Gary Sauer-Thompson (G S-T): Graeme, thanks for offering to do the first interview for the Light Paths blog, and for being willing to share your insights about some of your recent Tableland photography with other photographers. I am grateful for your help to foster art photography in South Australia.
I notice from your Facebook page that you have explored the area of South Australia between the eastern edge of the Mt Lofty Ranges and the western edge of the Murray Plains between the townships of Truro and Eudunda. I am intrigued by your choice as I’d briefly explored this area in the 1990s, and then more recently in 2020 whilst I was at the Lavender Trail camp at Kapunda. Here are some initial questions to kick the interview off. We will then see where the conversation leads.
Can you tell me what attracted you to photograph this part of South Australia?; secondly, why did you choose Tableland Rd as a way to explore this Mid-North area?; and thirdly, what you are trying to do with this series of photos? Was it aimless wandering? A spur of the moment roadtrip? Or did you have something specific in mind because you knew the area? If it was something specific, was this in the form of a particular project? If the latter, could you briefly describe the concept underpinning the series of photos you’ve made so far.
Graeme Hastwell (GH): Thanks very much for the invitation, Gary. I appreciate the chance to reflect on this work: it has had a long gestation via a circuitous route.
For many years I avoided photographing agricultural landscapes, concentrating instead on remnant bushland. That changed while I was documenting the Sampson Flat fire — a disheartening, demanding task — when I felt the need to do something more rewarding. So for a time I explored the back roads of the Mid-North and adjacent Mallee, photographing fields and shepherd’s huts and abandoned cemeteries. That came to set the scene for my more recent work.
I hadn’t heard of Tableland before I stumbled upon it one day last August. I had been out on the Murray Plains when, on a whim, I took a gravel road up the eastern flank of the Ranges. And there it was, by a crossroad at the top of the range.
Tableland is an undulating agricultural landscape with scattered trees, some enigmatic ruins, and few cars. Part of its appeal is that it reminds me of the area where I grew up and often walked. Another feature is Tableland’s intimate contact with the elements. Being so exposed, it is subject to rough blustery winds and fierce rainstorms whenever there’s weather about: winter is hard.
This is not a conceptually-driven project: rather, it’s a contemplation of a landscape and the traces of its past. There are familiar models and themes: aspects of Tableland recall Fay Godwin’s work, and Robert Adams’ notion of finding mundane beauty in damaged places is never far from my mind. But I’m sensing other impulses, unbidden, almost subliminal: I’m keen to work through them to see where it takes me.