Review: Saltwater Country

The term ‘country’ in Australia is used to describe the intrinsic nature of Aboriginal culture and creative expression in its connectedness to land and place of birth. What is less understood is the equally strong cultural connectedness to the sea and water’s edge. Saltwater Country is a major exhibition on show in Gallery 1 at The Gold Coast Arts Centre from July 19th to August 31st. It presents new work by sixteen contemporary Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, and is touring Australia wide and internationally.

This exhibition includes work from a number of artists including Vernon Ah Kee, Daniel Boyd, Michael Cook, Megan Cope, Erub Erwer Meta, Fiona Foley, Rosella Namok, Mavis Ngallametta, Laurie Nilsen, Napolean Oui, Ryan Presley, Brian Robinson, Ken Thaiday, Alick Tipoti, Ian Waldron and Judy Watson. The direct and combatant neo-conceptual works that these artists produce promote different views through the use of a variety of mediums, including elegantly detailed large-scale portraits, hanging installations, large scale paintings and multimedia, and projections and audio pieces.

Gallery 1 hosts a large open space where viewers can interact with the body of work as a whole. The artworks are displayed along each wall and when walking through the exhibition, audiences are guided effortlessly through the expression of Indigenous views presented in each unique artwork. This creates a strong Gallery setup.

Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art practice is notably different from the contemporary painting movement that has emerged from the Western Desert. Saltwater Country seeks to capture this distinctive cultural and creative experience; as artists reclaim histories, investigate their pasts and establish new ways of caring for country and community through their artistic practice.

Aspects of each artist’s work interact with one another on a strong level, responding to different views of people, land and culture. This provides the audience with a unique and critical interpretation of this beautiful world we need to embrace. There is a sense of relation in the work, offering a spiritual connection to viewers through sharing each artist’s story, identity and beliefs. This enhances the viewers experience by connecting and allowing them to become a part of the scene and experience. What comes through so strongly with these artists is the celebratory aspect of their work. They seem completely grounded in their own culture, yet able to modernize despite originating within a set of invisible boundaries. Artists such as Daniel Boyd, Michael Cook or Fiona Foley take a more cerebral approach. More political in nature, Fiona Foley’s photo sequence The Oyster Fisherman (2011) references the exploitation of Indigenous people in Queensland’s fishing industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Foley shares her dark tale through the use of colour and landscape, referencing the brutality of this historical story.

Each artwork is lit up, with the large-scale installations hung in the corners of the gallery, complimented by added projection. The walls in Gallery 1 make the exhibition, and are positioned to show all of the pieces together as one. There is also audio elements of the exhibition including sounds of whispering waves crashing against the shore, creating a sense of calmness. The waves comment on the connection to sea and the water’s edge.

The exhibition was well worth seeing, sharing art pieces that are so different in construction but so similar in meaning and scope. The gallery showed the work magnificently, sharing great stories from each artist and their individual cultural backgrounds. These artists have grown up holding a deep connection to their coastal country and this exhibition really brings forth their stories. Despite the artists belonging to a diverse set of locations each artist wherever they inhabit uses water to connect to the land and express their beliefs. Brisbane based artist Ryan Presley shares his work featuring sharks, and talks about Queensland’s political history. An equally shared connectedness to the sea and water’s edge was made evident, employing a sense of unity, cultural strength and creativity. Saltwater Country returns to Australia to show at Manly Art Gallery and Museum, Sydney in May 2015 to June 2015.

By Jessica Longworth

Review: Agenda

QUT Art Museum in Brisbane held the Agenda exhibition, officially opened on the 5th of July, running until the 31st of August. The direction of the exhibition was focused on bringing together artworks that focus on an agenda. Whether the art is political, social or cultural, these works deliver a mutual message to the audience, working together to show complexity and diversity. There is a fascinating juxtaposition between the overt and subtle agendas of the exhibitions artistic pieces, created in a multiplicity of style, method, meaning and voice. The works of Richard Bell, Fiona Foley, Michel Cook, and Vernon Ah Kee call for equality for Indigenous Australia. Whereas Keith Looby and Jay Younger’s work critically analyze government politics. Alfredo, Isabel Aquilizan and Dadang Christanto delicately question inequality, and give voice to the disenfranchised. While the works of Leah Emery and Barbara Hanrahan reflect on gender issues with delicate humour. Whatever agenda is espoused, these artists are united in presenting powerful images that testify to the ongoing political power of art.

