Landscapes of South Australia by Alex Frayne (2020)
The Varnished Culture has hitherto grudgingly conceded photography as an art; this sumptuous volume has fully convinced us. Over 200 pages of beautiful photographic plates, in brilliant, vibrant tints or tasteful, crisp black-and-white, this is a book for a bedside table, not a coffee table. If one is fortunate to live in South Australia, it fires the imagination and galvanizes the traveller to breathe the immense and often desolate beauty of the State, especially in these days of border-hopping restrictions; for those of us who regard camping as akin to a root canal procedure (sans anaesthetic), then the book is enough on its own.
Whilst anyone who buys a palm-sized device from that evil toy company (Apple) can be a ‘photographer’ now, Mr. Frayne uses one as well, much better than most, plus a variety of more elaborate photographic tools, including old style cameras that produce lush and lustrous works of art, achieving a high resolution of which amateurs can only dream.
Frayne wears out a lot of shoe leather: He ranges from urban Adelaide to its nearby hills, the famous Barossa Valley, the golden triangle of the Eyre Peninsula, the cool colours of the Fleurieu Peninsula and the Limestone coast, the Yorke Peninsula, the Riverland, the dry and dusty flat-ironed Mallee, the Flinders Ranges, Kangaroo Island, and vast northern areas of the state, remote as the back end of the Moon.
There’s a lot of life to these still lifes…Frayne hunts through fog, sleet, snow, rain, lightning, wind, darkness, and sun: he reveals the splendour of all nature including human nature. He even achieves a kind of poetry in a row of cows’ backsides at a trough in the green knolls of Meningie.
There are photographic homages as well. His endless line of freight carriages at Pimba is pure Jeffrey Smart. His foggy lines of scrub with freewheeling birds overhead recalls late impressionism. The sturm und drang of his turbulent wintry landscapes evoke Caspar David Friedrich. Yet the images strike the reader as new and fresh. The terrible beauty of the Australian bush is here in comprehensive glory. In a useful foreword to the book, by Murray Bramwell, the sublime and evocative movies of Australian landscape are mentioned; Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Wake in Fright. It does not surprise that Frayne is also a filmmaker.
This is not an inexpensive book but it is value for money. A photo-junkie’s dream, it contains a myriad trade tricks that excite and dazzle the reader – overexpose-the-shot-and-then-under-develop-the-negative, re-framing the shot, and so on. There is great innovation in these pages, but always leavened by a greater aesthetic sensibility. This work is a treasure.