Australian Beach Culture Laid Bare

Powerful yet fragile, the ocean is many things for many different Australians.

Photojournalist Paul Blackmore contemplates our ‘almost spiritual reliance’ on the water in his captivating new book, Heat.

In-between daily swims, the Sydney-based lensman spoke about this passion project, which has been four years, and a lot of underwater hours, in the making!

‘Australians have an almost spiritual reliance on the beach and the ocean,’ begins Paul Blackmore. ‘In a way, it is where we see our culture laid bare. We get to see a cosmopolitan confidence, a mingling of cultures and peoples from all backgrounds, a parade of vitality and harmony that creates a unique flavour.’

Over the past 25 years, the photojournalist has set out to create visual narratives about contemporary social issues, by photographing real people and environments in candid situations. His latest series, Heat, highlights the important connection Australians have with the water, as well as the power, beauty and fragility of nature in the age of climate change.

Photographed from Bondi to Clovelly, Heat  ‘celebrates the intense beauty, the rhythms of the ocean, and the people who swim in it,’ details the avid ocean swimmer. ‘For me, the act of immersing myself into the enormity of the ocean is like a secular baptism; a cleansing of the mind and body. It was the feeling of going into the ocean and experiencing its redemptive power that inspired me to start this project.’

Much of the series was captured using waterproof housing and a ‘fairly simple’ set-up of two cameras and a couple of lenses, which allowed for shooting in the surf or underwater, yet maintaining the high quality of large-format cameras. Final editing and production took place in Paul’s shared studio, located in the beautiful old Marlborough Building in Surry Hills.

The Sydney native started out shooting with his Dad’s Nikon at aged 14. ‘Taking photos became the way I engaged with the world and became my way of communicating,’ he recalls. Before long, the family laundry was transformed into a darkroom and his bedroom walls were plastered with photos cut from Time and National Geographic. As a fresh Philosophy and Economics graduate, Paul took off on a formative solo roadtrip to Darwin through Queensland and Arnhem Land. Over five months, he spent his days photographing people on cattle stations and in remote communities. That series became Paul’s first book, the widely-published Australians: Response to the Land. ‘Most importantly It gave me the sense that I can do this; I have worked as a photographer for the last 25 years,’ he tells.

Subsequent passion projects like At Water’s Edge, and the recent Heat, have come to life alongside Paul’s commercial commissions, which have taken the photographer all over the world. He has worked with the likes of Time, Le Monde, L’Express, Good Weekend, Vogue, Marie Claire and on advertising campaigns for Qantas, Telstra, Apple, Google, Westpac, and Woolworths.

‘The most exciting part of photography is that it allows you to explore worlds that you might not normally experience. Even though Heat was shot in my own backyard, it took me on an obsessive creative journey, where every time I photographed it felt new and fresh,’ says the Tamarama local. Paul is ecstatic to share this journey with others, for it’s also one that aligns with his entire approach to his profession: ‘create from the heart, make it personal, and never stop experimenting’.

Turning through Heat is a profound reminder of how the ocean is intertwined with life in Australia – connecting us to ourselves, one another, and our unique environment.

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See more of Paul Blackmore’s work on his website Paulblackmore.com or by following on Instagram @paulblackmorephoto (his next project will take him to Beirut, Lebanon). ‘Heat’ is available to purchase here, and works from the series GOMA’s blockbuster exhibition ‘Water‘ later this year.

This story was originally published on The Design Files, July 3rd, 2019.

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