The works are all presented in different ways, from the use of large dynamic canvas prints and paintings, to the use of installations and framed photographs. The works are exhibited in two separate rooms making the transition between the two flow nicely for viewers. The theme, purpose and ideas embodied in this exhibition, portray diverse political themes that inform and compliment one another. The artists voice their opinion through the use of powerful imagery and installations. There is a shared political and social agenda and through the use of different art mediums, a diversity of expressions and perspectives are revealed. Vernon Ah Kee’s black and white dichotomy on canvas critiques Australian popular culture. The text-based installation reveals and condemns the widespread and inescapable discrimination and racial stereotyping that Indigenous Australians have experienced.

The works interact with each other effectively, sharing political views of the world. The exhibition certainly exerts influences of agenda, and this is what makes it so unique. Spotlights are fixed on each piece, creating an open connection with the audience. The larger canvases are lit up with three separate lights making them hard to miss. Some of the photographs and paintings are framed in black and brown, which makes the works lack a little consistency.

The use of dynamic canvas prints and installations really add up to a successful and engaging exhibition that promotes the idea that all art is political. By using propaganda to promote political and social agendas, the work is well informed by the perspective of each individual artist. Each artist has used their work as a tool of subversion; criticizing and questioning socio-political structures that shape the views of society in order to give a voice to private and public concerns. One of the artists from Agenda, Richard Bell is exhibiting his work ‘Imagining Victory’ at the Casula Powerhouse in NSW from the 11th of October to the 23rd of November.

By Jessica Longworth

Review: Points in Time

Points in Time is an exhibition by Chris Langlois, presented in Gallery 2 at The Gold Coast Arts Centre, on display from August 2nd to September 14th. The exhibition showcases more than thirty paintings by Langlois, many of them presented as large canvas landscapes. Since completing his study at The University of Newcastle in 1990, Chris Langlois has drawn international acclaim and earnt the reputation as one of Australia’s leading contemporary landscape artists. Langlois’s paintings are characterized by subtle shifts of light and space, exploring the beauty and nature of land and sea. His large scale canvases and tremendous surface quality envelope the audience. While his paintings are often inspired by places, they transcend time and space to become much more about personal experience. Langlois has been called ‘a painter’s painter’ in that he revels in the process of painting and developing a rigorous technique that allow images to ‘emerge’ from the canvas.

A number of Langlois’s paintings are presented as large oil works on linen canvasses, saturating each wall with life and colour in the gallery, encouraging a diversity of expression within the unique landscapes. As part of the exhibition, Langlois shares the techniques and theory behind his work through a video interview that is presented in the Gallery 2 Dark room. His painting has oscillated from pure abstraction to relatively literal landscapes, yet certain qualities have remained consistent. His subtle use of light and space, the meticulous command of paint, and a desire to work within a limited, but ever-changing, palette of tones and colours. The theme and purpose in his paintings are at times quite apparent, such as the ocean or vast tracts of land, surveyed from above. Other times, the subject seems to be obscurity itself; a strange misty void in which substance dissolves into pure atmosphere.

The paintings in the exhibition interact well together, giving each canvas its own space. A calm mood is exerted when walking through the exhibition as you see and feel every landscape. Langlois’s use of dull colours in his paintings interacts with the relaxing atmosphere in which the viewers are positioned. The sky, clouds, dead trees after a Snowy Mountains bushfire, even tiny refractions of landscape revealed in the rain drops forming on a car window during a thunderstorm have all inspired different themes in Langlois’s work. Each canvas shares a story of the landscape, inspiring a meaning of the world through water, colour and light. A moody presence is cast by the lights fixed above each canvas, working in conversation with the context of the landscape. The works are shared amongst a clean, white space.

The feeling of existing within the landscape is a key strength of Langlois’s work. Throughout his career as an artist, Chris Langlois has had a steadily evolving relationship with his subject matter. This exhibition reveals a deeper understanding of landscapes and the Points in Time, which we often take for granted. Here we are given a subtle invitation into his world of observation and creation.

