Exhibitions, News & Commentary, Visual Arts

Sarah Ducker forages for art in the Byron Bay sand

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When I was in Byron Bay, I found these wondrous creations in the sand made by silt, crabs and algae. But I had to act quickly. The morning joggers, oblivious to their beauty, were trampling all over them. These small miracles act to remind us of the grace of nature, writes Sydney photographer Sarah Ducker about her extraordinary images that appear to be highly wrought abstractions but are in fact created by the wind, tides and sea creatures.

Her solo exhibition titled ‘Gratitude’ opens tonight at Barometer Gallery in Paddington, Sydney and runs Wednesday to Sundays until May 28. We asked Ducker about finding her subject matter in the landscape.


Once you have decided on a theme for a show, does the landscape suggest the form of the individual photographs or do you have an idea in your mind and then find the right image to fulfil it?

I’m a hunter -gatherer. I go out into the landscape and explore. I take my camera wherever I go and when I see something beautiful, I shoot it. When I first picked up a camera I got excited about everything. I was so excited by what I saw it was if I was seeing the world for the first time but I was equally excited by the camera’s transformation. Unlike photographing in film, with digital, you can continuously slide back and forward between what is before you and what the camera makes of it. When I get attracted to something, I shoot lots of photos, the next shot come from the last and then I go on a scintillating journey. It’s like a dance or conversation. I shoot, look at the image, respond shoot again. My excitement builds as I find a direction or what it is about and then I zoom along. Once a discovery is totally exhausted, I look up move on and hunt about till I’m captivated again. My direction is determined by the act of doing and I discover where I am going, as I go along.


How deeply rooted is your captivation with nature? Is it something from childhood or have you grown into it?

I did spend time in nature as a child on holidays and later as a teenager hanging around Ilford House in central NSW, which was sort of like a bohemian open house that had a flow through of interesting artists, filmmakers and musicians. But my present relationship, really developed in the last five years when I returned to Ilford and started to spend a significant amount of time there. Nature is like a lover, you need to fall in love with it, sleep in it be inspired by it. I just didn’t really get it until I picked up a camera and then it sort of exploded into life because the act of photographing it is so thrilling. So nature is deeply rooted in me now because of my creative engagement with it, but I also realise that the core of my being longs for the release that you get from everything by disappearing into the landscape.


Is there a type of natural environment you have never photographed but long to?

I find beauty everywhere but so does everyone else. I could say that I longed to photograph Antarctica but you only need to look around to see that there are so many extraordinary photographs taken of the landscapes all around the world.

I love the intimate in the landscape so I’d love to travel all over the Australia finding little poetic moments here and there. Its more the thrill of an image that sings because of the harmony in the composition the colour palette, the form, a bit more like abstraction just discovering moments in nature that work like paintings because of pattern, light or form. But I’m also interested in exploring other worlds not landscapes, other intimate life experiences. I have an exhibition floating around in my mind about mortality, it’s very confronting, but full of grace and beauty at the same time.


Do you want viewers to receive your work only aesthetically or also politically? Can the political be avoided?

I think we all are explorers about the nature of existence, how to make sense of the world, our lives our experiences and how to live. In each personal journey is a series of discoveries that forms each of us and contributes to the evolution of us all. Even if my intention is not to be overtly political I think any work of art brings attention to something. It doesn’t necessarily say this is how you have to think or this has been created to direct your thoughts in a particular direction but images will always provoke in the viewer some sort of response and that in turn brings a reflection or response. Hopefully, it awakens something in the viewer that contributes to the development of a more conscious awareness.


Many artists want be successful in other art forms than the one they ended up in but their nature lead them to what was most suited to them. Is this the form you chose or did the form choose you?

I wanted to be a film director but I was mindful of wanting to spend as much time with my children as possible as I found it the ultimate gift and and truly wondrous. I also had an overwhelming sense of emotional responsibility to children in their early years. I fell into theatre which I found the most inspiring and challenging creative period of my life. But another two children led me into quiet mornings under gum tress playing and paddling, so it was natural that such a departure from life in a sense took me into a quieter more reflective engagement with the world. As a result, I wasn’t governed by the dominant photographic culture I could just respond directly to things as I saw them with out an agenda or awareness that may have coloured my perception.. I guess I just wanted to find my own way, bit by bit from directly what was in me responding to what was in front of me. A naive romantic I think.

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