Being originally from England I automatically associate Christmas with cold weather, and by association Robins as they are part of iconography of the festive season. So when walking along the Avon River on a 40º C day seeing these Red-capped Robins seems a little incongruous. For such a small bird they are as bold as brass and will let you approach quite closely. The other confusing thing about Australian robins is that they don’t just come in red.
When we were in Tasmania we had proper winters with snow, and that meant we had robins in their proper setting, but not at Christmas. Oh it’s all very confusing!
“Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.”
Alain de Botton
I’ve never been a fan of mass tourism, but over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about the negative aspects of it and in particular with what is happening to Venice. Apparently as many as 44,000 cruise ship passengers pour into Venice a day during the high season. That’s roughly 5 cruise liners worth. When we lived in Tasmania we’d get the boats pull into Hobart Harbour, thankfully just one at a time, and the passengers would be like a tsunami as they headed for Salamanca. I hate to think what 5 times that number would be like. Along with the negative impact that has on the local population and the environment there is also the fact would you really want to visit somewhere with another 44,000 people? It’s hardly getting away from it all is it? Then there is the whole thing of “Right you’ve got six hours in port and then we’re off to the next location”. Six hours following several other thousand people all traipsing round the same location, looking at the same few things only to herded up at the end of the day and taken somewhere else to do exactly the same thing the next day. It’s a gross version of the 1969 film “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. It’s worthy of Dante’s vision of hell. So why do people do it and pay a fortune for the privilege? Essentially people do it because they are bored with the ordinariness of their life and want something out of the ordinary with a touch of luxury.
When I lectured in photography one of the most common complaints from students was that there was nothing to photograph in Perth or Western Australia. They wanted something new, something exciting something that they’d never seen before. The problem was photography’s history encourages that kind of thinking – we only have to look at the photographic tradition of the road trip established by the likes of Robert Frank and his eponymous book The Americans with its hip introduction by Jack Kerouac. Stephen Shore and Alec Soth amongst others have popularised it to the extent that it has almost become a photographic rite of passage. Indeed at a portfolio review at FotoFreo my reviewer actually said I should go on a road trip as a means of finding myself. But the thing is booking a package holiday to Bali or Vietnam is not going to work as all you will see are the usual tourist attractions and maybe you’ll take some photos of poor third world people. Invariably you return home and the photos get ignored and languish in a dark recess on your computer hard drive as they look the same as everyone else’s. They are not out of the ordinary. The British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel said “Then I realised that the problem with going away is that you take yourself with you.”
I would suggest that if you want to produce interesting work look to the ordinary and easily accessible. Many photographers have taken this path. Robert Adams documents the changing American landscape and in particular the spread of suburbia. Chris Killip,Sally Mann, and Larry Towell are all photographers who have done projects about ordinary things on their door steps and have produced extraordinary images. The American photographer Minor White once said “…all photographs are self-portraits.” so thereis no need to travel to find your self just keep exploring with your camera. The frequent retort from my students was that everything around them had been photographed before well White also had an answer for that “Everything has been photographed. Accept this. Photograph things better.”.
So what have I been doing photographically for the last week? Well I’ve been out to some local nature reserves, I’ve visited them many times over the last 14 years and it never ceases to amaze me that I always find something new. So I was delighted to find these two flowers.
My last post from Tasmania. On Saturday we move back to York in Western Australia. According to my dictionary recycle can mean “return to a previous stage in a cyclic process “. So heading back to York is indeed returning to a previous stage. Can’t wait!
There’s no doubt about it the OLYMPUS M.45mm F1.8 lens renders images beautifully. It’s not razor-sharp in that clinical digital way most modern lenses are thank goodness, but it is sharp enough with a pleasing fall off at the edges. This lens is for taking pictures of complex 3 dimensional subjects not flat test charts and brick walls. The bokeh is very pleasing – it renders the transition between areas of sharpness to blur in a very smooth manner. As I have said before I don’t consider myself a bokeh slut by any means but there is something about this lens that just makes you want to shoot at wide apertures. Anyway enough of my wibbling lets just look at some pictures.
Hobart has a fascinating colonial history which on many levels can be seen from the the buildings of the era, but they don’t really tell what life was like during that period. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back through time and see Hobart and how the people lived? Well you can – sort of. No this doesn’t involve travelling back through time à la Doctor Who, but rather a short walk of just over 5.5Km (or 3.4 miles) return and a morning of your time.
The starting point for our time travelling adventure is the Collins Way Car Park situated on the corner of Molle and Collins Streets. Walk through the car park to the start of the Hobart Linear Park and then follow the sign for the Hobart Rivulet Walking Track. The Hobart Rivulet was crucial to the establishment of Hobart as a city. Back in 1803 the Van Dieman’s Land colony was first established upon the banks of the Derwent’s eastern shore at what is now Risdon Cove. Its purpose was to a be a place where Nineteenth Century Britain could send its convict population and a defence against possible French colonial intentions in the region. Fresh water was a problem and after approximately twelve months the settlement was moved to its present location because of what Lieutenant-Governor David Collins described as ‘a run of clear, fresh water’ flowing down off of Mount Wellington (kunanyi, Unghbanyahletta or Poorawetter in the local aboriginal languages) into the River Derwent. The settlement, initially known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, was named after Lord Hobart, the then Colonial Secretary. From 1804 to the 1860’s the rivulet was Hobart’s primary source of drinking water, drain and sewer. Industry quickly established itself upon its bank using the force of the descending water to power the factories. In 1816 Robert Nash, was a miller who was convicted of breaking and entering (or B and E in the parlance) and had his death sentence commuted in favour of transportation for life to Norfolk Island and was then lucky enough to earn a full pardon and be moved to Hobart, established a flour mill near the Gore Street Weir. The mill had a short working life due to the high costs of maintenance and was closed in 1818 to be replaced by a windmill.
After walking just over 500m you can see a rather nice specimen of colonial Georgian architecture on you right hand side. Milton House was originally built on a one acre allotment which was originally granted to George Wilson soon after his arrival in Hobart Town 1831. George Wilson was born in England in 1801 and he was, by trade, a tobacconist and snuff maker in partnership with H.B.Tonkin. Wilson was on his way to Sydney in 1831 with his wife and two daughters, but during his stopover in Hobart he was so taken with the colony that he decided to settle in Hobart. A few years later his partner arrived from England and they set up the first tobacco and snuff shop in Tasmania. Owning the colony’s first baccy shop was obviously a nice little earner for George.
At the 1Km point you get the first uninterrupted views of the summit of Mount Wellington if the weather is cooperating. By 1820 there were four or five tanneries operating along this stretch of the Rivulet. Leather was an essential commodity in the colony and was used not only for saddles, horse tack, belts, and shoes it also was used to replace metal in the manufacture of buckets and hinges amongst other things. Leather tanning is a water intensive process and after it was finished with it was returned to the Rivulet along with the tanning agents it had dissolved. Now there is only one tannery in existence which supplies leather to Blundstone the Tasmanian boot maker.
Walk past the C3 Church complex, or if you’re in need have a drink at the Rivulet Cafe (open Monday to Fridays between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm) and on to Degraves Street. Here on your right is the Cascades Female Factory. Back in the penal colony days the male prisoners were segregated from the female ones and initially the women were held at the Macquarie Street Gaol. This was only seen as a temporary arrangement and the facility soon became over crowded. Between 1788 and 1853 around 12,000 women were shipped to Tasmania, mostly for what we would now consider petty crime and anti-social behaviour. But in 1823 it was a big problem and the Cascades Female Factory was set up as a workhouse and it remained in operation until 1856. There is not much left of the original buildings, just the matron’s cottage really, but it is worth going in and having a look. Take the tour and learn about what happened to these poor women and the depravations they lived with while there.
On leaving the Female Factory keep walking up Degraves Street until you get to Cascade Gardens and the Cascades Brewery. The brewery was opened in 1832 as an adjunct to the Macintosh and Degraves Sawmills. The early history of the venture would probably make the basis of a good TV drama. Hugh Macintosh was a retired East India Company officer who migrated to Australia in 1824 with his brother-in-law Peter Degraves. Degraves was a bit of a rotter and scoundrel being a thief and an undischarged bankrupt. The law catches up with Degraves and from 1826 to 1832 he ends up in debtors prison. Macintosh does the right thing by him and dissolves the partnership and pays out the debts and then moves to New Norfolk to farm. Degraves on his release takes over running the brewery. All fairly amicable and straight forward at this stage. Unfortunately Hugh Macintosh dies in 1834 and his share in the business passes to his son William who was in Madras, India. The dastardly Degraves offers to buy William’s inheritance off of him and run the booming business himself. Degraves reneges on the deal and poor William dies a pauper in 1840. Degraves rewrote the history of the firm saying that he was the sole founder of the company and that remained that until 2011 when historian Greg Jefferys discovered the truth. The brewery is now owned by Fosters and produces a range of beers, homebrew, apple cider and non-alcoholic beverages including apple juice, blackcurrant syrup and carbonated beverages. The brewery has a visitor’s centre and runs two tours: the brewery tour which takes you round the brewery and have a tasting; the heritage tour takes you round the gardens and museum and it is more family orientated.
