University of Tasmania
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Mutable terrains : a photographic exploration of bushland close to home

posted on 2023-05-27, 19:28 authored by Marrison, MM

This practice-led photographic project re-explores a fragment of bushland a few steps from my home, to the south of nipaluna/Hobart. The bushland comprises most of the valley, which runs down to the Derwent river. It was part of the range of the muwinina people, the original inhabitants displaced by colonial farmers in the 1800s. Traces of the land practices of both remain. The project has its genesis in a four-decade relationship with this place, which has been fundamental in establishing my connection to land and forming my Tasmanian identity.

The key aim of the research was to re-explore the complexity and variety of the unconstrained natural forms of the bush through the agency of colour and to give a sense of the experience of being within the bush. A further key aim was to explore how a white, locally born artist can find a connection and a sense of belonging to this landscape, and develop an authentic and respectful means of depicting it. Now part of the city's extensive urban-bush fringe - and generally characteristic of the region - like this tends to be undervalued and unrecognised as a complex and varied environment. It has rarely been the subject of photographic investigation.

This project explores some of the characteristics of the locale, noting evidence of human action on the land and changes within the place. A sense of being immersed in the bush was integral to conveying the experience of being there. The resulting photographs often utilise a construction of pictorial space that is not built on a conventional single-point perspective of the vista. On occasion, this led to ambiguities of space and scale. Regular visits facilitated the tracking of temporal and more permanent changes that resulted in the accumulation of multiple viewpoints and the sense of both place and the photographic process as mutable. Text was incorporated in the final printed images to enable a modicum of orientation within the valley and to suggest experiences and stories of place, including the prior custodianship of the muwinina people.

The research contextualises my feelings around land and the natural world and how those attitudes and experiences have shaped the ways in which I photograph land. The daily experience of living with an immeasurable vista, interspersed with walking in semi-enclosed bush with its more relatable scale, has resulted in a preference for smaller spaces and the elements that constitute these places. Jessica Dubow's descriptions of how Thomas Baines' views of the landscapes would have come together articulate the realities of experiencing land and the fact that images can never contain more than fragments - of place, time, or truth.

Previous knowledge established through my familiarity with place and looking again at my photographs of this bush from the 1970s and 1980s underpin the research. This was further informed by Yi-Fu Tuan and Edward Casey's writings on place, space, memory, and re-implacement. The perception of the wildness of the place was measured against Edward Casey's six traits of wildness, whilst Deborah Bird Rose's writings provided Indigenous interpretations of wildness and valuable land.

Photography is used in the project as a means of observation. This was based on my acceptance of the camera's ability to record vast amounts of detail and the premise that the photograph is evidential - even as that belief is increasingly challenged by digital technology. Relevant art photographers who have used the medium on a similar premise include Tasmanians Ricky Maynard, David Stephenson, Christl Berg, and Martin Walch. Each has explored different, more distant parts of the state. As a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist, Maynard's ancestral connection to country provides a counter to any connection to land that I, as a non-Indigenous person, can establish. Geoff Levitus and Ross Gibson provide important context on how non-Indigenous artists' attempts to represent Australian landscapes is a complex and fraught endeavour, but one that is fundamental to a broader contemporary relationship with the land. American photographers Frank Gohkle and Richard Misrach documented aspects of the American West over decades - of particular interest is their inclusion of the temporal and their familiarity with the places they photograph - whilst Korean-American artist Jungjin Lee's renderings of the Negev Desert conjure ambiguous pictorial spaces that negate single - point perspective.

This research contributes to the terrain of contemporary landscape photography through exploring a rarely considered, yet commonplace, Tasmanian landscape. It remarks upon the ordinary materials of landscape - grass, bark, and scrub - in the exploration of a proximate, semi-wild, transitional landscape. The consideration of such a landscape and the methodologies employed offer an alternative view of what comprises a culturally valuable Antipodean landscape and how a non-Indigenous relationship with land might be developed.



  • PhD Thesis


201 pages


School of Creative Arts and Media


University of Tasmania

Publication status

  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2022 the author.

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