When it comes to Tasmanian photographers, few have ventured further or produced such a stunning array of work as Grant Dixon. Documenting the island’s landscapes for over forty years, Grant has been able to explore some of Tassie’s most inaccessible places, with camera in hand, to capture some truly spectacular moments.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Grant to chat about his latest book: WILD LIGHT.
Hey Grant! Thanks for chatting to us.
This looks like it’s going to be an amazing book. One that instantly transports us from our lounge room to distant and wild places and also lights a fire in our belly. No doubt it’ll have viewers reaching for their backpack and boots to experience some of these places in real life.
When compiling a book like this, do you have a feeling in mind that you want the viewer to experience?
That’s a challenging question to answer because viewers can and should have their own experiences, and build on them. But a short answer to your question could be, I suppose, ‘awe’ and ‘respect’, not for my photography but for the features, landscapes, and multiple values thereof represented, and hopefully a desire to help protect them as a result.
There's such a varied array of landscapes that feature in this book. How long did it take you to produce the photographs?
In terms of the actual self-publication process, it’s been about 18 months since I decided I could do it again (after publishing my Winter Light book in 2020) and came up with the idea for WILD LIGHT. But the photographic journey has been much longer. The oldest image that appears in WILD LIGHT was captured in 1983, but the majority have been captured during the last twenty years, and a fair proportion of those probably during the last five years.
We can assume then, given the length of time between the first and last photograph that appear in this book, that the technology you used to capture them has changed. Are these changes incidental to your process or do they have an impact on the way you photograph?
I have used a variety of cameras over the years, but the biggest change was obviously a switch to digital capture, in 2006. WILD LIGHT features 95 images of which 16 were captured on film. Digital capture provides the previously unavailable option to review composition and exposure in the field. However, sometimes the light is changings so fast that so you can’t practically review images in real time without missing the ‘decisive moment’.
Modern digital cameras also have the capacity to capture a much wider dynamic range (the range of tones from light to dark) than my earlier film images and so can retain considerable shadow detail in high contrast scenes. And, the white balance of raw digital files can be readily tweaked to remove colour casts (e.g. blue shadows).
In practice, these two aspects of digital capture mean I can tackle subjects that I would have written off in my film days.
Have you noticed any changes to lutruwita/Tasmania’s landscape over your years of adventure?
Absolutely, and that is what gave rise to my conservation advocacy, which started with involvement in the campaign to prevent damming of the Franklin River. Since then, I have played a small part in preventing resource development and overuse impacts on various areas. But there are both new and ongoing environmental challenges facing Tasmania’s wild places, including places represented in WILD LIGHT.
Climate change is already affecting the landscape with an increase in lightning storm frequency and resultant wild fires, often in a drier setting, and losses of ancient fire-sensitive vegetation has already occurred. In the medium - long term, global heating will cause vegetation communities to migrate upwards and, given Tasmanian mountains are not so high, alpine vegetation that contributes so much to the character of the mountains may eventually have nowhere to go.
The last decade or so has seen an increasing push for commercial development in national parks, both from within government and the tourism industry. In Tasmania, this has produced a number of proposals for lodges in remote and wild places that are being actively progressed by their proponents. Such proposals pose a serious risk to the wildness of some areas, a major part of their attraction, and are at odds with the concept of providing a range of recreational opportunities across the landscape.
There's definitely more people visiting these remote places, and these days it’s hard to escape the avalanche of nature photography on social media every time we unlock our phones. Has this impacted the way you make or show work?
While I pursue and enjoy capturing images for myself, there is little point in spending a lifetime doing so unless they are also shared. In the ‘old days’ this might have happened socially in a physical sense; slide shows with mates for example. But that era has gone.
My involvement with social media is limited to Facebook, and I was a late starter. I came to and use it essentially only as a medium to share images, and am not involved with any other social media platform (which may be my loss, but I have no time or inclination to spend more time with a screen).
My motivation for my recent books is similar; sharing my work. And printed images have much greater potential longevity than anything online, and are presented in a tactile package that I can influence or control.
Yeah, just holding one of your books in hand, the quality and weight definitely makes it feel like a special object to be treasured. How do you approach the selection process for a book like this?
I started with my many favourite images plus various others I thought had merit during a trawl of my Tasmanian image catalogue, but with the broad thematic content of the book in mind near the outset. But personal favourites may not always be one’s best images because their attraction may be linked to experiences, and then there are book design considerations to consider (e.g. themes, image compatibility) and technical quality (some older 35mm slides did not fare well when placed with modern digital capture files).
A quality photographic book should be more than just a collection of one’s favourite images...
...although the initial set of image files may start life in that way. Images in a photo book need to work together, may be organised to relate to a particular themes, and have to flow throughout the book. The sum should be greater than its parts. In producing a book, the selection and arrangement of images is revisited and honed by the photographer and book designer working together, although not always agreeing; it is an organic process.
