Arts / Photos of devastation and regeneration

Arts / Tolwong Road: A Story of Fire, Stephen Hartup. X Gallery, Bungendore. To October 9. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

Hartup – a unique effect

THE Canberra region knows all too well, what the devastation of an uncontrolled fire can do, and in this exhibition at X Gallery in Bungendore, the results of a wildfire have become art.

After a major blaze in the Nowra region several years ago, photographer Stephen Hartup took his Large Format camera to Tolwong Road, which lies between Nerriga and Nowra in the Sassafras locality to record the aftermath and the regrowth; he did this over a three-year period.

Many of the 35 photos in this exhibition are close-up shots of the devastation that the fire has caused; some look like they are images of where the earth has actually melted due to the fire. Every photo is in black and white, and this adds its own unique effect to the charred and burnt landscape.

The patterns and shapes left over from the blaze reveal themselves on trees, on the ground and on the twisted and tortured bark from trees. Even though the emphasis of this exhibition is on what happens to nature when it suffers from a major fire, there are images that show the regeneration that the earth is always capable of creating.

A pool of termites

Hartup says that when he visited the area that he viewed it as, “A carpet of grey ash that lay on the forest floor. No birdsong could be heard and no animals or their tracks could be seen marking their presence”. And, if there is one thing that everyone knows about fires, it is that they do not discriminate. There are few signs of life in any photo, and in one, we can see a pool of dead termites.

A tale of rebirth

Fires leave a monotone and desolate landscape, and that is evident in all of these photos, but they also leave a visually poetic footprint. The beauty of a lush green forest is like nothing else on earth, but when it becomes blackened by fire, it tells a different story. That story soon develops into a tale of rebirth, which is something that the Aboriginal people have known and used for thousands of years.



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