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Each year at the first signs of spring, fields around Victoria change colour quickly and dramatically from a lush green of plants and grasses fed by the winter rains, to bright yellow carpet, sometimes covering fields as far as the eye can see. This is the annual flowering of canola, grown across the state to eventually be harvested for rapeseed oil. For a few glorious weeks each year however, a patchwork of fields glow with happy golden flowers as a precursor to the summer to come.

Being springtime, the weather is moody and changeable. Hang around long enough and you are likely to see yellow fields in all conditions, often on the same day. Clear blue skies complementing golden fields perfectly, and as stormy weather rolls in, the cheerful colours seem to defy brooding clouds.

Provence has its Routes de la Lavande which are internationally renowned for a good reason, but the lesser known annual canola blooms that occur not just in Victoria, but around Australia are just as spectacular.

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Sunrise at Uluru with clear sky and sun flare (Mark Eden)

I spent a week recently amongst the red soil of central Australia around Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka feeling very small and insignificant amongst the expansive desert and these ancient and sacred monoliths.

Flying into the tiny single building airport and Yulara, the domes of Kata Tjuta and single expanse of Uluru can be seen rising from the earth and it is possible to get a sense of sheer size, but it isn’t until you stand in their shadow and see the texture worn into these rocks over thousands and thousands of years that you feel their power and immutability. At dawn, the rising sun lifts a blanket to reveal Uluru as a charcoal shape, which soon lightens to tones of reds and burnished orange as the light contours and pock marks the rock wall. The only sound to be heard is that of birds awakening with the dawn, and the near silence in such a desolate place only ads to the awe of watching the day begin just as the ancient Anangu did 60,000 years ago.

Silhouette of Uluru with clear sky at sunrise (Mark Eden)

This colour will change throughout the day as the hot desert sun moves overhead, the air still and dry. Looking around, at first it seems like there is nothing there, but everything is moving, everything is alive. It takes a lot to survive out here, but plants, animals and people call this desert their home. Hidden amongst the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape are kangaroos, dingoes, birds, snakes and lizards and many varieties of desert dwelling mammals who have learned how to adapt to this harsh land. Dotted around the area, and mostly hidden from the view of the casual visitor, are communities of Anangu people, the traditional land owners who’s nomadic lifestyle has also adapted over the years to meet the demands of a modern world, but still live by the ancient laws of Tjurkurpa. These laws are told to new generations through stories of the creation time, of which the Anangu believe Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka are physical proof. It still surprises many people that there is such a huge part of this huge country that has English as a second language, or does not speak English at all.

There is a sense of permanence in this place, like nothing, not an asteroid, not even hoards of tourists, could destroy these landmarks. A sense that everything around them, the trees, plants and humans will all eventually wither and disappear, but the rock will remain.

For more images from this series, head on over to the main website.

 

 

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Lighthouse at Point Lonsdale, Bellarine Pensinsula, Victoria. (Mark Eden)

One side benefit of photography is a deeper connection with the world that comes through the study of subject. Most photographers have at least one subject they return to again and again. A place, person or thing that holds a significant meaning. Mine is a small outcrop of headland on the Bellarine Peninsula, about an hour from Melbourne called Point Lonsdale. This was one of the first places where, with a few rolls of Ilford 100 in my pocket, I fumbled with an old Nikon and a borrowed tripod that weighed as much as a sledge hammer and pinched my fingers every time I tried to adjust it. Where I created my first overexposed, poorly composed, out of focus images of seascapes and the surrounding coastline. I’d like to say they were impressionist, but really they were just bad photos. Really bad photos. Where there any image that was half decent (by which I mean in focus) I would hurry to the darkroom, enlarging it to poster size and hanging it on my wall for the world to see. It was crap, but I was proud of this crap.

I returned time and time again to this place, partly because it was convenient, but also partly because it began to hold some meaning. Sometimes I’d walk around for hours before even thinking of taking out my camera, sometimes I wouldn’t even bring it. This beach became a place to reflect.

