Should we ever go back?
A month or so ago I encountered a book in which it’s creator observed, recorded and indeed cherished the formative years of his children and their interactions with their natural perceived idyl in midwest America.
But whilst open fields, tunnels of snow and babbling streams are perfect environments to nurture a developing young mind, are they (as pastoral as they sound) enough to stimulate the same mind when the curiosity of adolescence and adulthood start to encroach.
Half way around the world in the parched overfarmed grain belt area of Western Australia, photographer Brad Rimmer has created a work that could easily be a retort, a melancholic letter from a grown child to a parent, across the years and across the miles.
Nature Boy is in fact a follow up to Rimmer’s own 2009 book Silence, and continues his study of landscape, time and memory.
Home is defined by different things, for different people.
For some, those things can be as simple as a mother’s kiss, nurturing warm and completely reliable.
The comfort of familiarity and routine...security.
For others, it can be nothing more than a negative parade of challenges and betrayals.
The cruel tricks of circumstance.
Whatever the touchstones may be, there is always the physical environment.
Those accustomed streets that criss cross town.
The bar that plays janky music through the speaker that always cuts out, and every Wednesday does a “two for one” of something barely edible.
Or simply the skyline and the fields that surround.
For many, these simple things are enough, and life within the ring of fire is their world. However, for Brad Rimmer the desire to see and experience life beyond his flaming horizon eventually proved too strong. Personal tragedies and broken hearts, too many bricks pulled from life’s Jenga tower. Go forth young man.
It is a beautiful book of two halves which counterpoints his rich colour photography with personal recollections of people and place, gathered in a section of honest heartfelt prose.
Nature boy gives us the opportunity to travel to a part of Australia that we are otherwise unlikely to see. A reminder that even paradise gets a little bruised from time to time.
No golden beaches or iconic architecture. No cosmopolitan coffee houses and bistros, these are towns and people that exist on the edges of the promised land.
Rimmer’s landscapes are filled with horizons on fire, trees blackened and twisted by incendiary temperatures, reduced to nothing more than silhouettes of broken sentries clawing at the sky and imploring with charcoal fingers for one more chance, and a little more time.
Of seemingly endless tracks that dream of being roads, which traverse barren seas of rust red powder, itself gasping its last whilst shedding dust tears for the memory of its once fertile incarnation.
It seems that just as the weathered men that that have spent their lives making their livings and feeding their families by unwittingly draining the very ground that sustained them, everything tires and given the right combination of circumstances...can finally be beaten.
Roaming the town, run down houses, theatre spaces that play to absent audiences. Chipped glitter balls that shed tears of mirror mosaic for the days of dances long gone.
And the people, Rimmer’s lens captures the youth of the area. Not the kids he grew up with decades before, but their replacements, their shadows, conceivably even offspring. Each wiling to play their part in the artist’s dreamscape.
Posing compliantly they stir and focus ghosts from the past.
Maybe the exchange will be mutual. For Rimmer, a validation that his migration was the right thing to do. For these young people poised on the edge of their adult lives, an inspiration.
Maybe tomorrow another backpack will be loaded and another journey begin.
But Rimmer has his own tales to recount, and they form Nature Boy’s closing pages, and when combined with the evocative images that precede them, we are treated to a delicious cocktail of narrative that make the book a wonderfully emotive journey.
There are too few photographers from down under that receive the attention that they deserve, but publishers T&G are doing a wonderful job in ensuring that the world is being made aware of the rich talent the country possesses.
They have certainly done a beautiful job with Nature Boy, in both design and printing.
The book features illustrated boards with embossed titles.
The paper stocks are warm to the touch and the separation between photography and prose is clean and succinct.
And of course the pictures themselves, as warm and redolent of the topography they depict.
Should we ever go back?
Do we ever really leave in the first place?
Nature Boy by Brad Rimmer, can be purchased here.
Robin Titchener is a photobook collector of some thirty years. He is a regular contributor to both Photobookstore Magazine and The Od Review, as well as running his own review blog.