Snapper breathes magic into South Coast: photos

A childhood love of bush landscapes has matured into a unique approach to photography using infrared technology. JODIE DUFFY spoke to Corrimal photographer Matt Smith.

Through the lens of a camera Corrimal photographer Matt Smith breathes magic into South Coast landscape.

Old ruins come to life and give tribute to the pioneers who built them, abandoned vehicles take on a rare beauty as they are slowly strangled by vegetation and gnarled trees are transported into the world of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

One of Smith's great pleasures in life is to search for a face in a tree, to discover a Huorn. Tolkien fans will understand, but for those who don't a Huorn is a tree that can talk and which, under considerable sacrifice, eradicated the world of evil intent.

"Like people, trees are unique and full of character," says Smith. "I often wonder what they have witnessed through the centuries since creation, as some seem to groan under the weight of a fallen world, like all creation, waiting for that time when it will be set free from slavery and corruption."

"Infrared images have a feel about them. It's like looking at a landscape from another perspective. Like you are viewing a twin world.''

One photograph, in particular, reminds Smith of the march of the Huorns upon Isengard.

Smith has been taking photos for 23 years. A self-taught photographer he has a passion for weather and landscape - the wilder the better. In 2008 he discovered the ethereal nature of infrared. It's a perfect fit for his romantic, often spiritual, take on the world.

Once hooked he sent an single-lens reflex camera to the United States to be permanently converted to infrared and he now takes two cameras with him on every shoot, switching between the two depending on light.

"Some subjects are more suited to infrared," he says. "I like to swap between the formats. Sometimes a change is like a breath of fresh air. It refocuses the vision and stops you falling in a rut. It gets the photographic eye thinking differently."

Smith grew up in Wyong where his relationship with the bush took hold. He spent his childhood "beyond the back fence" exploring the surrounding landscape. His images have been published in the Australian Bureau of Meteorology weather calendar and he's been a finalist several years running in the Natural History Museum's Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

Photographer Matt Smith. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Photographer Matt Smith. Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Smith is a patient man, often returning many times to a tree, old ruin or farm shed in the hope of a more dramatic skyline.

"For infrared landscapes, nothing conveys texture and mood, and even a sense of place, like cloud," he explains. "If there's a stunning subject but an empty sky, I'll make a note and hope that next time the weather is more co-operative."

When his wife, Megan, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 the couple took a long break on a farm near Tilba on the Far South Coast.

It was a difficult time, with Megan also later being diagnosed with chronic fatigue.

"There was a lot of frustration in not knowing what was wrong and there was a bit of a death sentence hanging over us," he says. "But in the end it was a blessing really because our relationship has definitely flourished. It's brought us closer together. So good things have come out of it."

While his wife sat by the fire and read books Smith took to the paddocks armed with his cameras.

Megan was given a clean bill of health earlier this year.

Many of the images Smith took during that period will be on show in his latest exhibition at Bulli's Beach Art. All up there are 11 black and white infrared photographs - a divergence from his usual exhibitions of colour wildlife.

"It's my fifth exhibition at Beach Art," says Smith.

"Infrared images have a feel about them. It's like looking at a landscape from another perspective. Like you are viewing a twin world. I think infrared speaks history. I use it to evoke an emotional response from the viewer and to try to bring back memories. Foliage turns white and anything living has a luminescence about it. Static or metallic objects are dark."

Smith is a Christian and believes capturing landscapes brings him closer to God.

"I find it spiritual and nurturing," he says. "I love the bush. It takes me back to my childhood."

One of his favourite images is of an 50s Chevrolet that he found in the bush at the entrance to a farm near Brogo.

"It had trees growing around it, underneath it and up into it," he says.

"It was covered in rust and lichen which turned white with infrared. It's one of the best dumped utes I've ever captured."

Another favourite is an image not of a landscape but of a Warhawk WWII fighter aircraft which he took during an air show at Temora Aviation Museum.

"I wasn't going to shoot it in infrared but the battery in my colour SLR died and I didn't have a spare," he says.

"I didn't want to leave without taking a photo and when I did it looked sensational."

Journeys in Infrared will be on display at Beach Art at Bulli from August 1 to September 2. Beach Art is open Tuesday to Saturdays. To see more go to stormlightphotography.com.au.

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