Rockpools at Point Lonsdale Beach (Mark Eden)

As I practiced and slowly improved, I felt I was able to do some sort justice to the place. I began to understand how to capture the tranquillity of low tide when the rock pools were exposed and clouds were reflected in them, the best angles for each time of day to shoot the lighthouse that stands proudly above the cliff tops, and the long jetty that protrudes from the beach and is used by fisherman all year round.

Dawn at Point Lonsdale Pier, Victoria, Australia (Mark Eden)

I’ve kept coming back for 15 years. It is only a small area, but I somehow always manage to find something new that I’d never before noticed. It has taught me, not only about the technical aspects of photography, but also about seeing, about being observant and slowing down. I’ve learned to appreciate what is around me. This is a place I will always return to. I feel I owe it a debt for the gift it has given me. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be able to honour it in photographs.

 

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Under the dusty sun of North West India, in crowded cities and quiet villages, the story of Rajasthan is told in the faces of its people. Lined faces tell of a lifetime of toil while retaining a contentment that comes with a hard day’s work. Elders appear proud of their wrinkles and sun-cracked skins, understanding them to be symbols of what is important to them: to care and provide for family and community.

The above is an extract from a new article on my time spent with people from cities and villages of Rajasthan, India. To read the full story and view more images, click the link to the full story on Maptia.

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Woman in colourful sari walking past blue house in Jodhpur

Under the watch of Mehrangarh Fort, within the twists and turns of medieval laneways and alleys, Jodhpur’s Blue City feels a world away from the chaos of Rajasthan’s second largest city. An oasis of calm in the midst of the noise and calamity that is India.

Under the clock tower, a bustling market signals the beginning of the old town. This is the unofficial border between modern Jodhpur and the city’s origin. Indeed this is the part of the city that attracts most tourists, however as I make my way uphill slightly and through streets that become narrower with every turn, the clatter falls away and a sense of calm begins to take hold. It is as if the Brahmin blue painted cube houses themselves are having a soothing influence. The streets smell of spices and burnt votive candles.

After a few minutes I’m lost. In a good way. I have a map I could check, but somehow it doesn’t seem important. This is a place to wander, the ideal setting for being lost. I wander up and down, taking a left turn here or a right there, with no other intention than to see what might be around the corner. I pass children playing in the street, old men and women sitting on doorsteps, sleeping dogs, tiny neighbourhood temples and shops. Occasionally the peace is disrupted by a motorbike barrelling through the narrow lanes, but soon returns to normal. The day is warm but it feels cool in here, partly because only shards of sunlight filter down through the buildings, and partly because the coloured walls soak up the heat.

Around one corner, a grandmother sits with her grandson on her lap, playing a game of peek-a-boo. I wave as I pass and they both waive back, both surprised that a foreigner has wandered this far away from the tourist area.

Around another corner, two boys are blowing bubbles, watching them float upwards into the sky. So engrossed that they don’t notice me at all.

Along another street, women in bright saris pass on their way to buy supplies for home, their colourful dress exaggerated by the soft blue walls. Some are curious I am there, others pay me no attention.

Finally and suddenly, and quite by accident, I am back near the clock tower market. It is dusk now but the market is still trading, bargains being struck and goods and money changing hands. This will go on late into the night, but back in the neighbourhoods of the Blue City quiet prevails. Occasionally their is the bark of a dog, or sound of a rickshaw, but they are short interruptions to the peace that exists in the midst of the chaos.

 

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Something is tugging at my leg. I’m oblivious to it at first, concentrating on making a photo of the surrounding landscape, then become dimly aware as the tugging continues. I look down to see a pair of  big brown eyes above an even bigger grin, too big for the small face that contains them.

“One selfie please,” she says. It’s more of a demand than a request, I’ve learnt from experience over the past week of being in India. In a sign of the times, I’ve also learnt that “selfie” is one of the first words of English anyone learns. If someone knows no other English, they know “selfie”.

“Ok,” I say, knowing full well I have no choice in the matter. Not that I mind. It is refreshing as a photographer to visit a country where people, children especially, are not only open to having their photo made, but often bluntly insist on it when they see camera in hand. There is an openness about people here. Where we in the West are instinctively guarded around strangers, having been told of dangers posed since we were old enough to understand what our parents and teachers were saying, most Indians have no hesitation or fear in rushing over to a foreigner and asking for a photo. I’ve taken a few thousand photos while I’ve been here so far, but I think I’ve been in even more.

