An interview with Evan Hancock
“7th February 2009 saw the mercury rise to 46.4ºC in Melbourne. With this and the previous 7 years of drought came uncertainty and the most intense firestorm Victoria had encountered on record and one that was so intense it created its own weather pattern…”
Evan Hancock won our theme THE FACE OF THE EARTH with a landscape image quite unlike any other we’ve seen – vast swathes of barren vegetation, captured in black and white in such a way that it appeared inverted. It was a striking shot that our judge Nick Brandt described as a “eerily beautiful” in its depiction of death and environmental destruction. Keen to know more about the image and its wider story, we put some questions to Evan…
Hi Evan. Firstly, and belatedly, congratulations on winning our theme THE FACE OF THE EARTH. What did you make of judge Nick Brandt’s comments?
Thank you. To be honest I was quite speechless and taken back yet humbled and honoured with Nick’s comments.
The image is from your series ‘Light Ash White’. Can you tell us a little more about the work, and what drew you to this subject matter?
Yes, the photograph that Nick has chosen is called ‘Mt Margaret Road’ and is from my 2nd solo exhibition ‘Light. Ash. White’. The series is a black and white photographic narrative that captures the partial re-birthing and the visible scarring of the land evidenced by hectares of remnant ash white tree carcasses as a result of ‘Black Saturday’ in Victoria, Australia. The series was shot just prior to the 10 year mark of the event that occurred from 7th February to 14th March 2009 and was then presented in February of 2019.
What first drew me to this subject was the way in which the Snow Gums (Eucalyptus pauciflora) were standing tall with the tree canopies arching over the hiking trails on the top of Lake Mountain, Victoria. However, all the Snow Gum trees had been stripped of their leaves and bark due to the fire storm 10 years earlier. From the weathering the tree carcasses are a white and grey tone which look magical and ethereal. It was during a hike at Lake Mountain that I felt I somehow had to capture the peaceful beauty of what I was seeing, which then led onto also capturing the Mountain Ash (Eucalyptus regnans) in the region as this also created some impressive variation in the landscape shots.
10 years on from Black Saturday, are the memories still strong for the inhabitants of Victoria? What has the legacy been?
7th February 2009 saw the mercury rise to 46.4ºC in Melbourne. With this and the previous 7 years of drought came uncertainty and the most intense firestorm Victoria had encountered on record and one that was so intense it created its own weather pattern. That day was unimaginable and the memories of this time are still very strong for all Victorian’s and more so for those that were directly affected by it in one form or another. Therefore rather than legacy, it is a seasonal reminder of the cycles of nature in which we live.
There is something delicate in the execution of your images which elevate them beyond typical landscapes. Nick Brandt described an abstract quality like an “intricate engraving or pencil drawing”. Can you talk us through your photographic process? What effect did you have in mind?
From the first moment of hiking among the Snow Gums I knew I would present the photographs in black and white in order to capture the shape and form while the naturally inverted landscape provided a surreal contrast. It wasn’t until the initial recce run and the digital processing that the landscape began to expose to me the result of such scarring to the different species of vegetation across the varying terrain.
There was also something quite different with the scenery where the Victorian Mountain Ash trees stand. These trees grow between 70-114 meters tall where they are very straight and quite dense in population. Only now that they are denuded you can see through the forest but only so far as there are hundreds of trees beyond and because of their placement they end up creating a natural mask between foreground and background. Mix this with a naturally inverted landscape and the black and white photography, it becomes something of its own that reveals a natural yet unpredictable pattern which is what informs the abstract quality present in the series.
Evan’s winning image for our theme THE FACE OF THE EARTH
“A photograph of an environmentally denuded world – what must be thousands of skeletal dead trees from an Australian wildfire – that is like an almost abstract but intricate engraving or pencil drawing. It’s almost hard to tell if one is looking at a negative or positive image. An image of death yet also eerily beautiful. To me, this encapsulates the current face of the earth in the 21st century, in the midst of environmental crisis.” – Nick Brandt
And likewise with scale – there’s something mesmerising in the vastness of the forest scenes you photograph. How did you go about finding the right angles and compositions from helicopter? Had you planned certain routes or locations in advance? And how did you go about editing and sequencing the work?
The scale was quite enormous. 450,000 hectares had been burnt and it was a vast amount of land to cover. There was quite a lot of research undertaken for this series based on the location. I had maps of the region and crossed referenced these with historical fire maps, timestamps and rough coordinates of where the fire moved. This gave me key areas to navigate and a clear picture of what I was visualising.
