#907. On Being There: Kings Canyon and surrounding area.

By Sean O Brien | Art & Creativity

Sep 25

Kings Canyon is part of the Watarrka National Park, home to the Luritja Aboriginal people, in the Northern Territory, Australia. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and you are discouraged from leaving the walking tracks.

The easiest and best way to get there is by car via the sealed Lasseter Highway. It’s about 6 hours or 450 km south-west of Alice Springs, otherwise its 4 hours or 300 kilometres north-east of Uluru. The best time to visit Kings Canyon is at sunrise. This is good strategy to avoid environmental heat buildup as the sun climbs higher in the sky. It’s also to avoid any access closure at around 11 a.m. by rangers, in the interests of safety, due to the heat.

The six kilometre, four hour, Kings Canyon loop rim walk is a challenge, particularly at the beginning. A reasonable level of fitness is expected to do the rim walk. The canyon walls are about 270 metres high, from the get start. You’ll ascend 500 very steep steps up to the top the canyon wall to start the spectacular rim walk. At about half way, you descend and cross the canyon floor. Once down in the canyon you can choose to trek into the Garden of Eden, a permanent waterhole. It’s a worthwhile visit, prior to backtracking to ascend the other side of the canyon wall to complete the second half, back to the car park.

You’ll also need to carry water, 1 litre per hour, per person, to drink during the walk –this is important. Along with well maintained rest room facilities, there is a water station, near the car park. There’s also the Kings Canyon Creek walk, 1 hour duration, for after completing the rim walk. Be advised, if you take a camera, it’ll be, all up, more than a four hour walk.

I went there, not only to savour the experience, but also to do my best to visually capture and project my connect with that experience, in an image or series of images – dependant on what I reacted to, at the time. These images were taken on the loop rim walk, the creek walk, and nearby landscape walk, close to where my wife and I were staying. I took many images, whilst being mindful of avoiding a cliched tourist ‘snap’. I wanted to record the ‘vibe’, the bit that made stop because it resonated with me, to reveal that bit ‘for what it is’. Not an easy task I set myself, but one that both set boundaries and produced rewards. I think I achieved what I had set out to do, because I trusted my instincts when I reacted to what I was seeing at a particular time, and then let my photography look after itself.

However, something did not sit right with the final images. The camera 2:3 frame ratio both impacted and influenced in its own way, as did lens choice – ranging from 25mm to 50mm. The Australian outback landscape is vast. To a point where a 50mm lens can function like a wide angle lens, at times. The landscape is so vast, that it’s easy to miss the small bits that go into making the complete picture. If not receptive, one may just superficially scan what’s there, without actually reading what’s present. A single image, or a series of images, can capture and express an experience by revealing the individual moods that exit within the midst of what’s observed – if you are prepared and willing to listen.

My approach is to firstly slow down and observe – then the small bits, in the observed, will start aconversation, and I reciprocate by listening with my eyes. That’s when I’ll start to see, as opposed to only look. Then, the resulting images I’ve crafted, will both articulate and project that connect, of ‘On Being There’. The resulting images are not necessarily big in a physical size, nor in immediate view, but will reveal both deeply in their connect and vision.

In addition, some images were not crafted to be sharp throughout the entire field, but relied on the opposite –there was the use of blur, secondary to using an aperture value tending towards the wide open end of the scale. This allowed me to use selective focus on the bit that resonated –the bit that projected that ‘vibe’ I reacted to, whilst listening with my eyes.

Whilst undertaking this exercise, a couple of times people stopped and asked me what I was photographing. I explained to them that these smaller parts, that caught my attention, spoke with their own voice, and they were an important part of the whole vast vista in front of them. One person remarked that they had not noticed this until I had pointed that out to them – thus the character, focus and connect attributed to my images, in this series. This is also why a black and white approach was used for the images in this series –it gets to the bones of the image, without the impediment of colour. A greyscale reveals shading, light, forms, volumes, tones that would otherwise be obscured behind a colour palate –even if, in some instance, the Australian ‘Red Centre’is near monochromatic in its palate. By contrast, a greyscale delivers on both what I see and want to project, in a final image.

A reframing to the 9:16 ratio also helped me better reveal what I had set out to do, to project that connect of the ‘vibe’ that I had reacted to and recorded, because the Australian outback is vast, and this, to me, did not lend itself to a2:3 ratio viewing. So, I chose the more cinematic 9:16 ratio, to help deliver that connect with the ‘vibe’ recorded in each of these images. So, enough words have now been written, I feel. Now it’s time for you enjoy each image, and experience the ‘on being there’.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Funnily enough – and I chose those words with care — black and white breathes life into these images in a way that colour might not. At least, in my view. And having lived in Oz practically all my life, as well as spending some of it in the Northern Territory, I have a reasonably clear picture of why I’m saying that.
    The colours ARE an important feature of the Australian landscape, without a doubt. But that’s not the point you’re making, is it, Sean?
    You might be amused to know that the photo underneath this paragraph –
    “This allowed me to use selective focus on the bit that resonated –the bit that projected that ‘vibe’ I reacted to, whilst listening with my eyes.”
    – looks remarkably similar to one that a friend of mine took, in bush country about 10 miles south of Fremantle, one day when we were out together, walking our dogs. Perhaps not, if the colours were there – but it certainly does on B&W.
    If I can nominate a favourite, mine’s the second last one. I feel I can reach out and touch it.
    From this comment, I suspect you’ve been “educated” by the indigenous population, to appreciate their country – “these smaller parts, that caught my attention, spoke with their own voice, and they were an important part of the whole vast vista in front of them”. I had a similar experience when the [white] staff at Kakadu passed on to me the benefits of the training they’d received from the tribal elders, and it has been of enormous benefit to me ever since, in teaching myself to “see”.

