The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM), Armidale, opened two important exhibitions in March. New England High Country in Focus exhibits images of regional life, landscapes and people, and accompanies the publication of New England High Country: Forty Photographers, edited by noted local photographer Terry Cooke.
Salient: Contemporary artists at the Western Front displays moving artworks by a dozen leading Australian artists responding to World War I. Both run until Saturday, June 3.
While the exhibitions run, we will bring you interviews with the artists, commenting on their work.
When I spoke to Professor Jim Walmsley, former Chair of UNE Geography and Planning, he had just sold one of his photos: a shot of dawn in the New England National Park, with the rays of the rising sun catching the trees.
Jim had always been interested in photography, but it is only since his retirement that he could take it more seriously.
“I could never abide the olden days when you had to go in a dark room and stick your fingers in smelly chemicals, so digital photography's been a godsend for me!”
Two of his photos appear in New England High Country: shearing at “Dungaree”, Uralla, and a line of rural mailboxes.
“I like photographs that tell a story,” he said.
With the shearers, Jim wanted to capture a little bit of New England life.
“I wanted to get the non-stop action in the shearing shed. I was struck by the frenetic activity. These guys work very hard; they knock off periodically for their smoko, and then on the dot of whenever smoko’s over, they’re all back in there, shearing.”
His favourite is the line of postboxes.
“I’m a retired social scientist, so they said something to me about rural communities. They are dispersed on farms big and small, and one of the nodal points they meet occasionally is the letterboxes. People have to cope with isolation a little bit by coming down and getting their mails, instead of having it delivered at the door like we town-dwellers are used to.”
Jim has been in New England for nearly 50 years. He came out to Canberra in 1968 to do his PhD at ANU, then moved to Armidale in 1971.
“I come from the Pennines in the north of England, and so I'm really from a rural, slightly wild country background. This is a similar sort of landscape. You don't have to get far out of town before you're out of sight of houses, and you can see the landscape, you can see the wildlife. I'm a keen birdwatcher, and it provides all those things for me. Therefore I'm quite contented with it.”
Jim has also travelled a lot in the remote corners of the world: up through Burma into Yunnan province, China; from the Amazon down into Patagonia; and around Madagascar. These heightened his interest in photography. This year, he plans to go to the rugged countrysides of UK and Iceland to photograph the waterfalls and mountains.
He’s also, he says, one of those strange people who really enjoys a New England winter.
“I love the leafless trees and the frost, and capturing the winter climate as well as the bare landscape at that time. I'm looking forward to doing a bit of photography once it gets even colder!”