How to Make the Iconic Australian Photograph

An iconic photograph of a wheat field and sheep, at sunset, near Mildura in far northwest Victoria
An iconic photograph of a wheat field and sheep, at sunset, near Mildura in far northwest Victoria

I'm not sure if there is any one particular subject matter that says Australia. More likely there are many.

The landscape here has given us Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and the Twelve Apostles. Our unique wildlife is indeed iconic. Take, for example, the kangaroo, koala, wombat and emu. Aussie rules is certainly an iconic Aussie sport and, over the years, Aussie sports stars, from many sports and codes, have reached the status of icon. Movies such as Jedda, Crocodile Dundee, Muriel's Wedding and The Castle have challenged our perception of ourselves and what it is to be Australian. Popular songs such as Pub with no Beer, I Was Only Nineteen, (I Come from a Land) Down Under and so much from the Richard Clapton and Midnight Oil songbooks have both celebrated and challenged that perception.

As far as photography is concerned SunBaker by Max Dupain is perhaps the most iconic Australian photograph. And like so many other icons it promotes a certain myth. Take the lifesaver as a case in point. While a valued and potentially heroic figure, the Aussie lifesaver is very much in the minority. The average Aussie is neither a digger, a lifesaver nor a surfer. We are a country of migrants with an indigenous people very much in the minority.

We live in cities and towns but, despite the ravages of political correctness, an element of the Aussie larrikin prevails. It's that peculiar trait that allows us to punch above our weight in sport, politics and the provision of financial assistance to the less privileged. (Though of course we can and should do more). It's why we stand up to bullies and back our friends. We are a loyal people. And that's while I pray that that particular part of our national character, the larrikin, remains with us, long into the future.

The above image is all about mood which is why, at this stage, I haven't done too much to clean up the uneven sky. I actually quite like the imperfect nature of the photo as it provides a dream-like, pictorial look to the image. It's very nostalgic and has the look of an old faded color print.

In this country, while most of us live in cities on or near the coast, we tend to identify with farmers and graziers. After all the wealth of this country was built initially on gold, then wool. Most recently minerals, such as iron ore and coal, have made substantial contributions to our economy. As a result the perception is that much of our relative wealth has come from the land and the farmer/grazier, like the American cowboy or the Icelandic Fisherman, has been elevated to near icon status in this country. Which is probably why they feature so heavily in commercials that promote potentially controversial projects undertaken by large mining and oil companies.

I've cropped the photo to further concentrate attention on the flock of sheep, as they moved through the dry, dusty landscape. It was a beautiful scene to behold. My friend Ashley Granot and I were nearing the end of a 6-hour drive from Melbourne to the regional city of Mildura on the marvellous Murray River. As the sun began to set we pulled the car off the road and began photographing over the fence. It was exhilarating and provided a climatic finish to a long drive.

With the coming of science the role of religion has diminished over the centuries. As more and more people perceive the world around them via the accumulation of fact and rational conclusions, much of the mystery associated with myth has been lost to us. It's my belief that photography and nature can provide us with a link back to a simpler understanding of our world and our place and purpose within it.  After all how can we truly understand or know something without first experiencing it.

So while there are plenty of locations that scream Australia, perhaps it's your approach and understanding that will allow you to make the truly iconic Australian photograph. And when it comes to the landscape, to be able to tell a story that expresses the unique nature of that landscape, you must first experience it.

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru