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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crossing Cultures

Frans Lanting journeyed to the Australian outback for a cross-cultural artistic collaboration

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This photograph is the result of an extensive collaboration between Frans Lanting and the late Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula. The image reflects the time Lanting and Tjupurrula spent together in the outback as Tjupurrula showed Lanting his home, shared his stories of place and they worked together as artists.

Tjupurrula at work on a painting.
Photography is not often a collaborative endeavor. True, even the best photographers rely on assistance from a team of producers, fixers, translators and retouchers, but the actual act of creation is usually a solitary one. Breaking out of that norm is a challenge even for a world-class photographer like Frans Lanting, but that’s exactly what he did when he set out to collaborate with an Aboriginal painter during a nine-day trip into the Australian outback.

“The idea behind this undertaking,”
Lanting explains, “was to collaborate with a prominent Aboriginal artist to arrive at a single image that would show both his unique spiritual perspective on the land and a Western photographic interpretation of that. Nobody had tried to do anything like this. Many photographers have documented Aboriginal culture, but to go into this as a collaborative undertaking… This is the equivalent of a musical improvisation, where you start with certain themes, and then you make it work together.”

Lanting was familiar with the work of Australian artists, and friends associated with the Aboriginal community helped seek out artists who might be interested in a collaborative venture. One artist, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula, let it be known that he was interested in working with the photographer, so Lanting acquired special permits to travel into the tribal lands, as outsiders are not normally allowed there. Seeing the landscape from above on the flight in, Lanting recognized colors and patterns reminiscent of the indigenous artworks with which he was familiar.

The most intimate way to know the unique Australian landscape is to understand the stories of the people who have inhabited it for tens of thousands of years. Likewise, the best way to understand their stories is to know the landscape.

“There has been a flourishing of Aboriginal artists who have created a vibrant cultural record of their identity and how it relates to the landscape,” Lanting says. “The most famous of those pieces are now on display in museums around the world, but it goes back to a very primeval connection with the land. In some instances, these artists are people who spent the earlier part of their lives in the farthest reaches of the outback, virtually without contact with the outside world.”

Together with friends from Alice Springs who understood Aboriginal culture intimately and who were crucial to the eventual success of the project, Lanting traveled to a remote community in the desert of central Australia called Kintore, a birthing ground for this modern Aboriginal artistic tradition.


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