black coastal heath with blue sky

Finding stories of place

For me as a writer, photography is a window into country, a way of viewing the landscape with a more focussed eye. Finding a perfect frame is more about stories of place than an idealised, visually perfect moment in time.

Landscape photography has a bias towards perfection: the glassy turquoise ocean, light beams refracting through mist in the karri forest, the arc of a rainbow over a field or vineyard. Wonderful. But these are idealised moments, moments rarely glimpsed in real time, and our preference for them creates expectations towards how we experience the landscape. With an eye only for perfection, for those billboard shots, we can too easily miss out on the rest of the story.

I came into photography from the immersion end of the spectrum, from aimless hours spent wandering the forest trails, or rock-hopping along the coast. Being in the landscape was an end in itself, but once I introduced the camera, focus shifted more towards heading out on perfect days, hoping for that perfect shot. But this quickly became restrictive: in reality, vistas along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste coastline are rarely that idealised image you see featured on tourism websites and Instagram.

Summer on Wadandi Boodja brings a southerly wind that howls along the coast, turning the surface of the ocean into a mush of wavelets and whitewater. Bushfires and prescribed burns send a brown haze out across the horizon that sometimes hangs there for weeks. Swell beats along the shore, stirring up the ocean biota into a murky green soup. Or the ocean is shrouded with mist, a mass of moisture evaporated by the Sun which cloaks the horizon in a blur of sea and sky.

The temptation is to stay home when conditions are not ideal, but this allows perception to be shaped by cliche, by social expectations of what an ideal moment in the landscape should look like. Consider instead looking a little deeper, for more subtle visual gems embedded in the vagaries of a wild and authentic shore.

The surface of the sea is rarely ‘picture-perfect,’ but there is beauty in imperfection: we might find a tiny detail in a wave as it curls over, or the wet gleam of crystal grains as it draws back from the shore. The tremulous fingers of sand blown by the incessant southerly wind, or the dramatic contrast of burnt coastal heath against the blue sky.

Look between the cracks, where you can discover and tease out those deeper stories of place.

black coastal heath with blue sky

Featured image: A stand of coastal Melaleuca destroyed by the Calgardup bushfire of 2021. These groves will take decades to recover, but have a gothic beauty all of their own.