An Interview With Chris Dark

Chris Dark - West Australian Landscape and Commercial Photographer

Chris has an emotional connection with the landscape. This connection allows him to feel and see the landscape in his own unique way. This shines through in his photography and interpretation. 

Through exploration, and personal projects he continually expands on his skill and ability to show us the landscape through his eyes. 

You stated on your website that your passion and love for photography really took off while on a high-altitude expedition in the Nepalese Himalaya in 2007. You wanted a visual that would trigger the emotion of being in that place long after you had left. Can you expand on why this experience was instrumental to you becoming a photographer?

I’ve always been interested in photography but never took it seriously until that 2007 Himalayan trip. My first experience in the Himalaya, some 20 years ago, took me through the Pakistan and Nepalese Himalaya. The emotional response I had to the mountains and the people, surprised me. In parts it’s as if you were on the moon, a grey, dusty and inhospitable place. It felt so alien but at the same time I was so captivated by it. The pictures I took during that time were just memory shots (although at the time I thought they were gold award worthy images) and didn’t quite take me back to those places as I had wanted them to in the years after. 

By the 2007 expedition I had bought myself a decent DSLR and photography was a big part of my purpose for going. I had met a guy from Melbourne who like me was in it as much for the photography as the adventure. I learned a lot about photography from him and the whole experience was incredibly satisfying. A few years later I was back for another Himalayan expedition only this time in Tibet, and this time it was the photography that was front and centre.

Since that trip in the Himalayas has your photography genre or style changed? And if it has, how has that led you to where you are today as a Fine Art Landscape and Commercial Photographer?

By this time I was hooked on photography but my days of hopping on a plane and travelling to exotic locations for months were put on hold with the arrival of my first child in 2011.

I began searching for local artists and came across Peter Eastway (I was living in Sydney at the time). I was really taken by the high quality of his images. Seeing an exhibition of Peter’s, I stood still and gazed at the big prints on the wall. I must have looked rather confused as Peter made a point of interrupting my gaze to check I was alright! The prints were of Antarctica and were so life like I could feel the environment. The cold, the ice and the inhospitable land took me back to the Himalaya. I immediately thought I needed to learn how to produce work like this. I subscribed to Peters’ Better Photography magazine and his catalogue of online education. This sent me on a path of discovery and learning I’m still on today.

Commercially I began photographing architectural images for a government agency in Sydney that took me all over NSW. When we moved from Sydney to Perth in 2015 I became a stay at home dad and worked commercially part time in the same field. My kids are all in school now. Armed with the skills I learned in image making and post processing I took a role with a high resolution aerial imaging company producing high accuracy survey work. 

My style has changed with my development as a visual artist. I find the older I get the more in tune I am with my own emotions and that reflects in my photography. Or more specifically the why of what attracts me to certain locations and why I photograph it the way I do. 

You have had an Exhibition: “Head East and Turn Right – When The Finite Becomes Infinite” The exhibition photos are of the salt lakes in WA which were inspired by Murray Fredericks. Can you tell us more about why the salt lakes were of interest to you? Elaborate on the experience shooting on the salt lakes? How did these exhibitions came to fruition? And, how Murray Fredericks inspired your photography in the salt lakes?

The fascination with salt lakes comes from my experiences in small aircraft taking aerial images over the lakes. The experiences left me questioning what it would be like to stand on a salt lake. Will I get the same feeling of vastness I get viewing it from above at 2000ft? Will I see the same colours in the salt? It took me back to the “Salt” documentary and image series Murray Fredericks had done on Lake Eyre in South Australia. His experiences living and photographing alone in a remote environment. His commitment to making those amazing images over many years and several solo trips inspired me. It gave me goose bumps thinking of doing something similar. Two things he spoke to were a significant influence. They were the transition he made in his mind adjusting to life in a remote, quiet and endless landscape and the challenges he had making an image interesting in such a flat arid landscape and colour becomes the main subject. 

I had an opportunity to do a collaborative exhibition with my good friend Chris Saunders at the Bunker Gallery in Perth. When I pitched the idea of an ongoing project about infinite horizons and initially travelling to the salt lakes both Chris, and Ben from the Bunker Gallery, we’re all for it.

On that trip I was in my element. I remember going out onto the lake one morning and thinking we better get back and have some breakfast. Only to realise it was lunch time!

Witnessing the horizon disappear with the change in atmosphere and the sky’s changing colour reflecting on the thin sheet of water on the lake was an experience I will never forget. Looking down at your feet then into the heavens and seeing a mirror reflection all around is a an immersive and hypnotic experience. It gave me perspective of just how small we are. 

The images from that trip are ones that I am most proud of. A time when everything seemed to fall into place. I put that down to having purpose, having great company and being in a place that truly inspired me.

