See Tasmania through the eyes of Australia’s greatest wilderness photographer at the National Library of Australia.
Australia’s first major exhibition of the complete portfolio of photographer Peter Dombrovskis is coming to the National Library of Australia. This unique collection is set to take visitors on a journey into the Tasmanian wild, through our most southern state’s breathtaking landscapes, from its ocean and beaches, rivers and forests, to its snow-capped mountains.
Known as this country’s greatest wilderness photographer, Dombrovskis is the only Australian to ever be inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame. From humble beginnings, Dombrovskis was born in Germany to Latvian parents in 1945, but came to Australia in 1950 as a refugee. Strongly influenced by Lithuanian-Australian conservationist and photographer Olegas Truchanas, he started to take photographs in the ’60s with his new home, Tasmania, as his muse. He fell in love with its remote wilderness and dedicated his life’s work to capturing its beauty, from iconic Cradle Mountain to the isolated south-west, where he sadly died in 1996 doing what he loved.
This extraordinary exhibition comes eight years after the National Library acquired the 3000-plus collection of transparencies from Dombrovskis’ widow Liz, who wanted her husband’s work to be accessible for future generations to appreciate.
Curator Matthew Jones had the “extremely difficult” task of choosing which transparencies to exhibit. It’s a unique collection, Jones says, because it pre-dates the digital age. Using a large format camera with 12×10-centimetre analog film, Dombrovskis could only take around seven to 10 photos a day, meaning each shot was well thought-out and precise, resulting in a quality collection of powerful, intriguing and deeply personal photographs. “In the end, we decided to follow the lead of some of Dombrovskis’ books that his wife has put together and take a journey through Tasmania’s different landscapes, one at a time.”
The selection process was not the only challenge: the photographers at the National Library went to extraordinary lengths to clean, digitise and print each image to maintain its integrity and to honour Dombrovskis’ vision. After seeking expert advice, the images were scanned in a way to uphold the detail that Dombrovskis captured on film. “The images have rich, deep colour with sharp overtones; they show different detail to a digital image,” Jones says.
Of course, Dombrovskis work has been admired for more than its aesthetics. “Photography is, quite simply, a means of communicating my concern for the beauty of the Earth,” he wrote in 1984. A year earlier one of his images had been used in a political campaign spearheaded by former Greens leader and environmental activist Bob Brown to save the Franklin River from damming. Along with the slogan “Could you vote for a party that will destroy this?”, the now-famous image of Rock Island Bend is suggested by commentators to have won Bob Hawke the election that year.
At the time, Brown credited Dombrovskis for awakening the country’s environmental conscience. His works are also said to have opened Tasmania up to the world, helping to shape its future as a remarkable place to explore and preserve, while drawing attention to its raw beauty, remoteness and fragility.
Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild will run from 21 September 2017 to 30 January 2018. Entry is free. Free tours are available every Tuesday, Thursday and on weekends.