By Jessica Longworth

Profile: Donna Bailey

Profile by Jessica Longworth

Donna Bailey is a visual journalist who lives with her family in Kangaroo Flat, an outer suburb of Bendigo. In 2006, she joined Oculi, an Australian photographic agency, where she is known for her striking images of young people, including her own children. The images are set in the open landscape exploring the themes of girlhood, boyhood, young parenthood, regional life and the drought. I spoke to her about what originally drew her to photography, as well as, the attraction of just stopping to take a photograph of a subject. Donna spoke to me about her most recent project ‘Don’t play on the Mullock’, and her deep engagement with the landscape and history of her family life.

What is it about a story, place or a situation that makes you want to stop and take a photo?

In a nutshell, it’s the subject (person) first, then the lighting. The place always plays a big part in the photographs I create because it is usually a place that I know well or am deeply curious about. For example, where I live is adjacent to former alluvial and deep mining sites and the landscape is quite degraded in places because of gold mining practices and white settlement in the area.

What originally drew you to photography? Would you say that the same thing still attracts you today?

As a child I loved the magic of image making. During the 1970s my family had a polaroid camera and my wider family (Aunts, Uncles, cousins) were always taking photos and creating images. These were usually based around family gatherings, family picnics and family holidays. Later when I studied photography at University, as a mature aged student with four children, I learned that I could really push the boundaries of photography, particularly around the genre of family (and later, maternal) photography. Using film (rather than digital) has always been important to me. Apart from loving the particular qualities of film, the fact that the outcome is not always exactly what I imagine it to be, further engages me with the process.

What do you hope to achieve through your photographic works?

I love to exhibit my photographs and to see them published in books. I hope that my photographic practice contributes in a meaningful way to the discourse around contemporary Australian photography.

What is something that you would consider a life-changing moment in your career?

There have been so many. I remember first photographing the Anzac Day dawn service as a student during the mid 1990s and realising that I just loved photographing people and engaging with them through that process. It has been life changing to complete my postgraduate degrees. I completed a Masters in 2002 and my PhD in 2012. The fact that photography has played such an important role in my family life has been most affecting.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career so far? What has been the most difficult project you’ve worked on? Why?

Definitely my Doctorate. It’s a pretty hard call to balance family life and study. The intensity at times was overwhelming.

From where do you draw your photographic and methodological influences?

From life.

What inspired your latest work ‘Don’t play on the Mullock’? Can you share an interesting story from the process?

Mullock was a culmination of influences. My children had grown and were psychologically moving away from me and I had a real desire to document that in some way. So, in Mullock the children are small, set in the distance and the landscape which foregrounds the image kind of takes over as the subject.

Then there was my fascination with Australian history and the experience of living in a place that is so saturated with the relics of time past. Living in the bush can be at times a little spooky. It is different to visiting a place and seeing it as a specific site in which to create a photo; twenty years of sleeping in the same place yet still hearing unfamiliar noises at night, the many difficult years of drought, dead pets and wildlife (see my image of the drowned sheep), the small objects from the nineteenth and twentieth century that we have unearthed in our day to day living, the stories of women’s lives on the goldfields… I wanted to punctuate my images with the layers of meaning that I have taken from the landscape over many years.

An interesting story from the process occurred when I learned of family letters that are in the State Library of Victoria Collection. The letters written by my great great grandparents home to Ireland during the 1860s, mention dressing their three little girls in red dresses so as ‘…to be seen in the heavily timbered country’. Usually I wouldn’t intentionally ‘dress’ my subjects, but in the Whipstick photographs that form a part of this series, I intentionally photographed my three young nieces in their red dresses, I was interested in emplacing an element of my own family history into the Mullock series.

Are you currently working on any new projects? If so, what are they about?

I have a few projects. I am looking at ‘masculine’ aspects of the landscape and I am re-looking at family.

How often do you experiment with mixed media techniques in your own photographic work?

I don’t.

What are some of the lessons photojournalism has taught you, and what advice would you give to emerging and aspiring photojournalists?