You have stated that you are continually looking and searching for better ways to communicate what you see and how you feel as a visual artist. Can you elaborate on how you get your creative inspirations?

For me creative inspirations can come from anywhere at anytime. I find I get on a roll and ideas flow and a lot gets done. Then theres a gap when nothing happens but I am continually searching and recording ideas. Sometimes it will be in words and other times, a rough sketch.  

I’m inspired by remote locations with rich traditional history and culture. That extends to old buildings as well. I find if the land or the buildings have a story, a soul and character, I’m captivated.

My two young children have wild imaginations. When I’m with them I try and slip into their world, be in the moment and let my mind wander through their world with them. I love how little restriction there is and its amazing how ideas and creativity can flow.

Being around or collaborating with like minded people is another great way to find inspiration. I find ways to get out to places I love as much as I can. Take an interest in what other creatives are doing and visit print galleries often.

However without a purpose they are just ideas and thoughts. Thats why recording my thoughts is so important as the purpose evolves over time.

Who were, or still are the mentors who helped to shape your photography and why?

Tony Hewitt has been, and continues to be a massive influence. Working with Tony I have gained so much confidence in putting myself and my work out there. In Tony’s words “you have visual voice and that voice it is just as important as any other!” This has led to entering and doing well in competitions, using photography therapeutically making a photographic journal of a difficult time in my life, collaborating with others and holding an exhibition.

What do you think draws you to the landscape as opposed to other genres of photography?

I’m an introvert so I don’t mind my own company. I’m fascinated with exploring remote places where I can de-clutter from the physical environment and slow down mentally, a meditative experience of sorts. Landscapes change with weather and seasons and I regularly revisit locations. I find this allows me a greater understanding and connection to a place.

I spent a great deal of time working in the Menindee Lakes region of NSW with the indigenous people. I related to their connection to the land and spent many early mornings and evenings on the dry lake with only the sounds of the nature. It was this experience that consolidated my love of the landscape genre and the meaning of connection to a place. 

You are a member of WA AIPP, and in 2019 you came away with 1 gold, 3 silver awards, and became a finalist as WA AIPP Emerging Photographer of the year. What role, if any, do competitions contribute to your photography? What advice would you give to others about entering compeitions?

The AIPP awards have been the single most dominate provider of my growth as a visual artist. It has taught me the finer points of image editing, print techniques and how people react to certain scenes. 

Most of all though it has given me a network of brilliant and supportive photographic artists with which to socialise and learn from.

The only advice I can give to others regarding entering competitions is to enter competitions that suit your style. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. I live by the saying “you gotta risk it for the biscuit!” Winning is not the prize I’m after its what I learn, the people I meet and the possibilities that come from it.  

What part do luminosity masks and ADP LumiFlow play in your post processing? And how important are they in your workflow?

ADP LumiFlow touches every I picture I make. It makes those difficult photoshop masks easy and is almost endless in its possibilities. Particularly with targeted tonal range adjustments. When I began using it some years ago I was so thrilled at the ease of which making very complicated tonal masks became. As I progressed as a photographer my understanding of ADP Lumiflow and its possibility grew and I now use its masking capabilities for image composites and in conjunction with other software like 3DLUT Creator.

What location/s have you enjoyed photographing the most, and why?

The Himalaya of course but more recently the Australian remote country. I found I have a connection with these places thats not only built from the inspiring landscapes but with the people that call it home. Most recently the ancient inland seas (salt lakes) of the Goldfields region in Western Australia. In essence it’s the infinite nature of both landscapes. The Australian remote country is so big and flat the horizon seems limitless. In the Himalaya the mountains so big they seem to rise up infinitely. The feeling of freedom I get in both landscapes inspires me. 

Do you set goals for yourself in your photography? If so, can you expand on those goals and the steps you will take to achieve them?

Absolutely, having goals keeps me motivated.  I reached a point some years ago where I felt lost with my photography, it had no purpose. Setting goals gave it purpose. 

A short term goal is to continue to build a strong and interesting fine art image library built on my photographic projects. With the longer term goal of gaining enough exposure to commercialise the work more broadly. 

Plans are in motion beyond 2021 to continue the collaborative work on the infinite horizon theme that will take us to some very interesting places. I also have goals to make my photographic journal “From The Rat Race To Domestic Chaos” about being a stay at home dad into a 3 volume set. Do more public speaking on photographic topics and build a library of short online video tutorials.

One of the biggest challenges is finding enough time to achieve these goals amongst the daily grind. It’s important for me to have a few goals and realise that the goal posts will change constantly on the journey. One may take a back seat and travel its own path for a period while another requires all your attention. The ability to adapt and change is important.

Thank you Chris, for your insights, and taking the time to share some of your story with us.

Check out more work by Chris Dark or follow his journey on social media.