Local Identities

Dreaming Landscapes

John Ibbotson ‘retired’ to Gulmarrad eight years ago; but his love of photography continues to pique his interest.

He spent 17 years ensconced in Alaska, photographing wildlife in what he calls “a beautiful but often miserable place”.

Having returned to Australia in 1992, he set about photographing and telling the history of “all” of Australia’s lighthouses, which resulted in three books on the subject.

Now, he has produced a 250-page ‘coffee table’ book, Sea Sand and Birds, filled with pictures of sea, sand and birds … and his two canine companions, Bella and Tessie.

All of the photographs were taken in the Brooms Head area and at his home.

It was Bella and Tessie that generally set the geographical boundaries of his five-year-long photo shoot, much of which took place on the dog-friendly beach that stretches to the north from Cakora Lagoon’s ocean opening to Red Cliff, and south along the ‘Peoples’ Beach’ towards Brooms Head and Cakora Rocks.

 This picture of sand has been ‘imaginised’ by adding some ‘water’ and “could easily be an aerial photograph of a river estuary in Western Australia’s Kimberly region”.adland itself and the northern end of the beach that stretches south to Sandon River completed the ‘shooting zones’.

But it’s the patterns that are formed in the sand – where Cakora Lagoon meets the ocean – that provided the inspirational spark … and prompted the reuse of an artificially created word, Imaginised.

But what does that mean?

During his time working in Alaska, Ibbotson’s imagination would sometimes wander to warmer climes.

“Sitting around with chattering teeth and hordes of mosquitoes waiting for the sun to shine or a bear to come by for a portrait conjured up thoughts of Hawaii,” he writes in his book’s preface.

“From the culinary point of view, the fact that the supreme meal for the fortnight might be Spam, freeze-dried rice and tinned pineapple didn’t help.”

With this book, Ibbotson takes that concept and ‘imaginises’ what it would be like, for example, by taking “a picture of sand from somewhere and trying to imagine what it would be if it were coloured in differently”.

So a picture of some sand that has had “canyons” eroded by water movement, but is now just dry sand, might have water “painted in” and, as a result look like “an aerial photograph of a river estuary in Western Australia’s Kimberly region”.

He is not afraid to use Photoshop in the ‘developing’ of an image – including the combination of multiple pictures in one landscape – however, the majority of the book’s images are as they were captured through the camera’s lens.

“Only the obvious ones have been changed,” he says.

There are some ‘trick’ pictures, too; take a shadowed sandscape (another portmanteau, or made up word) and turn it upside down and an optical illusion becomes apparent – right side up, the sand is a hill; in reverse, it is a valley.

But the core of Ibbotson’s perfunctory strategy involved “wandering up and down the beach,” he says.

Above left: (l-r) Bella and Tessie in their element at the Cakora Lagoon.

“There was no sitting around waiting for something to happen; it was just wandering around and taking what I could, when I could and however I could.”

So his dogs, Bella and Tessie, implored Ibbotson to spend many hours compiling the thousands of pictures to choose from.

“After a week of daily visits to the beach, it was conveyed to me (they sat down and refused to move), that street walks were no longer an option,”

he writes in the book’s epilogue. “The ‘pressure’ to go to the beach, even on crumby days, was a blessing in disguise. Some of my favorite images were taken on those days.”

Referring to himself, Ibbotson observes: “It seems that ‘old dogs’ can still learn new tricks.”

*A selection of John Ibbotson’s images from his book, Sea Sand and Birds, are on exhibition at the Yamba Museum’s Old Kirk building until January 29, 2017.