I kneel down to the girl’s height and start making photos as she poses confidently. This isn’t the first time she’s done this. Probably not the first time today. We pause for  a moment so I can show her the images on the back of the camera. She giggles happily. All of a sudden we’re surrounded by many more eager little faces straining for a look, and more delighted giggles. Inevitably, everyone wants to be in a photo too. Little bodies scramble over each other and shove others out of the way to get in front of the lens. Poses are struck, and costume changes made. There is much laughter and use of the “ok” hand sign, a universal expression of approval. A few aren’t entirely happy with their result though and insist on another try, to which I oblige until a satisfactory outcome is achieved.

This scene goes on for a while (there is a small army now) and could go on all evening, but friends are waiting for me. I start to move away and the crowd moves with me. They’re not done yet. Fortunately, I’ve now had some experience in extricating myself from these situations. Whereas a week ago I would have been stuck there until they lost interest, now I put the camera back in its bag and simply keep walking. The cries of “Selfie, selfie, photo, photo,” gradually turn to ones of “Bye, bye.” Turning to waive before leaving I see that no one looks too upset, not even those that didn’t get their chance to be in a photo. Instead they waive, and begin to scatter, presumably in search of the next foreigner with a camera.

Just before climbing back in the jeep, I hear faintly a small voice speaking to someone else: “Selfie please…”

 

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Indian boys

I’ve been in Mumbai the past few days before heading onto Delhi and Rajasthan, and was fortunate to meet some of the happiest, friendliest people I have ever come across. These are the people of Baiganwadi slum, a slum in West Mumbai of around 200,000 mostly Bangladeshi residents.

Many assumptions are made of the living conditions and people to live in Mumbai’s slums, which have existed for centuries but have come into a more worldwide consciousness only recently due to movies like Slumdog Millionaire. Rather than the despondent, disconnected and lazy people they are stereotyped to be, people here are happy and exuberant. They are industrious and hard working. Some travel outside of the slum area to work long hours of hard labor, while others set up business in their homes tending to the needs of neighbors with services such as tailoring or furniture making. Others collect and sort the city’s garbage for recycling.

Children play happily in the street at marbles, hopscotch or cricket, improvised with fence paling bats and bound rags for balls. They are exited to see a stranger, especially one with a camera, and jostle and shove each other out of the way good naturedly to have their picture taken.

Below are just a few of the many wonderful people I met here.

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Earlier this year I visited Christchurch at the end of a trip around New Zealand’s South Island. Although I was only in the city for a few hours, the small part of it I managed to see carried the weight of the recent tragedy that befall the city, but also a sense of optimism amongst the rebuilding of the downtown area most effected.

In September 2010 Christchurch was hit with a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake, devastating much of the city’s east and surrounding area and causing mass power outages. This was followed by several aftershocks, the most damaging being in February 2011 which measured 6.3 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people. Christchurch’s CBD had 80% of its area demolished in total.

Today, walking around the effected area, the devastation is still apparent, but so is the rebuild. It is often hard to see which buildings are coming down and which are going up. City blocks of nothing but rubble sit across seemingly untroubled green spaces. If the saying that adversity breeds character is true, then then the character of Christchurch and her people is one of resilience and ingenuity. Tragic as they have been, these events have given the people the opportunity to create a new way of living by the repurposing of old materials and use of green, renewable energy sources.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

Perhaps the best example of this resourcefulness is the Re:START mall. A mall constructed of disused shipping containers in an effort to encourage retailers and customers back to the city centre as soon as possible. Since beginning with 27 businesses, the mall now houses over 50 permanent businesses as well as food stalls and buskers.

Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden) Shipping containers at Re:start Mall in Christchurch (Mark Eden)

The Cardboard Cathedral was built after the destruction of the original cathedral and is one of a kind, being made substantially from cardboard and shipping containers. Described as a transitional cathedral, the building will eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, but in the meantime serves as a reminder of Christchurch’s bright future.

