humans in the landscape, the landscape in humans

Three artists stood out for me at the recent Ballarat International Foto Biennale, all women as it happened. Each one uses her photographic art to depict nature in relation to humanity, in original, surreal, fascinating, provocative ways. 

I enjoy taking and seeing endless photos of lovely gardens and nature scenes, but this is different. This is truly fine art photography - displaying the artists' unique, personal and passionate vision of nature and our place within it. 

Bindi Cole Chocka Fertility 
Bindi Cole Chocka's art comes out of her lived experience as a light skinned, Christian, Aboriginal woman who doesn't fit into the neat categories of identity that society tries to impose on its members.  A recent series of works, Fertility, merges images of her son, Eli - the  source of her joy -   with images of her  ancestral land, Wathaurong Country - the source of her strength. 

Growing up in Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, photographer Gohar Dashti is familiar with the horror  of war. She took these powerful photos of decaying crumbling buildings in Iran. Abandoned by their human inhabitants, the houses are in the process of being taken over by various kinds of vegetation. This series is called Home.

In conversation with Sarah Moroz, Dashti describes her work as combining the personal, the political and the botanical.

"... My recent work is not only a personal exploration about nature, but is also about how nature can be political. What happens to the environment when human populations are displaced or destroyed by war? People are transient while nature is a constant; it will be here long after we are all gone."

I find this theme terribly sad but also in a way, strangely reassuring.

The last artist I'm featuring is Australian, Tamara Dean. Here's just a small selection of my favourites from her 2017 series, InstinctualIn this series Tamara explores the relationship between humans and the natural world and shows that we are undisputedly a part of nature. 

Under the Deep 
"I love waterholes and rivers, where the water is cloudy and dense. I wanted to explore our integral relationship with water, both environmentally and personally. I've used human figures in a way that refers to fish shoaling. I was trying to create images that have a subtle way of communicating that relationship to how we evolved." (Tamara Dean in an interview with Pip Coates)

Cosmos was shot in Byron Bay, in New South Wales. It was dusk, near where the river meets the sea. The models, recruited via Instagram, were naked in the water. A woman walking her dog passed and told them they had to get out of the river immediately because there were bull sharks there. Apparently the models were understanding and not fussed about this. Importantly, they all survived.


What I love about these works is their soft, weird, ethereal quality. They look more like paintings than photos. It is a challenge for a photographer to take advantage of the 10 to 20 minute window of fading light.

"I could see the absolutely beautiful light as I worked, but photography isn't a literal translation of what you're looking at. I was really relieved that I was able to capture that quality of light in these images. I have to get everyone in place and hope that something like that happens... You can't predict it. You just have to hope for a little bit of magic in the air." (Tamara Dean in an interview with Pip Coates)

In one short day we were unable to see all the artwork shown all over the city of Ballarat. So I just looked for artists who depicted nature in a way that was meaningful to me. For these women  there's no way of separating us from nature, because it's a part of us, just as we're a part of it.

"We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we've lost our connection to ourselves." 
                                                         - Andy Goldsworthy, sculptor, photographer and environmentalist


  1. How amazing. Just the selection you have shown us tug at my heart strings. Some are haunting, all are beautiful.
    Thank you.

    1. thanks, EC, I enjoyed distilling the pics into this post.

  2. What an interesting exhibit! All your selections are wonderful in their own ways. I was particularly taken with Bindi Cole Chocka's pieces.

    1. Hi Chris, I met her, she's a very interesting person too.

  3. What a joy to watch the work of these talented artists, I scrolled up and down and could not choose my favorite. But at the end I think I like the work of Bindi Cole Chocka most.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. Hi Judy, I'm thinking I could do a whole post on Bindi. I love her work so much too.

  4. Interesting way to show the love of her son, and the memories of her own childhood. Also haunting as you gaze straight thru the child's face into the far distance.

    1. I love the symbolism as well as the actual image. So pleased you feel this way too, Diana.


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