Arts / Dombrovskis’ photos change environmental views

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Swan-plucked and wind-driven Quillwort leaves, Lake Elysia, Du Cane Range, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, 1985.
TRUTH is stranger and more beautiful than fiction in the new photographic exhibition, “Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild”, unveiled yesterday (September 20) at the National Library of Australia by former Greens leader Bob Brown and exhibition curator Matthew Jones.

21 years after the death of wilderness photographer Peter Dombrovskis, more than 70 printed photographic images of his works are on show at the NLA, including his image “Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River, Tasmania”, which is credited with having saved Tasmania’s Franklin River from destruction and helped change Australians views about the environment.

Brown, who was a close personal friend of the late photographer, has also written an introduction and commentary to the NLA’s book “Journeys into the Wild: The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis”, which he told “CityNews” on a walk-through, “is selling like hot cakes”.

Dombrovskis’ image of the imperilled Tarkine coast.
The exhibition, he said, had been arranged so that it moved from the sea to the snow-capped mountains of Tasmania, depicting places that were imperilled at the time the photos were taken. Many, he said, had now been saved by having been turned into National Parks.

Many of the photographs, if viewed from a middle distance, give the impression that one is looking at colourful abstract paintings, but a closer look reveals the work of nature.

Dombrovskis’ “drying kelp at sandy bay”.
Granite boulders, smoothed over by thousands of years of running water take on different hues, sometimes shiny black and sometimes rusty. What appears to be a discarded tyre in a mound of shells turns out to be a sharp, jagged piece of rock carved over millennia. Kelp appears like an artful arrangement of industrial waste.

The library is calculating that this exhibition will be a crowd-pleaser.

Curator Matt Jones said Dombrovskis’ photographs of “wild and remote and precious places” proved that he was “the right man in the right place at the right time”. The challenge in mounting the exhibition, he said, had been to whittle down the 3500 photos available to between 70 and 80. During the process, images had been printed from priceless transparencies and those would now become part of the collection.

The late Peter Dombrovskis
Brown described Dombrovskis as a man of few words – “he wouldn’t speak, but he had a very steely resolution, he went down the Franklin three times and helped that campaign.”

His assessment was that Dombrovskis can be considered “globally [as] a front-rank wilderness photographer…very often Australians have the cringe factor, but there have been no better nature photos in the planet.”

In his view, although the technology of photography might become more sophisticated, in some ways it had gone backwards – Dombrovskis’ photos were never enhanced.

“I’m an activist and he was an activist through the lens,” Brown said, “I feel very happy being here and that this national institution is honouring this great Australian.”

“Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild”, Exhibition Gallery, National Library of Australia, until January 30.



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Helen Musa
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