Motherboard

Shooting the Aura of the Australian Outback

Tim Hillier's photos of the Outback shot from single-engine planes paint the landscape with rainbows.

by Tim Hillier
Aug 17 2015, 2:45pm

All images by Tim Hillier

It's been less than a year since we last chatted to photographer Tim Hillier, but he's been a busy guy over the last few months. He recently published a new series of photos of the Outback called Domestic Connecting. The images were shot through the windows of tiny single-engine planes as he criss-crossed remote areas of Australia while working on the Indigenous Hip Hop Project. The photos paint rainbow-like colors across the landscape thanks to an effect Hillier discovered accidentally after leaving the polarizer on his camera while shooting from a plane. We talked to Hillier about some of his experiences working in one of the most remote and unique places on the globe.

VICE: The photos for this series have some crazy colors going on. Can you explain birefringence in layman's terms?
Tim Hillier: It took me ages to figure out what it's called. It's to do with a particular property of certain plastics and glass, and how the different crystal breakdown in materials bend light in certain ways. You can see it in a lot of perspex on an angle.

Did you discover it by accident?
It was a pure accident from leaving the polarizer on my lens while trying to shoot out a plane window. I've tried to make my own plane windows to shoot in the studio, but it doesn't quite work. It's possibly to do with the altitude or air pressure or something. I've managed to do it in some cars with tinted windows.

The images remind me of Aura photography. The pictures are obviously visually beautiful, but do they have a deeper meaning to you?
As much time as I've spent in the Outback in the last couple years, it's still a mystery to me. The stuff that goes on out there blows me away every time. You see the most beautiful, crazy stuff, plus the stories and experiences I've had of being in that wide open space—it's just the great unknown, the Never Never.

Can you give me a story that fits that description?
We were at a place called Gapuwiyak and we organized kids to do Bungul (a traditional dance), which has two parts: the Dhuwa and the Yirritja. After two hours of Dhuwa, they changed to the Yirritja and then it started raining. So after three hours of traditional dance and us filming and taking photos, hanging out, the kids ran home and we packed up. It was amazing, we'd never seen anything like it before. Later on at night, around 1:00 AM, we were sitting around and you could hear the kids playing again, like singing and dancing, clap sticks, didgeridoos. We just assumed the kids were so happy and had such a good time that they wanted to keep it going. But the next morning we bumped into the kids and asked about it; they said it wasn't them, it was the ancestors that wanted to keep it going. Other people had heard it too, I could hear it as clear as day and no one admitted to doing it.

That sends chills up my spine.
That's the kind of stuff that builds up the mystery of the desert. The more I know, the more I know that I don't know.

Would you consider Domestic Connections a sequel to Holding Patterns or something stand-alone?
Holding Patterns was photos of skyscapes around Australasia shot on expired film. It's a follow on in colors and scheme, but it's more about the desert and Australia, so it's very closely related but not a direct sequel. It's more about the subject matter and less abstract.

It seems like your photography is becoming more abstract. Is this a path you intend to keep following?
I feel like there're two sides to the photography I want to do right now. I've got my work that's more documentary style and works better in books and articles, and the newer stuff that I'm working on in series for galleries.

What's next?
The third part in the series is based on flying in and flying out and high vis uniforms and stuff. It's still very open-ended but will hopefully be ready next year.

Domestic Connecting is opening at Tristian Koenig in Collingwood on Wednesday, August 19.

Tim was interviewed by Ben Thomson. Follow him on Instagram.