Advice to students, don’t spend too much time agonizing about which stories to create. Look at what is right in front of you to begin with. It will all move forward from there. And read about other photographers and their practices. The lessons are too many though I admit to almost always using full frame as I was taught to way back in first year photojournalism.

What do you strive to achieve for your future career?

It would be lovely for the work to show overseas. I have had some opportunities to do this but would like to pursue more.

Donna’s website can be viewed at: Donna Bailey: Oculi 

Profile: Raphaela Rosella

Profile by Lauren Kessler

Raphaela Rosella is an Australian documentary storyteller. She is the current issue editor of The Australian Photojournalist, a “non- profit publication dedicated to giving voice, casting a critical eye on global journalism while utilizing visual storytelling and documentary practice as a catalyst for social activism”. Raphaela’s interest in photojournalism inspires her to use visual storytelling to create social change. Her work “You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new one”, explores the relationship between class, stigma and gender. Documenting three young mothers (Nunjul, Tammara and Rowrow), Raphaela seeks to give a voice to those considered disadvantaged in Australian society. In 2012, she joined Australian photography collective Oculi and is represented throughout Europe by Agence Vu. I spoke to Raphaela about her photographic journey, and how she stays motivated to keep producing work.

Raphaela’s Project:

With teenage pregnancy stereotyped as a social problem, most dominant discourses do not consider the limited choices available to many young women experiencing ‘disadvantage’. As a consequence, becoming a mother at a young age can be perceived as an irrational and irresponsible choice. However, for many disadvantaged youth, becoming a parent young may not be a ‘failure of planning’, but instead a tacit response to the limited choices and opportunities available to them.
Through exploring relationships between class, stigma and gender, and giving voice to young mothers through documentary storytelling, ‘You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new one’ seeks to explore the lived experience of three young mothers; Nunjul, Tammara and Rowrow.
The aim of this project is not to argue the oversimplified narratives of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mothers. Instead, it is hoped that the project can serve as a platform to show the complexities of each woman’s lived experience, and challenge conventional views of young mothers through recognising the validity of their (often misunderstood and stigmatised) choices. Please note: The installation of this project was presented with audio scapes of the women telling their own stories.

What is it about visual-storytelling that compels you?

I guess what draws me to visual-storytelling is its ability to invoke a visceral, emotional
reaction that in turn compels an audience to act, feel and/or empathise.

What are the most rewarding aspects of being a photojournalist?

The most rewarding aspects of being a documentary visual storyteller would be the
relationships and friendships I have made through my projects. Although the majority of the
people I photograph are already friends or family, working and collaborating with
them means I get to nurture our relationship and become a stakeholder in
their story.

What motivates you the most to pursue a new project?

My projects never seem to officially finish; I believe they evolve (as do my
participant’s lives), pushing me to investigate broader issues.

What are the most important things you have learnt so far in your career?

Be yourself.

From what sources do you derive your inspiration?

In my home town, you could say drug use, drug dealing, domestic violence and unemployment are all accepted as ‘normal’. And as a child, heroin use and over-doses were easily seen on the streets of my community. This of course prevented me from taking hard drugs, but I found myself drinking alcohol excessively from a young age. However, it is important to highlight, while there certainly is hardship, I have experienced a strong sense of belonging through an extended family and tight-knit community. It’s these experiences and environments that have played a major role in the issues and people I photograph.

As well as deriving my inspiration from my everyday I also spend a lot of time on the Internet looking at other visual practitioners practices. When I can I splurge and buy books for research and inspiration.

In your work “We Met a little early, but I get to love you longer”, how did you
approach bringing a camera into the situation and having a photographic
relationship? How do these families feel about it?

I’ve been photographing my friends and family since high school and was already
photographing my everyday before starting the project. I would have photographed
the events regardless of the project. It only really became focused when I started to
question my response to my twin sister’s pregnancy. It was from there I officially asked
the girls if they would like to be involved. The families enjoyed working on the project
because of the issues I raise with the wider community. Both ‘We met a little early, but
I get to love you longer’ and ‘You didn’t take away my future, you gave me a new
one’ serve as a platform to show the complexities of each woman’s lived experience
and challenge conventional views of young mothers.

How does it feel for these women to have a photographic record of their children at
those points in their life?