I spent 2 days location-scouting with my research which also helped determine what gear I was taking. Bare basics of camera body and lens and I decided that no filters or tripods were going to be used. Production was 10 days shooting on the ground constantly moving by 4WD, hiking & walking.
Throughout the 10 days I would arrive at locations where I could visualise the perspective of images from the air that were unreachable beyond standing on top of my 4WD. Over time this became quite frustrating as I felt the aerial views would enhance the scale and enormity of the story.
From there, I hired a helicopter with the doors off and mapped out a rough flight path that was based on the time spent on the ground. When flying over the scarred landscape it gave a completely new perspective on the vastness of the scenery with the hundreds upon thousands of denuded trees creating this exquisite pattern and texture.
Composition-wise I was looking for contrast and shapes in the landscape, in the process what was becoming apparent with the tools I was using was this abstract beauty presented as a result of a shortening of perspective and even at times a loss of perspective in the form of lens compression. Overall the compositions involve a naturally layered ingredient mix of terrain, varying daylight, vantage points, a black and white output together with purposely cropping in camera using a telephoto lens (70-200mm) to all form what results as an illusion where the photograph seems it is of a different medium.
The selection process was straightforward, each image had to hold up on its own but work together in a series and convey a clear story of the land. The curation of the pieces and exhibition were done with assistance where it took 7 rounds to cut the final selection to 20 pieces. In the final series, 10 photographs were aerial and 10 photographs were shot from the ground.
You exhibited the series in Melbourne, and I was drawn to the attention to detail – framing the prints in local Victorian ash timber for example. What role and importance do exhibitions have for you, now so much photographic work is seen, and business conducted, online?
The Light. Ash. White exhibition took place at Melbourne gallery fortyfivedownstairs in February 2019. Because of the subject matter the intention was to keep all production local and I resonated with the framing selection of Victorian Ash timber with a double charcoal stain. Each image is mounted with a white spacer of approximately 50mm so that each image itself would breathe yet be visually grounded with a dark profiled frame.
I find as a fine art photographer exhibitions play a very important role as they push you to express your creative voice and succinctly communicate your ideas and concepts. It also shows that you’re focused, committed and dedicated to your craft from creating an image through to print form.
And on a similar theme, you took the work to ‘The Other Art Fairs’ in Sydney and New York recently. How were those as a first time participant? What can you tell our readers who might have never participated in an art fair before?
Yes, I have exhibited my work in Melbourne, Sydney & New York with ‘The Other Art Fair’ this year. Participating in fairs such as The Other Art Fair is well worth the experience of presenting and introducing your work to new audiences, greeting & talking to visitors, collectors and meeting great artists from the same and other disciplines. I believe with any type of gallery or art fair, it is important as an artist that you do your background research and decide which platforms are appropriate, most suitable and potentially beneficial for you and your work.
You work under the guise Fm+1. What can you tell us about that? And there’s an Fm+2 as well right..?
Having worked across advertising, events, broadcast & film for many years in various roles from producing, directing, design and photography it was time to thread these experiences and knowledge together that encapsulates my own vision of outcomes. This was the formation of Fm+1, an image capture and creative production agency that showcases real stories, real places and real world documenting. The fine art division is the pinnacle of the Fm+1 brand and through the convergence of research and documented storylines Fm+1 collaborates with the artists unique creative style to produce classic and timeless realisations that define a clear message.
And yes, there is an Fm+2 which is an additional creative agency with a heavy focus upon image making, art production and installations dedicated to servicing the arts, beauty and fashion worlds.
My co-director at Fm+1 also founded Fm+2 and the team holds years of expertise in the arts and fashion sectors where they engage in bold ideas and risk taking across visual messaging. It is our fine art division at Fm+1 that keeps both the Fm+1 and Fm+2 brands closely aligned.
Who or what inspires your work Evan? And what’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
I admire the work and dedication of Ansel Adams, Sebastião Salgado, David Yarrow, Nick Brandt and David Attenborough. For my work, inspiration firstly comes from various interests and experiences of travelling to local and remote regions, outdoor adventures of hiking, trekking and previously mountain bike riding. I really enjoy the natural beauty of nature and wildlife; observing, listening, understanding, experiencing and absorbing different cultures, people & perspectives. It’s when I am amongst this that I learn more about what I would like to convey in my work. Secondly, inspiration also comes from my dreams which is really cool.
And the best piece of advice I’ve been given is to ‘stay truthful to both yourself and your creative voice, value and path’.
And finally, what’s next?
Up next is working on some interesting projects with Fm+1. There is always the continuous searching out of new and interesting storylines to document and photograph so with that I’ll be collating new ideas for what the next photographic series could be and what the exhibition may look like.