    • Sean says:

      Hi Pete,
      Thank you. That’s it, as you’ve stated “… black and white breathes life into these images in a way that colour might not…” Couldn’t put it better. Regarding that remarkably similar image to the one your friend took, maybe some landscapes have their doppelgänger equivalent; one wonders and who knows – you’ve come close to solving that conundrum. I’m glad that in response to your viewing you can “… reach out and touch …” some of what I’ve crafted in an image. sadly, I hadn’t had the opportunity to have been “… educated …” by the indigenous population so as to appreciate their country on a deeper level; the smaller parts that caught my attention that spoke with their own voice happened because I was simply prepared to slow down and wait for them to announce presence – that is, listening with my eyes, to be able to see, not look. However, I also think growing up in the North West table lands of the New England area of New South Wales, has helped in this aspect of being able to ‘see’ as opposed to ‘look’ when having camera in hand that’s aligned to eye and other things important.

  • Philberphoto says:

    Sean, let me be the first (but surely not the last) to congratulate you on your post. I love everything about it: the topic, the narrative, and, of course the images. The result is as interesting as it is arresting. And (more than) a couple of images, had they been mine (don’t I wish!), would surely have made into frames and on my walls. Kudos!

    • Sean says:

      Hi Philippe,
      Thank you. Appreciated. I’m glad that you’ve found the “… result … interesting as it is arresting.” That’s a succinct and clarifying summation. Yes, I know, I must strive to have some of these images framed and hung on a wall. All in due course – isn’t that the way of things?

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    I really enjoyed your travelogue, Sean! In my opinion, the details that you have captured really condense the perceived vastness of Australia into a much more interesting view which I like to call the “intimate landscape.” Instead of the usual panoramic image of Australia, you’ve presented us with small bites which make us stop, look, and thoroughly enjoy each and every one. I especially liked images #6, #10, #14 & #15. Bravo to you for the long, hot hike that you endured in order to produce these images!
    Your comment about people stopping to ask you what you’re photographing reminded me of the many times that I’ve experienced the same thing. It happened so frequently during a visit to Arches NP that I started telling them that I was photographing the ocean. That shut them up pretty quickly!

    • Sean says:

      Hi Nancee,
      Thank you. I’m glad that you’ve stared that these images do “… condense the perceived vastness of Australia …” and that you relate to them as an “… intimate landscape …”. Yes, some people need a few words to nudge their understanding and or clarity in point of view. A couple of days ago I was doing what I describe as ‘street life photography’ and a female approached me and asked “Are you a photographer?. I replied, in a non-flippant way “No, hopefully, I’m a magician capturing people being people, whilst being out on the street.” Her response was “Well can you take magical pictures of me, using my smart-phone.” I obliged. She proceeded to strike various contortions on a street pole, whilst I took some images on her own smart-phone.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        ROTFL – I had a similar experience a while back, just after dawn, with a rig with nearly 2 metres focal length, taking a landscape panorama – a local stopped behind me, and asked what I was doing – when I told he, he said “oh, I can do that” and pulled out his cellphone. A few seconds later he proudly showed me the result. As panoramas go, it went – I’ve rarely seen anything so awful – the horizon was banana shaped, the edges were rougher than a cross cut saw in a timber forest, and the colour saturation was perfectly ridiculous – worse than the worst Kodacolor slide I ever saw, back in the last century, and that film was notorious for giving the mugs what Kodak imagined they liked most.
        I’m surprised your opponent didn’t slap you for being sarcastic, Sean!

  • David C says:

    Your choice of a monochrome finish and the use of a fast aperture certainly created its own magic for this part of the world. And I do agree that the Australian outback is rather monochromatic. The expression of tonal range was well-served here. Bravo.

    An Aussie

    • Sean says:

      Hi David C,
      Thank you. Yes were in agreement here regarding the fact that “… the Australian outback is rather monochromatic…” as is Pascal, in agreement too – so you’re in good company, on this. I like how you’ve explained that my “… expression of tonal range was well-served …”. In that case I’ll finish with an ‘objective achieved!’.

  • John W says:

    Sean – I’m a big fan of B&W and landscape; but I’m a terrible landscape photographer … just don’t see it very well. This is a marvellous collection of images and no question about the sense of connection.

    • Sean says:

      Hi John W,
      Thank you. I’m glad that you’ve been able to pick up on what I aimed to achieve. In terms of you being “… a terrible landscape photographer…” the solution is practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. It’s a case of you’ll never ever get to the top of the mountain, but it’s what you learn and master on that competency journey, that ultimately matters. That is, it’s pointless sitting ‘at the top’ because in reality there’ll always be someone better than you – so just improve on your lot.

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    I first saw your post on a small screen, Sean, but didn’t react.
    Then re-read it on a large screen… bam, total immersion!
    I remember MT writing how much the final output conditions the pictures decisions…
    Your choice of “mini-series” makes so much sense too… the ones I saw before were the traditional wide-angle, normal, tele, or a panorama of sort… your choice is way more interesting… and I agree with the 16:9… I often end up with that format too, or even wider 🙂

    • Sean says:

      Hi Pascal,
      Thank you. Yes true, as you state, it’s quite interesting “… how much final output conditions the pictures decisions …”. My wife had remarked with a question on why they were so small compared to the square format images. I could only explain that the viewing screen being used was the culprit. It was the influencing factor on how the image looked, and that the 9:16 ratio images weren’t small images, just resized to fit the viewing screen.

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