By looking specifically at Gillianne’s story, I feel having a photographic record of these
events meant that her son could be remembered. Talking about SIDS and a death in
the family is often taboo, but having a photographic record of these events meant
baby Lachlan’s story wasn’t hushed. For Gillianne I think this means a lot.

Has having a child influenced your perspective or understanding of the work?

Although I had a personal understanding of some of the issues faced by the
Women, I wasn’t a mother when I made the work. Since having a baby I can better understand how challenging, rewarding, self-sacrificing and chaotic
motherhood really is. I admire these women.

You are a mixed-media artist using various photographic mediums such as film,
digitals and scans of text. How do you approach these formats differently and does it
change the experience? What do they add to the work?

As I changed my digital 35mm SLR for a medium format camera (with a waist level
finder), I found my presence to be less intrusive. It allowed me to maintain
conversation and participation, and it reduced the physical barrier that can be
created by holding a camera in front of your face (directly between you and the
other person). I found that this change better enabled my camera as an apparatus
for looking and experiencing, and allowed for greater intimacy.
I continue to use various formats and mediums when appropriate. The sensitive nature of the
circumstances I am often working in means I am uncomfortable photographing
excessively to capture the ‘right’ image. To combat this I employed a slower, more
reflective data collection process that emerged from immersing myself in each woman’s life. Using film and becoming aware of my limited frames, encouraged me to be more economical when photographing. By listening to and recording their stories I was able to formulate an in-depth understanding of each woman’s lived experience.

Are you currently working on any new projects? If so, what are they about?

I am continuing to investigate relationships between class, stigma and gender
among young women and men experiencing ‘disadvantage’ in Australia. Focusing
closely on issues such as the cyclic nature of poverty, limited opportunities, low
expectations, low levels of literacy and numeracy skills, domestic violence, addiction,
societies construction of ‘bad mothers’ and the dehumanising effects of excessive
bureaucracy.

What advice would you give to emerging and aspiring photojournalists?

Photograph what you are passionate about not what you think is sellable. Do it
because you love it, because you are compelled to make work.
Make a visual diary, write down your thoughts/ideas and fill it with inspiration,
experiments and work in progress.
Immerse yourself with the work of others; photographers, writers, filmmakers, sculptors,
painters, dancers, poets etc.

Raphaela’s website can be viewed at: Raphaela Rosella

Profile: Kelly McIlvenny

Profile by Lauren Kessler

Kelly McIlvenny is a visual journalist based on the Gold Coast, Australia. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Visual Art. I spoke to her about what inspired her to begin a career in photojournalism, as well as what keeps her motivated. Kelly spoke to me about her constantly evolving career, as well as new projects and opportunities on the horizon.

What inspired you to pursue a career in photojournalism?

There are so many moments that lead to me pursuing a career in photojournalism. I will share the one where I fell in love with photography instead.

When I was eight, maybe nine, years old my grandfather gave me his old Nikon. My family was living in the US at the time, so it was something special to share with a man I barely new but deeply loved. I remember one day convincing (bribing) my younger siblings to come outside in the late afternoon on a cool day, posing them for some portraits. But then something magical happened, my young sister attacked her older brother in the way only sisters can with love and vengeance at the same moment. Colliding on the ground. Click. The warm light on their giggling little faces making their cold rose colour cheeks even more prominent. I could not wait to have the film developed at the local CVS, excited to send it off to the man who loved photography, but loved me more. It seems silly, but this moment shows everything I love about the little black box—the camera’s miraculous ability to capture something already gone. To slow my normally racing mind down, to be in that moment, to save it for later. I was hooked.

Did you have any prior knowledge of photojournalism before you began studying it?

Yes, some. I had read of its history and who were some of the greats. But not the important things, like its emotional hold on you or how to read the visual narratives.

What are you currently working on for your doctorate?

In short, it is about an army. This army has no weapons, and the vast majority of its members are women. Yet its infantry numbers over 50,000. It is an army of volunteers combating maternal and infant mortality rates in Nepal, supported by the nurses and doctors of health outposts and hospitals often several hours away. So my work is on telling this largely untold story, in hopes that these women’s achievements and challenges will be seen, honoured, and continue to be supported. My doctoral work is a continuation of my honours work entitled Welcome Labour Room documenting the issues and challenges surrounding pregnancy and childbirth in Nepal.

