Creating order from chaos

Landscape photographer Sarah Ducker tells how she creates images from nature’s chaos in her fragile patterns of colour and shape. The title of her exhibition of new works in Sydney is Fragility and they were taken while on an artist’s retreat in the South Island of New Zealand near Wanaka in May.

What led you into photography and specifically the landscape?

I fell into photography as part of a shift out of the city and into the country, moving from inside to outside.

I’d been through the country and in the country but I’d never felt so exhilarated or understood it as I did when I started spending quiet time there. When I went out into the landscape to photograph it, I began a deep love affair.

I love the transitory quality of photographing nature. There are lovely things in the world that don’t endure and they are lovelier for that. As Brett Whiteley said: “any moment in time you can create a visual poem”.

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How concerned are landscape photographers with creating images that feel “new”? How important is “new”?

Some photography is very conceptual and tries hard to illustrate an idea. I try to capture the beauty and grace of nature. I want to simplify the visual chaos of nature, distilling a moment. I take many many photos and then zoom in on the ones that just feel right. I can’t explain why but it becomes very clear to me.

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Because so many natural landscapes are effortlessly and overwhelmingly beautiful, how does a photographer avoid cliche?

One way of avoiding cliché is by focussing my interest in abstraction, using light, form and shape to convey essence. We all see the same view in different ways, because our view is invested with our own story, our history, our taste. If you are engaging authentically with what you are looking at, it will avoid cliché.

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How do photographers invest “feeling” and “emotion” in the landscape images they take?

There’s always something happening in nature. The feeling and emotion is there through the weather, the changing light and colours of the changing seasons. The landscape is like a lover — it’s always delivering as long as you are alive to the moment.

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You took these images while on an Kenneth Myer Artist in Residence Program funded by Australian philanthropists Martyn and Louise Myer in the mountains of the South Island of New Zealand. How did the isolation affect the work?

Isolation equals clarity. Without distraction, you go deeper. And it’s not just about the absence of distraction, it’s also about the absence of the desire to be distracted. It’s about sustained attention. What struck me up there was the silence. There were no insects and few animals. The vegetation was low so you didn’t hear the wind. You felt as if you were on the planet in a way that felt infinite and ancient. And being high up was interesting, because you felt above it all. I was also struck by the momentous ancient landscape and how much damage humanity has inflicted on nature so fast.

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You listen to music while taking and editing your photographs. Which music and why?

I listened to Chopin. I went away with a lot of films and books but quickly realised that they were a distraction that took me right back into the world that I was trying to escape from. Even conversation was too much. I wanted to see what was going to be revealed to me and to revel in it. I listened as I sorted the takings of the day and it helped me to recognise which photographs worked. In that environment, I heard the music as I had never heard it before.

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Do you think there is a typical personality that is drawn to landscape photography — what characteristics are predominant?

Probably the key elements are a strong intuition, stillness, patience. I’m working on the last!

Fragility — photographs by Sarah Ducker are on show until Sunday, July 24 at Barometer gallery, 13 Gurner Street, Paddington in Sydney as part of its Seven Weeks Seven Artists show which also includes work by Chris Round, Nancy Trieu, Niki Gudex, Julie Williams, Zorica Purlija, Catherine Cloran and Anne Lynam.

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