From the first moment I heard about the February Australian bushfires I’ve been waiting to see the work of the amazing Oculi Agency who I knew had to be covering the event in a profoundly different and perhaps more important way than the wires. I was treated a few minutes ago to their emailer which directed me to a gallery they set up with 42 images from their photographers. Found from their opening page.
This first picture is a classic example of one of the first things that I loved about Oculi (and I guess Australian photographers in general, at least from what I’ve been introduced to): really bold color on an offbeat, oddly seen scene. Oculi alum Trent Parke and his wife Narelle Autio are the essence of that style I think. If you don’t know them or their pictures, you must go have a look. It’ll change your day.
One of the other reasons I first thought to try and find Oculi’s work from the event was because of Parke’s pictures from past bushfires. They don’t look like anything I’ve seen before, a bit more punched out that I had ever thought to go, but they really seem to capture the essence of that landscape. It is devastation and hellfire. And the pictures show it in a powerful way.
While I think of Oculi for superstaturated and/or high contrast quirk, they (forgive me .. I know they’re not one cyborgtronic entity .. I’m being simplistic) definitely have a more contemplative approach at times, as shown so beautifully by Andrew Quilty’s stark landscapes (the immediate reference to pano scorched earth: Koudelka’s Black Triangle) and Dean Sewell’s ‘still lives’. (Another aside: I think this is also the great benefit of an agency/group like Oculi. Where else could we see such great, diverse photographs side by side? I gain so much more information about this event from seeing it through three sets of amazing eyes)
Lately I’ve been really drawn to these slower studies of situations, often shot with larger format cameras (Xpans or 6×7 I guess). I tried this myself, to varying result but great reflection (read the comments), and will have to pursue it again soon. In the same post I gushed about the work of friend Ziyah Gafic, amongst other photographers working in this vein, and have been visually obsessed this week with Mikhael Subotzky. Just look at this picture (or this one!).
Scott brought something interesting up when I sent him these pictures: put this work, with its depth, engagement and quiet contemplation, alongside something like the Big Picture Blog’s coverage.. sure the wires are doing a different job but for me Oculi’s work tells much more of an important story. (just compare, they shot some of the same scenes). And it hits me so much harder, and stays with me longer. This is the value of great photography I think. It takes time to do, which I guess is no longer much of an option.
On a side note, when you look at the full portfolio, what is with all the weird lawn figures in the Australian countryside? Sorry, but it makes me think of the Garden Gnome Liberationists.