What is the most rewarding part about being a photojournalist?

For me it is the experiences it has lead me to, and the people I have had the privilege of working with. No project is the same, as no day is the same on any one project. Life moves on, and it is such an honor to have the opportunity to watch it. In particular, it is wonderful to know that my visual language has helped One Heart convince thousands of people to help thousands of women in rural Nepal have a safe pregnancy and childbirth. It is priceless that kind of joy. Likewise, the time I have spent with the women of Baglung district in Nepal are memories I will never forget.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

Like all travellers bed bugs, Giardia, and other digestive track implosions come to mind—finding the will to do anything but sleep in 50 degree Celsius heat. Perhaps more difficult are the emotional hurdles, both in convincing yourself this is the right path despite a whole industry of people telling you to run the other way—photojournalism is dying they say, there are no jobs in media, you are a terrible person for wanting to photograph childbirth in a third world country, and the list goes on. On a more personal level, photographing women who are exactly your age and will never have the same opportunities in life that you have been given because they were forced to marry at fifteen and now have three children and are severely malnourished from living below the poverty line, is incredibly emotional. Then trying to balance your desire to work harder and do more with an instinctual desire to spend time with your own loved ones. It is a challenge, sometimes heartbreaking, but always worth it.

What do you strive to achieve for your future career?

My ideas of my future career are constantly evolving as new opportunities and projects come forward. If I have learned anything from the global financial crisis, it is to be flexible and find new ways of making your goals possible. When I finish my doctorate I hope to gain a place working as an Australian Youth Ambassador working as a researcher or communications assistant for one of AusAid’s partner organizations abroad. Beyond that I am not an ambitious person, as long as I continue to find a way to work on projects that have meaning I will live with no regrets.

Are you always satisfied with the work you produce?

No, but I am always grateful for the experience. I am still learning, I imagine that will never change.

Who inspires your work?

Visually many photographers have inspired my work, perhaps more importantly Jack Picone, Stephen Dupont, Fracesco Zizola, Ed Giles and Trent Parke inspire me as human beings and how they approach their work and in turn their life—they are all extremely generous with their knowledge, a quality I admire greatly. I am also greatly inspired by my peers, for instance Raphella Rosella’s work on young mothers captures beauty—reaching to a place beyond the trivial to meaningful engagement.

On your website you have a section for commercial photography. Do you prefer commercial or documentary style photography, and why?

While I take on commercial projects for the health of my wallet, the commercial projects I choose to work on reflect my personal interests and documentary style. Individuals choose to hire me for that style, so it is not one or the other. While long form reportage is definitely my passion, I enjoy working creatively with commercial clients.

What are some of the lessons photojournalism has taught you, and what advice would you give to emerging and aspiring photojournalists?

I am an emerging photojournalist, but here are a few rough guidelines:

• Everyone has a story. Each is valuable beyond measure, because it represents a life lived. Respect each story as if it was a life.
• There is no such thing as being invisible, so be mindful of your presence—set a positive tone with open body language and an open mind.
• You will miss many photographs, but only you can lose those memories.
• Choose your own path, there is no right way when wandering through the creative forest.
• Never give in to cynicism.
• Keep a journal.
• Share cups of tea with many people.
• Come prepared but open-minded.
• Take the road not taken.

One Heart World-wide: http://www.oneheartworld-wide.org/index.php/programs/nepal
Kelly’s work can be viewed at: http://www.kellymcilvenny.com/

Profile: Mark Calleja

My first introduction to Mark Calleja’s work was back in 2011. He let me tag along on a follow up story featuring the down to earth Ashton family who’s son Coen was a Pride of Australia winner that same year. As a rookie photographer the thing that struck me the most was the rapport that he had with his subjects, and how at ease they seemed in front of the camera.  The Pride of Australia pieces are prime examples of Mark’s standard of work. In these pieces you can see that Mark’s connection with his subject and dedication to telling a meaningful story results in images that are not only emotive, they give you an insight into what it must be like to be that person at that point in their lives. He describes these pieces as a photo essay of the time he spent with his subjects. The view we have into the lives of others through his camera is a privileged one. We feel lucky to be looking into lives which have been authentically shared.

