INTERVIEW

A Denuded Earth

WITH EVAN HANCOCK

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