into the heart of the rugged terrain where he spent three days with an experienced bushwalker, roping down gorges, traversing difficult scrub and climbing brittle rock faces. All this while the thermometer nudged close to the 50-degree C mark, all this to capture what he considers to be the most remarkable landforms he has encountered in his years of travelling Australia’s wild country.

Both men agree that fitness is a prerequisite for a landscape photographer. Flashy effects and technical wizardry will portray the landscape as well as the landscape itself as long as you are able to discover its true, relatively unknown beauty. Richard Woldendorp and Reg Morrison will go to no end of time and trouble to do just that.