on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

End frame: “The Labyrinth” by Peter Dombrovskis

Bill McClurg chooses one of his favourite images

Bill McClurg

I've had a lifelong love of nature and been interested in photography since my teen years. However for a great many years photography was put on the back burner, but acquiring a DSLR rekindled my enthusiasm. I find that photography enriches my experience of the natural world by slowing me down and allowing me to notice the smaller details I might otherwise miss. These days my photography is mostly about the smaller details in the landscape rather than the grand vista. My particular passion is photographing wildflowers and fungi.

After Charlotte asked me to write an article for End Frame I spent some time searching through my collection of photography books trying to select a favourite image to write about. Then I asked myself why I was searching for a favourite image when it has been hanging on the wall for the past 10 or 15 years — and I’m still not tired of it! It’s “The Labyrinth” by Tasmanian wilderness photographer Peter Dombrovskis.

This is of course not the first time an image of Peter’s has featured in End Frame, which shows what a gifted photographer he was. His work gained prominence in the early 1980s when his photograph “Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend” was used as part of the successful campaign to stop the damming of the Franklin River in southwest Tasmania. He was a passionate environmentalist with a deep love for the Tasmanian wilderness and was widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost wilderness photographers. Tragically, he died of a heart attack while photographing in the Western Arthur Range in southwest Tasmania in 1996 at the age of 51. He was posthumously inducted into the International Photographic Hall of Fame in 2003, becoming the first Australian photographer to be accorded this honour.

I’ve been a great admirer of Peter’s work ever since seeing his collection of postcards, diaries and calendars on my first trip to Tasmania in the 1980s. He was able to bring out the essence of whatever he photographed, be it the wider view or the smaller, more intimate details in the landscape. In all of his images, his deep love and reverence for the natural world is apparent. Through his work, the general public glimpsed the wild beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness and, more importantly, what would be lost if it wasn’t protected.

I’ve chosen “The Labyrinth” for End Frame not only because I think it’s a wonderful image in its own right, but also because of the memories it holds for me as I’ve camped in the Labyrinth in my younger bushwalking days. But that was a long time ago — before my knees started showing signs of wear! So this image is a constant reminder of what used to be. A reminder of the wonderful times I’ve spent in this special place that spoke to my soul. As Peter said, “When you go out there [into the wilderness] you don’t get away from it all, you get back to it all. You come home to what is important. You come home to yourself”.

I live in Western Australia on the other side of the country to Tasmania, but I loved bushwalking in Tassie — a bushwalkers paradise! I always went during the summer months. Sometimes the weather in the Labyrinth would be warm enough for a swim in Lake Elysia (the lake in the picture), at other times it would be so extreme (even snow!) that I would end up spending most of my time cooped up in my tent. But no matter what the weather, I always relished my time in this special place.

I’ve chosen “The Labyrinth” for End Frame not only because I think it’s a wonderful image in its own right, but also because of the memories it holds for me as I’ve camped in the Labyrinth in my younger bushwalking days.

The Labyrinth is a small plateau just over a thousand metres above sea level in the Du Cane Range, a mountain range in the Cradle Mountain Lake-St Clair National Park, part of the Tasmanian World Heritage Wilderness area. It is a magnificent setting. The plateau is surrounded by rugged mountain peaks and contains many small lakes and tarns. It is only accessible by foot and is a favourite destination for bushwalkers.

You need to view “The Labyrinth” large to fully appreciate the incredible amount of detail it holds. Viewing it on a computer screen will not do it justice. The size of the image in the high-resolution poster I have is 50 X 40 centimetres. The poster was produced by Peter’s own publishing company, West Wind Press.

The original transparency that was used to create the poster is in the archive of Peter’s work held by the National Library of Australia and is now titled “Mount Geryon from the Labyrinth, Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania 1986”. In the book, The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis: Journeys into the Wild, which was commissioned by the NLA, it has the same title. I should also mention that the quality of the image in the book is no match for the quality/resolution of the poster image.

Mount Geryon (1,516 metres) is the jagged mountain at the top of the image. Next to it, on the right-hand side, is a partial view of The Acropolis (1,481 metres). All the mountains and lakes in the Du Cane Range, and of course the Labyrinth itself, were given names from Greek mythology by the early European explorers.

Peter was well known for his near-far compositions which he has used to great effect in this image, giving it a great sense of depth. This has been accentuated further by maintaining sharpness throughout the image and using a vertical orientation for the image. These are techniques he often used when creating images of the wider landscape and they tend to draw you into the image. This is what I experience when I view this image. It feels as though I’m actually standing on the sphagnum moss at the water’s edge and looking out across the lake to the far bank and Mount Geryon beyond.

Having only a small strip of subdued sky at the top of the image means that the mountains aren’t competing with it for attention, which gives them more prominence in the image. This applies particularly to Mount Geryon’s jagged summits which are a major focal point in the image (The reason for the new title? And does it change the way we interpret the image?). In many of Peter’s images of the wider landscape the sky often only plays a minor role, which shows that we don’t always need huge dramatic skies in our landscape images for them to be successful.

I love the way the colour in the sky at the top of the image has been subdued but is then revealed in the reflection on the lake. And what a wonderfully sharp reflection it is, with not a ripple to be seen on the surface of the lake (could the reflection be alluding to the Underworld of Greek mythology?). The stillness of the water, together with the soft light, gives the image a lovely tranquil atmosphere.

I’ve been in the Labyrinth when early morning mist has been swirling around Mount Geryon, or it has been bathed in alpenglow at sunset, as I’m sure Peter would have on many occasions over the years as it was one of his favourite places. But he has chosen to show us the raw natural beauty of this special place just as it is without any of these adornments. For want of a better way of expressing it, he is showing us the unadulterated natural splendour of the Labyrinth, and by doing so he has captured the essence of this special place. It is quite simply a beautiful image of a beautiful place.

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