Trent Parke, a Magnum photographer from Australia, is one of the first photographers that Rebecca and I showed our Violet Isle book dummy to a couple of summers ago in Paris. There was good reason: He and his wife, Narelle Autio, the wonderful and painterly photographer, had already published a joint book of their photographs, The Seventh Wave (2000). So no surprise that Trent was the first to notice how our two bodies of work played off each other.
Unlike Rebecca and I, Trent and Narelle have photographed not only in the same location, but in the very same spot, sometimes even taking their photographs just minutes apart, as their TWO LOOKS column below explains. To read more about these two Australian photographers –– and to see more of their lyrical images –– click on the links at the end of this posting.––Alex Webb
ON TRENT PARKE’S PHOTOGRAPH:
Trent took this picture while we were travelling around Australia, living out of the back of our 4WD. We were in Fremantle, Western Australia. It was a 40°C day (104°F ) in the middle of a week-long heat wave and like most Australians –– and especially those living in a tent –– we headed for the beach. At the time I was literally immersed in my project Watercolours. I had spent three days photographing in the ocean, hanging around in deep sea. Strangely, during most of this time I had had to be forced into the water. Normally totally at home in the water, I couldn’t shake that ‘sharky’ feeling. After three days of Trent’s urging me back in the water and convincing me not to worry, I finally said that’s enough.
Not long after, a loud wail screamed over the beach. The siren sounds –– not unlike those signalling an air raid –– but on an Australian beach no one looks up at the sky. Within seconds the crowded water was empty, the beach now lined with people looking seaward, searching for the telltale shadow. And there was the shark –– all five metres of it –– swimming up and down the beach, oblivious of the commotion it had caused.
When I first saw this picture of Trent’s I was devastated –– in a friendly rival kind of way. I wanted it. It was such a fantastic unusual view of the beach. I had also attempted to capture the strange sight of hundreds of people looking out to an empty sea, and, although I was yet to see my transparencies, I knew I would have nothing as strong in colour. His black and white image conjures up those chilling, historical images of unknowing spectators watching atomic test explosions, their shielded faces lit by a mesmerising, blasting light.
This photograph, which went on to become an important part of his Minutes to Midnight series, is a classic example how Trent approaches his work. The image, while standing alone as a documentary photograph, has become something quite different. It now also represents a dark episode in our history and seen together with the rest of Minutes to Midnight it becomes an apocalyptic chapter out of this epic imaginary story about Australia. He has used symbolism and a joint memory to take it to another level. It is something that Trent does with maddening regularity –– but it always amazes me.––Narelle Autio
ON NARELLE AUTIO’S PHOTOGRAPH:
This photograph of Narelle’s is one of my favourites from her Watercolours series. It has all the elements of herself and her photography in it: Her trademark use of colour and light, her optimistic outlook, and her painterly approach.
For three days we returned to this beach in Fremantle, Western Australia. Out past the breakers on Cottesloe beach is a floating buoy. It is sizable enough to hold three or four people –– that is, if you have the arm strength to haul yourself up. I remember for two days Narelle continually swimming out to the buoy and photographing the swimmers throwing themselves off and plunging in. However, on the third day after swimming out, she turned around and came back to shore. I asked why. It was, after all, the reason we had continued to return to this same beach. She said she didn’t feel comfortable and had that “sharky” feeling. (I had swum out to the buoy myself the previous day and had also encountered that same sharky feeling. It was that sort of place.)
Regardless of the fact that a five-metre shark did manage to close the beach less than an hour later, I am very glad she did decide to come back to shore. Because otherwise she would never have taken this picture (above). Yes, there was the other small fact that she could have been eaten by a shark. But what is more important when you take a frame like this?
I also remember being in our two-man tent at a caravan park further up the west coast, when her processed transparencies arrived back from the East Coast. I remember coming to this sleeve of negs and my eye immediately going to this frame. I think I said it to her then: “You won’t beat this frame on this trip –– and neither will I.”
Of all the amazing photographs she has taken at the beach and under the water, I still come back to this frame as the one that truly represents her work. If you look at both photographs we took on the same day, maybe only several minutes apart, it gives a pretty good indication of our personalities and the way we look at the world. And it shows how two photographers can be at the same place at the same time, but the resulting photographs can have completely contrasting emotions.
Oh, and by the way, several swimmers did get stranded standing on the buoy. The whole beach watched as they waited to be rescued by the coast guard as the shark circled nearby. As one man tried to mount the rail of the boat, he slipped and fell into the water. I have never seen someone swim so fast in my entire life. The ensuing thrashing and panic was incredible as he tried to haul himself back on to the buoy. It really was like a real life scene from the movie Jaws. ––Trent Parke
Visit the Still Gallery website to see more of Trent’s and Narelle’s work and read their bios:
In addition, you can see Trent’s work on the Magnum site: