Trent Parke

The beauty of brutal reality, so Trent Parke’s photographs demonstrate, does not reside in that reality itself, but in its particular depiction. And if photography is beautiful even when the subject matter isn’t, how do we appreciate the full gravity of that subject matter without our appreciation of beauty sanitizing it?

Parke reveals an Australia relentless in both its vitality and its decay. Captured, as it so often is in his work, in such uncanny light and composition, it takes on another life as art. But still, what of the real life? Where the innocence of discovery transitions to grim acceptance, a distinct humanism abides. Viewer, photographer, subject all connect.

Parke’s receipt in 2004 of the W. Eugene Smith Award to finish his book Minutes to Midnight seems more than appropriate, then. This stunning collection tells a story in photographs from a 90,000 km journey around Australia. It does not celebrate a romantic Australia; rather, it exposes that fallacy.

Parke’s work isn’t all a desolate Outback and its denizens in black and white. His shots of city life are equally stark and beautiful. For a period after Minutes to Midnight he even shot in color. But regardless of format or location, the spirit of discovery remains and it is the road that so often seems to offer Parke this opportunity. Here, the only photographer from Australia represented by Magnum Photos talks about his journeys, his photographs, and a life in which the two give meaning to each other.

How did Minutes to Midnight come into being?

Ever since I was a young boy growing up in the late seventies and eighties, I always had an interest in exploring my own country and culture. I would sit on the back deck of my childhood suburban home in Newcastle, playing records in the dark and listening to the lyrics of Australian bands whose themes and ideas were Australian based. I have always had a fairly vivid imagination and this has always played a major role in the way I construct my work. Listening to the stories in the songs, I would daydream of what the country was really like. I would imagine the animals, the people, the landscape and their connections.

In 2002, there was a poll published in one of the Sydney newspapers: over 60 percent of the population believed the country had reached the end of an era and lost its so-called innocence. With 9/11, the Bali bombings, high insurance premiums forcing the closure of long-running and iconic events, the worst drought in recorded history, and the subsequent firestorms, there was a perception that Australia’s relaxed lifestyle had changed forever. For me it was the right time to set out and explore this for myself and to combine it with my own longing for a personal exploration of my own country. In 2003 my partner Narelle Autio and I set off in a 4WD drive and tent on what turned out to be a two-year journey.

Obviously it is impossible to document an entire nation, so my idea was to create a body of work that was more about the emotional state of the country rather than what it physically looked like—what it felt like to be living in Australia during this period in time.

How does the sense that you are on a journey inform how you photograph and what you photograph?

During the Minutes To Midnight journey (and with all of my work) I wanted to create a fictional story through the use of real documents. The sequencing of my work is very important. On the road trip, I carried with me a laptop and small printer. After processing in my tanks, I would scan and print out everything that interested me in the tent. I have always been fascinated with the role memory plays in the circumstances and objects I am drawn to photograph—why at a particular instant I pick up the camera and take a picture. After several months of printing out the small images I started to notice recurring themes. This is one of the most important stages of all of my work. Once I have identified what I am subconsciously interested in, I begin the process of seeking certain things out, while still being led by the general signs of life.

You have written about, and photographed, alienation in the city. How is this different from any alienation you may feel while travelling in the countryside?

When I first moved to the big city, my immediate reaction was to the enormity of the place and the masses of anonymous faces. I felt incredibly overwhelmed and continually wondered what my role was in this over-saturated world. I had left all my best friends back in my hometown of Newcastle and felt alone for a long time. Travelling during the Minutes to Midnight journey across the country was different. I was with my partner for a while, but the remote towns and isolation that is part of Outback life results in a different kind of isolation. People rely on each other more to survive.

In saying that, I actually enjoyed it—I didn’t want to come back. Every time we would come to a big town or city after not seeing a soul for 600 km, or days on end, I would want to turn the car around and drive straight back. It was almost a culture shock to actually see and deal with people again. Out there nothing seems to matter. Everything is so raw. Problems that seemed big in the city became small and insignificant. I think the city creates a much more frantic state of mind. You can lose track of the important things in life very quickly. Even though you are surrounded by people in the city, it can seem even more isolating.

A piercing humanism runs throughout much of your work. What gave rise to this inclination?

There is no doubt it all stems from a moment when my life changed forever. I was twelve years old when my mum died suddenly one night from an asthma attack. I was the only one home with her at the time. I never looked at life or people the same way again, always questioning everything around me. In those few moments I saw how quickly life could be taken away and how precious it is. Most of my work deals with one’s mortality. From the moment I took hold of my mum’s camera it gave me a way to translate those questions into images.

Some of your subjects are just passing people, who don’t even seem aware of you. In other photos, the subjects are definitely aware of you, even addressing the camera at times. As a stranger or outsider, how do you establish rapport with these more intimate subjects?

By being human. I am shy by nature, but if you are genuinely interested in people or their situation, the rest takes care of itself. If it is intimate I always make sure they are included in the whole process. I make sure that they can see how excited I am about the resulting photograph. I am very passionate about life and photography. For a long time I never really knew how much I showed it. People I am photographing always make this comment to me. And I guess it helps them relax because they can see that you are interested in trying to make something great of them. I try to help them understand the magic of the photographic process.

What have you discovered about your native Australia through photography? What kinds of Epiphanies have you had?

My work only deals with Australia and the Australian way of life. I have no interest in photographing in any other countries. Earlier in my life, when I did travel extensively overseas, I found that I rarely had any emotional connection to what I was photographing. I realised that my photography was very much about my home and understanding of a way of life that I had grown up in. Whether it is the Outback or the city, I have and always do feel an incredible connection to this country. As I grow older the feeling grows even stronger.

In the Seventh Wave I explored the beach, In Dream/Life and Coming Soon I explored the city, in Minutes To Midnight, the Outback, and in the Christmas Tree Bucket, the suburbs. All of these places are personal to me. I continue to photograph what is personal or affecting me in my life right now. It’s my journey though life that affects what I photograph. My current project, The Black Rose, deals specifically with this. All my epiphanies are hopefully expressed in the photographs that I have amassed over my lifetime so far. Australia is where I was born. This is where I belong. This is where I truly see.


パークが描くオーストラリアは、その命も死も、ひとしく無慈悲である。オーストラリアはパーク独特の不気味な光と構成にとらえられて、芸術としての命を吹き込まれるのだ。だが、現実の命はどうだろう? そこは無邪気な発見が、やがてぞっとするような事実の認識へと転化していくような荒涼たる場所である。それでも、パークの写真にはヒューマニズムがはっきりと守られている。見る者、写真家、被写体、すべてがつながっているのだ。

彼が2004年『Minutes to Midnight』完成のためにW.ユージーン・スミス賞を与えられたことはこのうえなくふさわしいことだった。この圧倒的な写真集は90,000 kmにおよぶオーストラリア旅行の写真を通じて、ひとつの物語を語っている。ロマンティックなオーストラリアを称賛するのではない。その失敗を暴く物語を。

パークの作品は荒涼としたアウトバック地帯やその住人を写した白黒写真ばかりではない。都市生活の写真もまた同じように飾り気がなく美しい。『Minutes to Midnight』のあとにはカラー写真を手がけた時期もあった。だが、フォーマットや撮影地はどうであっても、彼の写真にはつねに発見の精神が宿っている。そしてパークにその機会を与えているのは、どうやら旅路のようだ。マグナム・フォト唯一のオーストラリア人写真家パークが、旅と写真について、そしてそれらが互いに意味を与えあっている人生について語ってくれた。

『Minutes to Midnight』はどのように生まれたのですか?





『Minutes to Midnight』の旅のあいだは(ぼくの作品は全部そうですが)現実の記録を使いながらフィクションの物語を作りたかったんです。それには作業の連携がとても大切です。旅路には、ノートパソコンと小さなプリンタを持っていきました。タンクを使ってフィルムを現像処理したあと、テントのなかでスキャンして、面白かったら全部プリントアウトしたんです。ぼくがいつも夢中になってしまうのは、写真を撮りたいと思う状況のなかで、記憶がどんな役割を果たすのかということなんですね。つまり、なぜその特定の瞬間にカメラをかまえて写真を撮ろうとしたんだろうってこと。そうやって小さな画像を数ヶ月もプリントアウトしつづけて、やっと繰り返し現われるテーマに気づいたんです。それはぼくの創作活動を通じてもっとも重要な局面のひとつでした。いったん意識の底で魅かれていたものを探り当てたら、次は決まったものを捜していく段階でした。それでも、生き物がいそうな方角へと導かれてはいましたが。


ぼくが大都市に引っ越したとき最初に感じたのは、その場所の巨大さ、それに大量の名もなき顔たちでした。ものすごく圧倒されましたし、この飽和しきった世界でぼくに何ができるんだろうと問いつづけました。仲の良い友達はみな故郷のニューカッスルにいたので長い間孤独だったんです。『Minutes to Midnight』で全国を旅するのはまた違った経験です。しばらくはパートナーもいっしょだったし、それに人里離れた町やアウトバック(オーストラリア奥地)の孤独というのは、都会とは別の孤独でしたから。みんな生き残るためにお互いをずっと頼りにしてるんですよ。

というのは、実際に楽しかったんです。戻りたくなかった。人っ子ひとり見つけられないまま600 kmとか何日も走ったあとで大きな町へたどりつく。すると、そのたびに車をUターンしてまっすぐ帰ってしまいたくなった。もう一度人間と面と向かってつきあうのはほとんどカルチャーショックみたいなものだったんです。外の世界ではあらゆるものが生身のままで、何もかもどうでも良かった。都会では大きくみえた問題も、取るに足らないことみたいで。都会は田舎よりもずっと狂気じみた精神状態を生み出すような気がします。一瞬のうちに人生にとって大切なものを見失ってしまうこともある。人に囲まれているのにずっと孤立しているんです。





写真を通じて母国オーストラリアについてどんな発見をしたと思いますか? どんなひらめきがありましたか?


『The Seventh Wave』ではビーチを、『Dream/Life』では都市を、『Minutes To Midnight』ではアウトバック、『The Christmas Tree Bucket』では郊外を描きました。そのすべてがパーソナルな場所です。ぼくは人生において自分に影響を与えるものを撮り続けるつもりです。人生を旅するということ、それこそが写真に影響を与えるのですから。『The Black Rose』という最新プロジェクトはまさにこのことに取り組んだものです。ぼくの得たひらめきが写真に表れていたら良いと思います。オーストラリアはぼくの生まれたところ。ぼくにふさわしいところ。そして、本当の意味で見ている場所なのですから。



Books by Trent Parke

Minutes to Midnight (Filigranes, 2005)
The Seventh Wave (Hot Chilli Press, 2000)
Dream/Life (Hot Chilli Press,1999)

Koe Magazine is grateful to Ogawa Junko of Magnum Tokyo for assistance with the interview and the images. Refer to Magnum’s website for more information on Magnum photographers, Trent Parke and his available work:

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