Capturing Pieces of Australia’s Vast Interior


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Capturing Pieces of Australia’s Vast Interior

Jarryd Lynagh's brilliant photos of the country's regional towns.

Jarryd Lynagh's work came into my orbit via the recommendation of a mutual friend, who said quite confidently that he was one of the best young photographers in Australia today. Jarryd's work is very, very good. He's a patient and measured photographer; not one for visual tricks or melodrama. Most of Jarryd's pictures were taken in and around the regional towns that dot Australia's interior, places that don't get many visitors.


Jarryd started taking pictures at 16 with a Pentax ME Super his dad bought from a co-worker. After high school, he studied photography at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. Two years ago, he travelled to Sydney for a group show at China Heights, and found he got on well with the gallery's director. Their conversations led to a job offer, and Jarryd moved down to Sydney. Now 23, he's efficiently built a life in the arts; also holding a post at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

With the biography out of the way, we can get into our conversation with Jarryd. He's well spoken, careful to say 'photographs,' never 'photos.' Here, we talk through his archives, and get the first peek at some new work from a recent trip.

VICE: The last time we spoke you said you were going out to Hill End, the old Gold Mining town. How'd it go ?
Jarryd: I've been locked in the Sydney city fortress for quite a while, so it was nice to go somewhere I hadn't been before, and make some photographs again. I went out with another artist, Max Berry. He knows an artist called Luke Sciberras who lives out there. Luke's away at the moment so we had his amazing colonial house to ourselves. We were there for three days and I shot six rolls of medium format, which is lot for me—I'm usually pretty stingy on the frames. It was really revitalising to be out in the Australian interior. That's where like to make my work.


And why's that?
It's harder to shoot in places that I'm super familiar with. I think that unknown element — people, places—that somehow comes through in the work. It's got a special feeling, I guess. It's funny because we know what the rural landscape looks like in our mind, but being there, actually being there, there's a whole other dimension. Interacting with the landscape, walking around, really meeting people. It's amazing you can be in a place that's as urbanised and as densely populated as Sydney, then you can drive for five hours and you're in this great expanse.

Do you have a code to going into those towns as, basically, a city slicker?
Not really. I do try to go in without any preconceptions. I don't think, "I wanna get a lumberjack at a shed and an old lady on the side of the street." I just go in and whatever's there while I'm there, that's what happens. I would never try to make an overarching statement to define a place. I try to find key elements that I think allude to the nature of the town. I'm really just acknowledging that I was there, and something else was there. I barely saying anything at all sometimes.

You'd have to be kind of an asshole to think you'd captured a town's true essence over the course of what, two days?
Definitely. When I went to art school I majored in photojournalism; it was funny learning these really hard line photojournalists who are almost militant in their behaviour, seeking some ultimate truth, or thinking they have a sort of divine perspective on everything. I think that's really weird.


Were there any any towns that really stuck with you, or made you emotional?
Capella, the town where I shot [the series] Railways and Sleepers, is definitely one that always sticks out in my mind. It had such a deep history, being built off the back of the train network. There seemed to be endless richness to it.

You take a lot of photos of trains.
Yeah, definitely. I've always liked trains. I really like them. I grew up catching the train for 40 minutes each way, twice a day, for 10 years or so. It became a part of what I was about. Agricultural trains, coal trains, it's all good to me [laughs]. There are so many places in the country's interior that were built and sustained off the railway networks.

Rod, Jarryd Lynagh

Can you tell me about this picture of Rod?
I actually took that one in Sydney. Rod's a bicycle messenger in the CBD. I've always wanted to take a picture of him. I found out that my friend Max who's also a bicycle messenger was a friend of his, so we tee-ed it up. It took a few tries, a few missed meetings, but I eventually got him. We sat down for a couple hours, I took a couple pictures, and we just had a chat. He used to be a locksmith. We talked a lot about politics, and bikes—I also like to ride—so we talked about where's good to ride, which roads are getting messed up by roadworks.

How about the man in the phone booth? [pictured top]
I was shooting in the Fortitude Valley near Brisbane in 2014. Actually, I was shooting for that China Heights show that made me move down to Sydney in the end. I was just walking past when he looked over to me, so I hesitantly put my camera up and he just nodded. So I took the picture, smiled, and that was it. I guess I don't mind getting in someone's face if it's worthy.


Do you have good manners?
Definitely. I would never make anyone angry, and that was a particularly good moment. But I had a faster camera back then—I just carried it around my neck. I use heavier gear that has inherently slower process now. Now if I meet someone I want to photograph, I sit down with them. I've been shooting exclusively medium format for two or three years now, and I think the process shines through somehow. There's a sense of consideration in the end result, because you only have between 10 and 15 shots per roll. That really refines your process.

How do you want people to look at your pictures?
I always think of my photography in terms of painting, to be honest. When people see a painting, it's a one-on-one thing, it's a unique object. They wanna know what it's about, but they don't go "what is that?" or "who is that?". It a more illusory, kind of ambiguous thing. That's how I view other photographs, and I really try and bring that methodology to my own photographs. I don't go who, what, when, where, why. It's a document, it's an outline.

Did you always think of pictures like that?
Going through art school, I think the friends I met there really helped me develop an awareness of what there is to look at. Learning about photographers like Alec Soth, Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, Jeff Wall, and Daniel Shea, they really flexed the boundaries of what I thought a photograph could be, and what a photograph could do, blurring artistic practise with tableau and documentary methodology and aesthetics.


What about Australian photographers?
My favourite Australian photographer would be one of my peers, Fraser Stanley. I met him in art school and he's one of my closest friends to this day. He's kinda reluctant to show his work, but those who have seen it know he's one of the best right now. Even for people who are super observant and always reading their environment, he's got an extremely special personal interpretation of the world. His intent shines through his work in ways you couldn't really describe. I think that's also a more general thing about photography: your intent when you make the work always comes through, whether you know it or not, and whether you want it to or not.

What do you mean when you say "intent"?
Your method of thinking while you're approaching the subject, whether landscape or portrait. Your personal feelings and attitude at that time, I always think that's present in the final work. That's why two people can take the same landscape and somehow it can be entirely different. There needs to be a willingness on the photographer's part to be affected by the subject. It's not just a subject and a creator. An open dialogue. An energy.