Linsey Rendell is a thinker. Whether using her camera or words, the writer and photographer presents big thoughts. Currently based in Paris, France, this long-time Broadsheet contributor and freelancer is passionate about soil – about what grows in it, and our connection to it. And her work helps us feel that sense of connection too.
It’s one of the reasons Rendell’s work is featured in Broadsheet Editions, a new platform that celebrates Broadsheet’s photos – and the photographers behind them. For the first time ever, large-scale prints of our photographs are available to purchase and hang on your wall. The online store is now open, if you fancy a browse.
We spoke to Rendell from Paris about the Red Centre, red wine and the power of an old Pentax SLR.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a freelance writer and photographer. I specialise in content relating to the environment and social change, but I’m also a generalist. One day I’ll be shooting coffee and croissants, the next planting a summer market garden, then hiking in Peru before penning copy for a yoga studio.
Working on books was always a dream, so it was a privilege to collaborate with publisher Gestalten on Farmlife about small-scale farmers from all over the world. I was also proud to contribute an essay on Melbourne’s multicultural diversity to the Monocle Travel Guide to Melbourne. As a copywriter, I help agencies, tourism bodies, NGOs and ethical businesses tell compelling stories about their brands.
I also usually have a volunteer project on the go and make time to work on farms and vineyards. Since arriving in France, I joined Nathalie and Ludwig of Lulu Vigneron for a month-long vintage in Jura in the east of France. I have a growing suspicion I’m happiest with dirt under my nails and clothes stained with grape juice – but I think it would be hard to shake my passion for sharing stories.
How long have you been a photographer?
I was lucky to have photography as a subject in high school. Then I studied journalism at university and didn’t touch a camera for three years, but after I graduated and was working full-time I took night classes to upgrade my rusty SLR knowledge for the digital age.
In 2012 I pivoted into a magazine and creative agency environment for a weekly digital publication in Brisbane. I’ve been taking photos every week ever since. It was only in 2015 when I was commissioned solely for photographic work in Melbourne, independent from writing – which I’d always considered my first or strongest métier – that I felt comfortable identifying as a photographer.
Tell us about this photo. Where was it taken? Why?
Tjoritja is the name given to the West MacDonnell National Park in the Northern territory west of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) by the Arrernte peoples, and it was officially renamed as such in 2014. I spent a day exploring Udepata (Ellery Creek Big Hole), Angkerle Atwatye (Standley Chasm) and Rungutjirpa (Simpsons Gap) while working on a series of travel stories for Broadsheet.
After leaving Angkerle Atwatye, I knew I wanted to stop at the intersection of Larapinta Drive because the colours had been remarkable on the way in. I actually paused to take a photo in the opposite direction to this one, which I used for the Broadsheet story Plunging into the Red Centre.
I spun around to return to the car and this image emerged. I quickly clicked off two frames, but when I returned to Melbourne to sort through my images, I dismissed the shot because it was underexposed and the colours didn’t leap out at me the way they had when I saw it in person. But when I came upon it again, I saw its potential for this project.
How do you feel when you look at it?
I’m transported back to this moment. The hot exposed earth, the crisp grasses and those striking quartzite ranges – they were dependable companions as I journeyed through the national park and yet continuously surprising. I find the colours astounding. And that astonishment leaves me asking: isn’t it incredible we’re allowed to visit, to exist among, a portion of earth that gifts us such beauty?
Since visiting Tjoritja, I’ve learned those blond grasses that seem so at home among the landscape are actually a weed, introduced at invasion and then planted extensively as a drought-resistant crop in the 20th century. Buffel grass can survive and propagate with very little water. It overpowers native flowers, foods and grasses, threatening biodiversity and hindering the practices of Indigenous Australians. It also provides fuel for fire and has been declared a threat Australia-wide. In January this year, fires caused by lightning burned more than 90,000 hectares of Tjoritja. It burned for 17 days straight, destroying old-growth trees.
Why did you select this image to discuss?
The people I’ve had conversations with in France think Australia is an incredibly exotic place. “Desert and tropics and snow? Incroyable!”. Many have children my age who have travelled or are travelling to Australia. They’re intrigued and obsessed, and baffled that I would want to live in France instead. On the other hand, some people have said to me, “Australians, you guys are everywhere”. We’re so far from the “rest of the world” that the time spent on long carbon-intensive flights doesn’t really faze us.
The more I travel, the more I understand how different cultures and histories mirror our experiences in Australia. And how beautiful our country and its Indigenous cultures are. I’m frustrated it’s taken me 30 years to feel like I’m starting to learn something about the world, about Australia and its dark past. I’m frustrated that my schooling didn’t teach me – it was Bruce Pascoe and his book Dark Emu. Sharing photos like this one and the little I have learned of a place or culture is perhaps one way I can be an ally and make up for my past ignorance.
How did you select works for Broadsheet Editions?
Earlier this year while preparing to move to France, I made the difficult decision to leave most of my archives in Melbourne. I wanted to travel with the minimal amount of gear possible – which still involves lugging about many hard drives and lenses – but meant I only had a year’s worth of content from which to make selections.
I wanted to exhibit my home”, Australia, hence the landscapes from Mparntwe and Tjoritja. This was my first time in this region of Australia, and I would love to experience more. I see and learn so much on my travels, but there isn’t always the time (in our busy existences) to properly ponder and digest these ideas or teachings, or a meaningful platform through which to convey them.
When did you shoot your first image for Broadsheet and what was it?
My first image for Broadsheet was in June 2015. I’d heard about this social enterprise cafe training and employing young people from refugee backgrounds in Richmond, Melbourne. I pitched the story and went to meet Jane and Francois Marx at Long Street Cafe. They were serving specialty coffee and ethically minded eats, and I became a customer and friend of the cafe. Jane and Francois have since sold Long Street Cafe, so it no longer operates with the original intent, but Jane continues to train young women from refugee backgrounds in hospitality under the re-envisioned social enterprise Merchant Road. It was under this brand that we collaborated on the bake sale Cake + Kindness for Refugee Week in 2018 and also The Bread Commons, a series of bread workshops sharing the teachings of two Ethiopian women, also done in collaboration with Boris Portnoy from All Are Welcome and Ella Mittas from Ela Melbourne.
Tell us about your approach to photography?
A photo doesn’t have to be perfect, or even technically or stylistically “good” to create an impact or prompt a conversation. But a photo can speak of a person, culture, built environment, landscape, activity or place as it existed in a single moment in time. Because of fires earlier this year, the landscape in this image, Tjoritj, may no longer exist.
Watching a biopic of the controversial social psychologist Stanley Milgram, I was struck by the words of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”. Similarly, in James Bradley’s compelling essay “Unearthe” for Meanjin, the author quotes writer Amitav Ghosh on how future generations might understand current“ patterns of evasion” in addressing the climate crisis: “When readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance?” I find it incredibly precious to look back at photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs from his travels around Europe in the 1930s, or at the self-portraits Spanish artist Esther Ferrer has made since 1981. We can learn so much about a time from these images.
I’m not a philosopher or an environmental scientist. Or a photojournalist documenting displacement and conflict (yet). But I hope, one day, something I’ve made in my lifetime contributes to a greater understanding of the history we’re currently composing.