Launching a long-term project (part 1)
As 2016 starts to move into full swing I wanted to share my experience from the past half year of launching my long term project Stories of the South. After more than five years of working on this story about Australia’s South Sudanese community I decided to finally pitch it to editors when I attended the Visa Pour’limage festival in 2015. In mid 2015 I relocated to Glasgow with my partner while she pursues a post-doctorate from a university in Scotland, so home is currently in Europe, a nice change to Sydney.
In August 2015 I had been back in Glasgow just a week after a stint back in Australia and Asia when on a whim I decided to book flights to Perpignan. It was a bonus to hear fellow Australian, the stellar photographer Ben Bohane would be attending the festival to present his work and sign his new book The Black Islands—Spirit and War in Melanesia. For a number of years I had planned on attending Visa Pour’limage but being based in Australia half a world away made this a difficult task. In hindsight I am glad I waited until 2015 to attend because when I go I had serious bodies of work ready to show to editors.
For me the first time I understand what it meant to wait until work is ready was in 2009. In January 2009 I remember sitting in a bar in New Delhi’s Defence Colony, an upmarket neighbourhood popular with journalists, NGO workers and diplomats where I caught up with fellow Australian photographer Adam Ferguson. Adam is an exceptional photographer who has produced significant work in the past decade, he has always been someone I’ve looked up to with myy own work. I remember how many questions I had for Adam, so much I wanted to ask. The one thing I remember well was his advice in regards to approaching editors with my work, “you will know when your work is ready”.
Fast-forward six years to September 2015, arriving at the Visa festival I felt confident that my work was ready yet how wrong I was. While the series of work was good, it was during my meetings with editors that the edit truly came alive. After a number of crucial meetings with great editors I remember scuttling off to readjust the sequence and edit. The work really matured over that week and it took on a much needed international context. By international context I mean I was able to expand the visual narrative to ensure it had wider application beyond Australia.
The numerous edits throughout the week paid off. One of my final meetings was with James Estrin from The New York Times Lens blog . James had hordes of eager photographers wanting their 10 minutes to show him their work. I have deep respect for the energy and commitment Jim gave each person that sat down to show him their work. From observing him while I wait in line he listened and talked honestly yet encouragingly to everyone, in equal measure. The Lens blog is where I wanted my series to launch and I was lucky enough that Jim thought it was worthy. The series launched here on October 5th 2015.
I understand that uprooting and starting again is never easy. As an Australian living in Europe I’ve found this experience more valuable that I could ever have imagined. Coming from somewhere as isolated as Australia, the benefits far outweighing the challenges of starting gain. One aspect of this move that can’t be measured is the broadening of perspective when it comes to considering my Australia work in a global context.
Above is a gallery of the work when it ran in The Guardian online launching on October 16th.
The second part of this blog piece will launch in a week.
Last week while on an assignment for the New York Times I had the privilege of making a portrait of Lt. Col. Cate McGregor from the Australian Defence Force. Cate is a delightful woman and incredible advocate for the transgender community world over and I had a wonderful time taking her portrait.
It was a rainy Wednesday and I wandered Sydney’s CBD and caught Cate as she wrapped up an official meeting at the Lowy Institute. I walked with her downtown to where she had another press engagement. Cate was deeply apologetic for having another arrangement and asked if I would wait. ‘Of course I will wait’ I replied. I went and found somewhere to hang out and decided to do some reading on the woman I was sent to make a portrait of. Cate is well known for her role in the Australian military in addition to being an author and a cricket commentator. In 2012 Cate decided to undergo gender reassignment and at the time offered to resign to her boss who now head the Australian Military. Brilliant journalist Julia Baird goes on more eloquently than I ever can, so I encourage you to read the full piece here on the New York Times website.
Once Cate finished her interview we met up and she apologised profusely for keeping me. I told Cate it would be good to find some kind of military context for a portrait, she reminded me of the memorial that commemorates the campaigns of the Royal Australia Regiment, to which she happened to belong. I told her it sounded great and asked if she didn’t mind navigating the wet streets, Cate was totally nonplussed about the heavy rain that beat down around us and we made our way out into the streets heading for Martin Place. Despite the heavy rain Cate obliged my photos and questions, she showed me the memorial and we shared stories of working in Timor-Leste a neighbouring country dear to both of us.
After some time Cate realised that she was about to miss her flight home to Canberra, totally at peace with the idea we stepped out of the rain for a final coffee. The lighting inside was great so I was able to take a few more portraits as Cate brushed her hair which had become drenched from our time in the rain. As we approached the counter to pay for the coffee, the owner a middle aged Italian man told Cate he recognised her from a recent article in an Australian magazine. He said it was an honour to meet her and they hugged farewell. I walked with Cate until she found a taxi for the airport and then we also said farewell before I made my own way home to file.
I felt humbled and reassured to know that someone like Lt. Col. Cate McGregor is a senior figure in the Australian army. I can only hope that we hear more from her in the future.