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The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis, Journey Into the Wild

Peter Dombrovskis and Bob Brown

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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I think it’s safe to say that the new Dombrovskis retrospective was one of my most anticipated books of recent years and sadly, upon having time to study the book at length, it’s also one of the most disappointing. This doesn’t mean that the book doesn’t have value and it is certainly the case that bringing a level of anticipation to any purchase enhances the sense of disappointment when things aren’t quite as expected.

Let’s backtrack a little though. Peter Dombrovskis, as has been mentioned multiple times in On Landscape over the years, is one of the most important landscape photographers of the 20th Century. He was one of the most passionate outdoorsman, untiring environmentalists and talented artists we have had amongst us. His global popularity doesn’t reflect this, however. Many people have only encountered him mentioned for his environmental work or in passing in interviews with other photographers. This is probably because although he produced a few books in his time, probably because of the state of publishing industry, in terms of investment and quality, in Tasmania was lacking. The few good books published in his time are now changing hands for hundreds of pounds and the best retrospective produced after his death often changes hands for thousands.

So when I heard that the National Library of Australia was putting on an Exhibition and to go with it had commissioned the production of a retrospective book that would have a large print run, you can understand some of my enthusiasm. I managed to get an early pre-order in and about a couple of months ago I received my copy.

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  • Joe Rainbow

    I was so delighted to receive my copy, mainly to see the ‘new’ work that I haven’t got in the other books of his I own, and without referencing the other work, I was fairly satisfied. In retrospect, I can clearly see what a shambles the printing has been. From reading articles about the lengths that have been gone to in the reproduction for the exhibition, this was a surprise. I have a feeling that he wasn’t allowed to see the original negs when reproducing them for the exhibition and had to work from conversations with Liz and his own judgement. Either way, as you say Tim, it is such a shame that one of the true greats gets this poor print quality to mark his extraordinary legacy. P.s. Simply will set you back much more than £100 :)

  • Tim, this is a fair summary; if anything your assessment understates the misfortune that has befallen Peter’s work here. Your technical analysis throughout is spot-on. My Australian friends have also expressed their disappointment, so I don’t think that this is a question us being ‘Picky Poms’. It’s an extraordinary thing to happen, but having once had a similar disaster with one of my books, for which I had to “pull” the entire print run, it’s a reminder of what can happen if vigilance is not total at every step of the road. It’s still a fascinating book to have, especially when compared to its (infinitely superior) predecessors. It would be a shame for anyone who came across Peter’s work for the first time in this book and believed this was the real Dombrovskis.

  • Geoff Woods

    Hi Tim, I was talking to Liz the other day and what I can make out she didn’t have much to do with the book at all. If she had I’m sure it would be much better. I haven’t seen the book and really don’t want to, Chris Bell rang me and just simply told me it’s not worth having. I think retail here it sell’s for $40, so for that I guess you can’t expect much.
    I have been privileged enough to see so many of Peter’s Trannies in real life, and to what I’m looking at here I’m glad I didn’t buy it. The front cover, I was privileged enough to see it as soon as he got it back from the lab and if your image here is anywhere close it’s appalling. The cover alone would have been enough for me to turn my back and walk away. To tell you the truth Peter probably would have been close to tears by what I’m seeing. I really can’t understand why they didn’t get Liz to look after the whole thing. By the way she’s not really impressed with the exhibition prints either.

  • Mark Darragh

    One figure who seems to have been overlooked in all the discussion is Peter’s long time collaborator, Rodney M Poole. Rodney is not a photographer but rather has a background in printing and graphic design. Peter approached Rodney during the pre-production of Wild Rivers and the two of them worked together on Peter’s publications until Peter’s untimely death. Rodney continued to work with Liz Dombrovskis until she stopped publication of Peter’s work in 2009. In this respect, apart from Liz, he probably saw more of Peter’s work than anyone else and had an unsurpassed knowledge ofhow to capture his photographs in print.

    It is a great shame that the book has failed to live up to what were understandably very high expectations. Peter’s legacy is
    important not only for his remarkable photographs but the fact that his work was a key factor in galvanising whole generation to appreciate the need to value and preserve our wilderness areas. Despite it’s flaws, hopefully the new book might contribute to raising that same awareness in a new audience.

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