Exterior of Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch (Mark Eden)

185 empty chairs is both art installation and memorial to those lost. Amongst blocks of grey rubble and a few crumbling office buildings, sit 185 white painted chairs of all shapes and sizes. Dining table chairs, wheelchairs and children’s chairs amongst others represent the people from all walks of life who lost their lives to the earthquake. It is a somber but beautiful sight, and an insight to how a community has come together to both remember and move towards the future.

185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden) 185 empty chairs memorial for Christchurch earthquake (Mark Eden)

 

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Dawn at London Bridge. Port Campbell Coastal Park on the Great Ocean Road (Mark Eden)

Arriving pre-dawn at London Bridge, I can hear the ocean rumble from the carpark. It sounds both distant and very near in the way of a building storm. Nature in surround sound. The still black sky seems to amplify the effect.

It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the cliffs below me, even though I have been here many times before. The giant sandstone cliffs of Victoria’s coastline have always seemed unreal to me, seen from the viewing platforms. Like looking at a miniature model. Only when down on the sand beneath do I appreciate their true size.

The land and sea around me are ancient, and feel all of their years. Leaving the Great Ocean Road and pleasant seaside villages that dot it, it is easy to feel like time has somehow missed this place. Like nothing has touched this terrain for thousand’s of years. Ancient rainforests of fern tree, redwood and myrtle beech grow in the Otways hinterland. This land strips away all pretence of significance, and reminds me that our lives here on earth are but fleeting. These forests and coastline were here thousands of years before us, and will be here for thousands of years after.

Slowly the black curtain lifts and the source of the rumbling becomes visible. The Southern Ocean seems angry today, bashing away at the sandstone as it has done for all time, wearing it down little by little and causing great chunks to break off and fall into the sea. To feel the glass smoothness of these rocks is to understand the power of the ocean.

The rock that is unveiled by the dawn is called London Bridge for the arch that has been worn into its belly. This outcrop was once connected to the mainland until part of it fell victim to the ocean’s rage, just as many of the original 12 Apostles have done at various intervals.

The gathering light seems to diminish the power of the ocean, though I know this isn’t the case. The sunny morning belies the danger in the swells and reefs just offshore, which have famously claimed many ships caught in their swirling power.

Heading back away from the clifftop, the roar once again fades into the distance and I am again back amongst the scrub and bushes that cover the area. The contrast between this peace and what is happening only a few short metres away is hard to ignore, and is perhaps the perfect example of this area of Australian coastline; where both nature’s power and finesse are on display.

 

 

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In southwest Tokyo, where the subway station opens its mouth and spills the city’s commuter masses onto the street, lies Shibuya Crossing. This is where all roads meet. Shibuya is the Tokyo of our futuristic dreams. A place of towering buildings, blinking lights, pinging pachinko machines, giant screens, neon and lasers. Surrounded by the glass skyscrapers is Tokyo’s and possibly the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection.

Like a dam that fills and breaks over and over, Tokyoites pour from Shibuya Station, from shopping boutiques and games parlours onto the curb waiting for the lights to change. While they wait, they watch trucks pass carrying advertising billboards with images of a chart topping J-pop group and blasting their latest offering. They watch and listen to a football player tell them why they should buy the newest Honda. Then the lights begin to change, the traffic that had been buzzing through the space slows and stops and rows of headlights shine like spotlights onto a stage. There is a brief pause. For a moment it is calm, almost peaceful in this city of over 30 million. A collective deep breath is taken before the lights change from red to green and the scramble begins. Pedestrians break from the teeming curbs and make their way to the other side across one of several zebra crossings, ducking and weaving through other people heading in every direction with casual dexterity, narrowly avoiding a swinging shopping bag here and a foot there. It feels like the entire city is here. They have come dressed in their finest to eat, to shop, to see and also be seen. On this Saturday night, Shibuya is the centre of the world.

Eventually the crowd on the street thins, the lights go green again and the cars and busses that had been patiently waiting, watching the performance move off again. As vehicles pass through Shibuya Crossing, the crowds on the curbs begin to replenish and the humming of friends chattering starts to grow again. By the time the lights change again, the dam has been refilled and the show repeats itself as it will throughout the night until stores, bars and restaurants finally close and it is time to catch the last train home.

 

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