Regular readers will have noticed that since Christmas that I have been putting up video and stills that had been taken with a fish eye lens. For a while I was considering purchasing a suitable lens for either my Canon or Olympus systems as I had been intrigued by the effect. I was also very mindful that having bought such an item I would quickly tire of it and see it as a gimmick and so feel I had wasted my money. So when Dick Smiths (a popular chain of electronic stores here in Australia) offered the Sony HDR-AS20 ActionCam for $120 AUD just before Christmas I bought one seeing it as an affordable way of trying out extreme wide-angle photography and videography.
So what are my feelings about the camera. Well I do believe every photographer should have one of these cameras. They open up a world of creative photography. The lens is outside of the protective case pretty decent. It has a 170º field of view which is roughly equivalent to a 17mm on a full frame 35mm camera, a minimum focusing distance of 30cm (12 inches), a fixed aperture of f2.8 and is pan focus. There is obvious barrel distortion and some chromatic aberration. The distortion is all part of the look of fish eye lenses and the CA can be easily fixed in still images in apps such as Lightroom with a single click. The camera only produces jpegs, which bright and contrasty without too many artefacts. There is no control over sharpening and there are only two pictures styles, normal and underwater. You can’t control the ISO, the shutter speed nor the white balance. All being said it produces nice files and the exposures and white balance were largely spot on requiring minimal adjustments in post. For video the Steadyshot image stabilisation while being software based produces impressive results and was one of the major selection criteria for me when purchasing the camera. It’s not got the best video codec in the world nor the best bit rate and compression but it edits reasonably well as long as you don’t push it too far. A very nice feature is that the supplied software for the camera is embedded as firmware so that you don’t have to mess around with downloads or install discs. So what’s not to like – well the optical quality of the lens port on the protective case is pretty appalling, the supplied software is pretty flakey and crashes a lot on my relatively new iMac. No matter what I tried I couldn’t get the WiFi function to work using either my Sony Android phone or iPad. The Sony mount system isn’t as comprehensive nor widely as available as that of the GoPro alternatives. No problem just get an inexpensive adapter and then you can use anything made for GoPro. A real annoyance is that Sony have made it very difficult to plug in an exterior microphone. You can’t use one with the LCD case nor the standard protective housing. The one you can use it with means you loose the LCD and the protection.
Overall I’m very happy with the camera and have had a load of fun using it. The only thing is that it is totally addictive and I keep coming up with ideas for shots which inevitably means I have to buy another mount for it. Luckily they are cheap, but I have quickly acquired a bag full of them.
Quite a few scenes in this video were shot with the Sony HDR-AS20. I was surprised that the camera proved parrot proof!
Moving to Tassie means that we have rediscovered autumn. When we lived in Western Australia’s Wheatbelt according to Nyoongar tradition had six seasons in a year. Me not being a Black Fella’ could only really differentiate three – hot, not so hot, and not so hot and raining. So it’s quite nice walking around and seeing the trees turn and drop their leaves.
Following hot on the heels from last week’s entry about MONA. David Walsh is not the first person to try to bring a bit of culture to the denizens of Hobart. Way back in 1842 Lady Jane Franklin wife of the governor Sir John Franklin felt that there was a “lack of cultural institutions” in Tasmania. She sought to remedy this with the help of the convict architect, James Blackburn, by building a classical edifice on the slopes of Mount Wellington set in 400 acres parkland. This building was to be the centrepiece of a botanical garden and hopefully instil some cultural aspiration into the good people of Hobart. Fat chance! The Franklins left Hobart in 1843 and the building and land were transferred to the Anglican Church, notably Christ College. After nearly 100 years of neglect by the church the building became an apple shed. Apples are very important to Tasmanians. The nice thick stone walls probably made it a very good store. In 1949 it was acquired, along with 5 acres of land by the Hobart City Council and then leased to the Art Society of Tasmaniawho are now using it as it was originally intended.