Black Summer 2020 –
The Aftermath

Ben Kopilow

13.05.2021 - 13.06.2021

Blackened sentinels.jpeg
Revisiting the fire ground 

 

The Australian summer of 2019-20 will be remembered for the catastrophic and devastating fire disasters that wrought havoc to the east coast of the country. It was not hard to be affected by powerful, confronting, heart-stopping, emotion and grief laden images captured of this event by Australia’s best photo-documentary photographers, including Nick Moir, Dean Sewell, Kate Geraghty, James Brickwood, Stephen Dupont, Adam Ferguson, Brad Fleet, Sean Davey and Elise Searson. Their images, seen at the time, are emblazoned in our memory of Australia burning that summer. 

While considering the theme of the exhibition Black Summer by Ben Kopilow, I wondered whether we were emotionally ready to relive THAT inferno through more documentary photographs.

These fire events cut a swathe through the eastern part of this country and since then many of us in our travels have witnessed how the landscape was transformed. We have seen the skeletons of trees that have been killed in the firestorm, or, if the trees survived, the epicormic sprouting of new leaves from blackened trunks. Perhaps we have also witnessed the landscape’s response to fire in the triggering of the germination of a new generation of native plants such as banksias, wattles and eucalypts. On seeing this flush of regrowth, we may feel reassured that renewal is possible.

However, there is another experience of post-wildfire landscape – one that has for many of us been laden with a deep existential distress or 'solastalgiai' caused by the ongoing loss of the natural environment. I pose my question again.  Are we ready for more photos from the fire?

In his artist’s statement for Black Summer, Kopilow makes the comment ‘... in that tragedy, a raw beauty can be found, and new connections with the landscape made’. His photographs present these fire-altered landscapes, made weeks and months later, usually of natural environments in national parks and places apparently devoid of human presence. He presents the viewer with dramatic pictorial photographs – richly coloured images, with strident design and subject juxtapositions.

Many of Kopilow's works reveal the naked landscape created when the usually dense understory has been removed – reduced to ash to leave the skeletal shape of the land dispersed with charred remains of the once flourishing forest. In one image made in Namadgi National Park, granite boulders lie scattered amongst a forest of thin black tree trunks whose leaves are tinged with the same red colour of the fires that consumed them. There is theatrical drama in Kopilow’s burnt and scarred landscapes created by the use of perspective and colour enhanced by the capture of distant swirling mists. This work evokes in me a feeling that after the raging fires have passed, there is now stillness, a pause, when the land takes a long deep breath.

Though Kopilow’s fire-grounds are devoid of flames, curiously many images show colour accents that are uncannily characteristic of the fire now past. A dramatic sunset with palls of smoke-like red clouds is contrasted by a silhouette ridgeline where the denuded and leafless shapes of trees stand in death. In another photograph, mist swirls around blackened trunks rising from an understory of trees where the leaves are glowing red as if still being consumed by the fire. In a photograph depicting fire-damaged spotted gums at Clyde Mountain we are again presented with a view where the colours of the background tree trunks evoke a red and yellow flames of the firestorm.

Again I reconsider the question – are we ready for more fire photographs? As I reflect on the representation of the challenged and changing landscape that Kopilow presents, I am reminded of the role of the photograph to witness and share a story. Kopilow’s work is the story of the transient moments captured just after the fires. Even now, as we view the exhibition, the landscape has changed yet further beyond what is presented here.

It’s interesting to consider how we’ve always connected to the notion that the photograph tells a story, but ultimately for me a photograph acts as a trigger to evoke recollections from personal experience. Perhaps my response to these images takes the form of visual metaphors that represent my personal experiences of the events of 2019-20. For me somewhere in each image there is the promise of renewal – the call of a black cockatoo, the soft thud of a kangaroo moving through the forest, the sound of cicadas and quick dart of a lizard over rock at the corner of my eye. 

Perhaps at this time we are now ready to view and respond to the photographs in Black Summer.

 

 

Doug Spowart

Doug Spowart has an extensive involvement in Australian creative industries as an artist, educator, curator, commentator and reviewer. His reviews and commentaries are published in the www.wotwedid.com blog
that he shares with his partner Victoria Cooper. They have also been published in journals including the
Australian Centre for Photography’s Photofile, Art Monthly and the La Trobe Journal of the State Library of Victoria.  

List of Works

 

42. Benjamin Kopilow, Baked stones near Gibraltar falls, 2020. A3 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, $450

43. Benjamin Kopilow, Snowy Mountains hwy, 2020. A3 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, $450

44. Benjamin Kopilow, Run-off, 2020. A3 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, $450

45. Benjamin Kopilow, Aerial view of Blowering dam, 2020. A3 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, $450

46. Benjamin Kopilow, Scorched earth near Gibraltar Falls, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

47. Benjamin Kopilow, Devastation at Black Perry, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

48. Benjamin Kopilow, Ghosts, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

49. Benjamin Kopilow, Blackened sentinels, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

50. Benjamin Kopilow, Autumn rebirth at Blowering Dam, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

51. Benjamin Kopilow, Survivor, 2020. A1 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $990

52. Benjamin Kopilow, Red trees of Corin Forest, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

53. Benjamin Kopilow, Burnt Snowy Mountains gums, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

54. Benjamin Kopilow, Fire fields and snow at Talbingo, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

55. Benjamin Kopilow, Scars, 2020. A2 fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, framed with American blonde oak and acrylic plexiglass, Edition: 1 of 10, $690

56. Benjamin Kopilow, Furry, 2020. 25x25cm fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, unframed, $250

57. Benjamin Kopilow, Contrasts and seasons, 2020. 25x25cm fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, unframed, $250

58. Benjamin Kopilow, New life in Namadgi, 2020. 25x25cm fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, unframed, $250

59. Benjamin Kopilow, New Life at Corin, 2020. 25x25cm fine-art digital print on 310gsm Infinity Platine cotton fibre rag, unframed, $250