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Messing about with cameras

I've been messing about with cameras for more years than I’m happy to reveal (only because I'm appalled at how quickly the years have passed, and I'm feeling wearier each day). 

My first camera a battered old Yashica twin-lens reflex — was given to me by my father (a rock climber, bushwalker and photographer) in the early 1970s.

This was a time when the word ‘digital’ meant something about fingers or numbers. The Yashica had a ground-glass viewfinder that you looked down into, revealing a mirage-like 'back-to-front' image. This was mesmerising stuff, and I was soon addicted to photography. The feel of that camera is burned into my memory. I remember the smell of the 120 roll film as the foil packet was opened and the film was wound onto the spool; the sound of the delicate click of the leaf-shutter. I gave that camera to a friend long ago, and friend and camera are now long lost. I wish I had it in front of me now.

While the gear has changed over the years, the excitement of photography has not. It's always been a magical process for me. My photography developed along with my interest in exploring the natural world, and a camera of some sort was always in my backpack or hands.

Time spent exploring a local patch of scrub or a distant national park always helps me cope with life back in the 'real' world. I try not to get too competitive about photography. After all, it's an enduring marvel that everyone seems to see the same scene differently, and they capture it (whether in their mind, on paper or on film) in different ways. So, it's a personal journey for me, but one inspired by the work of others and one made all the better by the time spent trying to capture some elusive moment with fellow photographers.

I don't earn a living from photography —  my days are mainly spent working for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, an organisation with a long history of protecting and sharing Queensland's national parks. I am currently a Senior Ranger, and while usually desk-bound these days, I am very fortunate to be able to work with some fine people and to occasionally get to visit some great places as part of my job. I have a strong interest in conservation, and a passionate belief in the importance of our national parks.

A friend once said to me that, "You are either a good photographer or a good naturalist." Maybe, old mate. However, I'm happy to juggle the two pursuits as much as possible. It just makes it harder to travel when you're carrying photographic gear, tripod, spotting scope, GPS, binoculars and field guides which is why I go nowhere without two assistants and a caravan (or not).

I'm pretty sure that the camera has helped me to slow down and take a closer look at things. Lots of hours wrestling with slow, expensive slide film taught me about the need to take time with photography; still a good idea even with today's digital cameras. I love capturing the character of small creatures, and I like looking for the patterns within the apparent chaos of nature. While it's my idea of paradise to be off in the swamp with a camera, I'm usually to be found at work or home. However, there's always a challenge in discovering those things that survive in and around our urban areas. If we could only see the track-ways and territories of all the creatures that cover our own spaces, I think we'd be astonished. Humans think that we're the centre of everything, but we are just one part of the scene. We should be grateful every day for the web of life, the biodiversity, that surrounds us, even in the suburbs. The devil, and the delight, is in the detail.

“The modern city is a zoopolis, with an overlap of human and animal geographies, where a keen-eyed and patient naturalist can find endless opportunities to stimulate the mind and feed the soul.” — Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

As people drive great distances to explore wild places such as national parks, it can be easy to forget that nature lives all around us in our backyards, bush blocks, parks and reserves, and these places, as well as the larger, remoter areas, are worthy of our consideration, respect and protection. I've grown up in the south-east corner of Queensland, a place of astonishing biodiversity, and over the years I've seen the bush reserves and corners of this wonderful part of Australia become ever-diminished by development. The future value of these places for recreation and restoration is undeniable. I believe that it is important to strive for balanced development in the south-east, and I respect the many conservationists working to achieve this. We need places to live, but we also need to leave places for our fellow species to live.

"We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion.

We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man.

In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.

They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth."     

― Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life On The Great Beach of Cape Cod.

Rob Ashdown 

Images, clockwise from top-right: In the Betoota Pub (Photo Jeff Wright). Walking at Girraween NP. Self-portrait with that trusty brick (the Nikon F4) and the new arrival, 2000. In Boowinda Gorge, Carnarvon NP, 2008 (Photo Adam Creed). On Tyson's Nugget, Mt Moffatt NP (Photo Rob Mancini). Standing in the flooded Cooper Creek, Windorah. Taking photos for the Cooloola Great Walk, Cooloola NP (Photo Rob Mancini). Hanging about at Thargomindah (Photo Raelene Neilson).