Calleja started working in newspapers when the smell of darkroom chemicals were still thick in the air. In the beginning, he was in charge of processing other photographers’ rolls of film and printing their work. This allowed Calleja to learn on the job by analysing the images as he was printing them. Inspired by legendary artists David Moore and Max Dupain, Calleja’s work is more than your run of the mill news shots. A man dedicated to getting the best out of each shoot, Calleja is happiest when time permits him to get to know the person behind the subject, something he states as being an important part in telling an emotive and accurate story.

Calleja states that a big key to success is being open to opportunities when they arise. He has certainly embraced this motto, travelling throughout Australia as well as overseas to in order to hone his skills and further his career. Hailing from Adelaide, he starting at the Messenger Press. He speaks of his early career: “I set out to be in newspapers from about the age of 18, and it was basically blinkers on from then.“ This opportunity allowed that all-important foot in the door. He put’s a lot of his success down to hard work, whether it be pestering the editor to let him go out on jobs with other photographers or to work other cities or countries. After moving to Melbourne around 1995 for a cadetship, which unfortunately fell through, Calleja worked instead for the Herald Sun as well as freelancing for various suburban newspapers. Working in suburban papers allowed him to hone his skills, which he says were pretty raw. A turning point in his career was a move to Albury to work on a paper there. Here he was able to learn many valuable lessons about photojournalism from the picture editor who took Mark under his wing. Further adventures include working in London for two years; a highly competitive environment that taught him to think on his feet.  While he’s been stationed in Brisbane for the last eight years, his time working in papers there has allowed him further travel opportunities including a recent trip to Afghanistan.

Travelling to Afghanistan to work is a trip that is difficult to do without the financial and security support provided by an organisation such as a newspaper or similar organisation. Although in some ways impossible to prepare for, Mark spoke to other photographers who had already made the journey.  While the physical reality of being required body armour as a part of your daily work serves as a constant reminder of the situation you’re in, there are also limitations of where you’re allowed to go. “Other people are responsible for you, so you can’t be walking off doing your own thing too much. It’s a bit of a tricky situation. Even though it’s a beautiful place you’re always conscious of where you’re working.” Some of the experiences he had included documenting the transfer of operations to local forces and the rebuilding of the local school. He sights it as a valuable experience, something that he’d definitely like to do again.

While working within the constraints of the job can often mean a very limited window of opportunity, Calleja say’s that he tries to document not only the brief he’s been given but also what is happening on the edges. He describes this process as a photo essay in a hurry. He speaks of the newspaper as an exciting place to work, a place that not only allows him to pay his bills but also gives him access to a wide range of subjects and interesting opportunities. “Putting forward ideas is something that is definitely encouraged”, says Mark, a process that allows a photographer scope for investigation not only breaking stories but those issues that might be a little closer to the heart.

Speaking to Mark about his career and the work he’s done, I get the sense of a photographer who is very aware of the impact that a photograph can have. I’m interested to hear his thoughts on the issues that the media has been having in regards to self-regulation and I get the impression that this is something he feels strongly about. Both in the sense of telling an unbiased story and in the sense of keeping the image accurate in terms of post production, Mark is very black and white about what is ok and what’s not.

Mark Calleja is truly a newspaper man, a photographer who set out to work in papers and still loves working for them today. I ask him if he would ever consider moving into documentary, since his work and love of people would seem to lead in that direction. He answers simply that he’s happy working at the paper. “Not one day is the same in papers, there is so much variety, and most of the time it’s exciting. The people and places you get to meet and see. People that have really overcome.” Listening to Calleja speak about the power of the image, of capturing a single moment and it’s clear he sees himself as being one of the privileged ones, able to record history and document society. To him, every story is important, and deserves just as much thought and effort “whether it’s a story for page one or page fifty one”. A point he reiterates as I ask him if he has a project that he is most proud of. “You hope to always get it…iconic images such as the vulture and the child (Pulitzer prize winning image by African photographer Kevin Cater) are pretty rare. But there is value in all stories, a 15 year old with Cerebral Palsy is no less important than the iconic images. Tell every story like it’s a page one.”