Your photos capture the wonderful interplay between light and form. When creating an image do these two fundamental elements take up equal space in your mind, or does one feel more important than the other?
Basically, I tend to look for form and plan or wait for light, but obviously both are important. It is a mostly intuitive exercise for me though, and I find that if I have too preconceived a notion of images I wish to capture it can limit my openness to alternatives.
The balance of light and form.
How does your experience as a scientist impact the way you approach photography and the images you produce?
I trained as a geologist and see the landscape as an earth scientist, often musing on how and when it was shaped and by what agents (water or ice, for example). This does influence the potential compositions I see and the photo subjects that catch my eye. It also underlies the organisation of sections and images in my new book, WILD LIGHT.
When you venture into these wild places, what does your set-up look like and how long do your trips tend to be? Are these quick trips to a specific location or longer walks where you look to discover new photographic opportunities?
I’ve lost count of the number of trips that might have been involved in capturing the images that appear in WILD LIGHT (plus the ones that didn’t make the final cut). These trips have been mostly overnight, usually several days, and more than a week duration in many cases, so a total of many 100s of days in the Tasmanian bush, many visiting very remote locations, and often solo for the flexibility this provides. With photo gear as well as the usual bushwalking survival equipment, this can make for a heavy pack.
In many, perhaps most, cases these trips are not just about capturing photographs but about being in wild places. In this context, my receptiveness to potential image compositions and my actions to try and capture them become very much an integral part of the journey.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t routinely draw on my decades of experiences to anticipate photogenic atmospherics or compositions, and then utilise my outdoor skills set to get myself into positions to capture them.
Yeah, some of these images definitely feel like you were at the right place at the right time as weather moves fast in Tassie, especially in west. Do you have any favourite images from this upcoming book? And why do you think you’re drawn to these particular ones?
All the images in the WILD LIGHT have a personal story, and many are favourites, as noted above. But the following are a couple with stories that encapsulate much of what is behind many of the images in the book, a combination of both the scenic qualities and my experiences that I hope to capture visually.
The first image exemplifies the wild ruggedness of the mountains of southwest Tasmania. I first saw this view on one of my earliest 10-day bushwalks almost 47 years ago, before I became as keen on photography as in subsequent years.
I’ve returned to the area several times since but had not actively sought this view photographically until planning for WILD LIGHT, last summer. In that sense, this image was pre-planned, unlike many in the book which were captured opportunistically. But even so, this destination requires a week to access and return on foot, and while I had the compositional idea in mind, the lighting and atmospherics were serendipitous. A break in cloud lasting just a few minutes provided dawn light, and the valley fog drifting in from the west was a gift I could never have planned for.
A photograph 47 years in the making.
The second image exemplifies the subject matter my geologist’s eye is attracted to, quartzite rock in the Arthur Range that was folded during a cataclysmic disruption or the Earth’s crust more than 400 million years ago. I was passing this outcrop, en route elsewhere, and the lighting, which helps highlight the rock structure, and the interesting clouds were opportunistic.
Rocks of the Arthur Range.
This is the second book in a series and you’ve self-published both. Do you see this primarily as a documentation of your work or are there other goals you hope to achieve by publishing these works?
As noted above, my books are a way of presenting my work in an attractive, high quality, durable and tactile package. But I hope they also contribute to the Tasmanian tradition of using photography to activate awareness of the environment. As noted previously, the places the books illustrate remain under threat, despite their reservation status in many cases. In his foreword to WILD LIGHT conservationist and writer, Geoff Law, states; “WILD LIGHT is … a compelling call for enlightened management of the world’s wild places.
Your book is now available for pre-order. Where and when do we order?
WILD LIGHT can be pre-ordered now via the link below at the pre-publication price of $85 (RRP will be $95), and I am relying on such pre-orders to make publication viable. The book will be available in November 2022.
More about Grant Dixon:
Grant Dixon was born and still lives in Tasmania. He has been exploring Tasmania's uniquely wild and wonderful landscape for almost fifty years, with camera never far from hand. He has also trekked, climbed, skied and photographed in many other wild and remote areas of the planet across all seven continents.
Grant’s images have been widely published and continue the Tasmanian tradition of photography activating awareness of the environment. He co-publishes a calendar, Wild Tasmania, with fellow wilderness photographer Rob Blakers, and his images and illustrated articles have appeared in various outdoor, geographic, conservation, travel and special interest publications internationally. He has published a previous photographic book, Winter Light, featuring images from journeys into Tasmania’s wild highlands in winter, in 2020.
Also an earth scientist and wilderness researcher, Grant worked professionally in nature conservation for several decades, much of it for the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service. He also has a longstanding involvement with the environment movement, dating from the campaign to prevent damming of the Franklin River, and remains a strong advocate. He is the author of numerous papers, articles and reports on earth science, nature conservation, wilderness recreation and natural area management.