PROJECT — PHOTOGRAPHY
In small towns across Australia, young people are often torn between staying for the comfort and ease of familiar surroundings and leaving to pursue opportunities in the city, with many unlikely to return. Nick McKinlay of Faulconbridge has forged his own path. He left, seeking education and experience both in Sydney and overseas, but has since returned to not only help create a community of “like-minded people”, but forge a pathway for his career as a fine art and commercial photographer. He explains that this was a deliberate choice: “You don’t really come up here by accident.”
Nick found photography after “studying early childhood teaching” and completing an exchange program in Denmark. “Initially that was only going to be a six month period, but I ended up staying on for longer. I really wanted to meet people and see gigs, so I started offering to take photos in exchange for entry. It was just fun really, and it continues to be.”
Upon returning to Australia, he felt a distinct pull to return to the mountains. With a fresh perspective from his time away, Nick found his niche among friends in a diverse group of artists and designers who live here. Now he resides with several of them in an expansive estate house in Blackheath that affords him the space for a dedicated studio and provides peers to collaborate with on various projects.
In a dreamlike fantasy that heralds back to the rambunctious soirees for the Sydney elite at the Hydro Magestic or the bohemian parties of Norman Lindsay, Nick and his housemates host ethereal gatherings of likeminded individuals at their sprawling mansion. In keeping this tradition alive, they tap into the vivacious spirit of the place and maintain a lively connection to the past. This unique relationship between past and present in the mountains feeds Nick’s practice. “This place hasn’t really gentrified in a significant way, so you’ve still got quite unusual buildings and architecture and other interesting things to find. That’s what I like to take photos of.”
While many of Nick’s clients are based outside of the mountains, much of his art-based practice takes place here. His Instagram account showcases shots from the local bushland, staged photos in lush gardens, masked people peering through fog, and the deep bush-plum decor of the trains that run on the western line. His images are rich with colour, which, he explains, is ever present in the mountains: “You find a lot of colour here. It changes colour every day out in the garden. At the moment it’s super green, but a month ago it was pink and purple and silly.”
While the beautiful surrounds of the Blue Mountains feature in Nick’s photographs, it is always with a distinctly human element. Nick’s recent series Sitting Places (2016), exhibited in the window gallery of Atelier in Lyttleton Stores, Lawson, is one such example and a defining moment in his burgeoning career. In a series of contemplative photographs, Nick has captured people of different ages and backgrounds resting in their favourite place. Some are in their homes or gardens, while others are in wild bush settings. However, all evoke a thoughtful mood and invite the viewer to meditate on why that particular place was chosen. “The fact that these people choose a certain place to sit tells you a lot about them.”
To undertake Sitting Places Nick advertised locally asking for participants and was pleasantly surprised by the response of people wishing to share their favourite location with him. “I just asked the participants where they liked to sit, and that’s where we took the photo.” Interestingly, the open nature of this callout, propelled by a desire to use photography as a way to meet and connect with people, echoes his initial foray into photography in Denmark.
There is a true intimacy to this series. None of the subjects face the camera: instead they are lost in a quiet reverie. A woman tends to her young daughter in their warm, sun-kissed lounge room, surrounded by records and personal ornaments. An older woman sits on the front porch of her house, cup of tea in hand, black and white cat on her lap, looking out over her garden to the afternoon sun illuminating the native scrub across the road.
Nick’s personal favourite is the father of one of his teaching mentors: “This particular man likes to go down to the back of the house where he lives with his daughter. He’s not particularly mobile, needing a motorised scooter to get around, and so the fact that he made an effort to go to this particular spot, and that it was of interest to him, made it interesting to me.”
Using natural lighting, and showcasing the warm and gently worn textures that are characteristic of the local area, Nick’s photography speaks to the quiet, humble, domestic side of life in the mountains. These moments feel honest and natural, and are representative of a thoughtful photographer with a bright future.
Words by Chloe Killen. Photography by Ona Janzen