Looking at photographer Tim Hillier’s landscape photos, you’d be forgiven for not immediately realising how much sweat and suffering went into them.
The stunning portraits are the result of time spent in remote communities in the Northern Territory, reachable only by charter flights. For the past decade, Hillier has spent about six months a year in these remote regions, many of which are difficult to even access. “On one of the flights, I had to leave all my clothes behind just so I could take all my camera gear, because my weight was too much,” says Hillier. That’s dedication.
Most of Hillier’s landscapes are shot in the Territory. He’s often out in the Aboriginal community of Peppimenarti– some 320 kilometres west of Darwin, in the Daly River region –making videos for Durrmu Arts Aboriginal Corporation.
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Arnhem Land and the Kimberley are Hillier’s favourite places to shoot here. The rest of the year sees him based in Melbourne with his young daughter. “I get the perfect blend of both worlds,” he says. “I quite regularly get sick of city life, but also out here it can get quite full on sometimes. So it’s good to be able to go back home to my regular apartment and sleep in my regular bed, instead of sleeping in a swag or sleeping bag for months on end.”
Hillier is an opportunist when it comes to his landscape work, always carrying equipment in his backpack (a Canon 5D for stills, a Canon 300 for film, and a couple of lenses – usually a 500 millimetre and 24–105 millimetre) in case an opportunity to shoot arises.
“I’m more just ‘See what happens,’” he says of his approach to photography. “I’ve always got one eye on my paid work and the other on doing landscapes. If I’m already away working, I’ll get up super early before I have to start to catch sunrise, and then late at nights – which are also the best times to shoot –wander around and see what happens. A lot of times I’ll come out here and shoot for weeks and weeks and not get anything to work with, and then other days I can just go out in the morning and get like 10 photos in an hour or two.”
He’s not interested in capturing a landscape the way the eye sees it. Take one of his solo exhibitions from 2016, Domestic Connecting – a series of abstract aerial photos of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, shot through with colour flare. It took three years of flights to get enough photos in exactly the right light. “I’m trying to add in that element of narrative, like with a bit of psychedelic colour in there,” says Hillier.
This method of working – creating effects at the time of shooting rather than in production – mirrors life in Peppimenarti. “Working with the mob up here, you see people making art for right now,” he says. “Timeframes don’t really exist; the past and now are exactly the same. These photos reference that in a way. They could be taken anytime; they’re not meant to be one specific timeframe, like, ‘This is this landscape at this hour at this time of day.’ Photos are usually so descriptive, but I’ve tried to play around with photography and make it more subjective.”
This August, Hillier’s photos will be on display in Melbourne – alongside work by five other photographers – at the Unhurried by Nature exhibition, hosted by Broadsheet in partnership with The Glen Grant The Glen Grant. Hillier’s shots feature end-of-trip scenes from Darwin, which he usually takes on a red-eye flight back to Melbourne, when he’s still slightly delirious. They’re often early morning scenes, when the land is hot and shimmering. “You get a sense of that humidity and heat from the colours,” he says. “Darwin is like a botanic garden – it’s so lush.”
When he makes that pit stop in Darwin for a few days before catching the next flight home to Melbourne, the city acts as a bit of a decompression chamber, says Hillier – a gateway between the two worlds. Obviously a knock-off drink is a must-do. Being a landscape photographer, he can appreciate pausing to admire a finished product.
“I’ll have been out for a couple of weeks in dry communities, sweating every day, and [out there] all you have to relax with is an ice-cream in the shower,” he says. “So when I get to Darwin, I really want that knock-off drink by the pool.”
Watch: Capturing the Story of a Space With Tim Hillier
Tim Hillier's work has taken him to almost every corner of Australia – including Arnhem Land. We follow him into the region where the light is almost brutal, to find out how he's patiently making his own myth and story by manipulating what goes into the camera
*The Unhurried by Nature exhibition, presented by Broadsheet in partnership with The Glen Grant, runs from Friday August 12 to Saturday August 13 at Marfa Gallery in Abbotsford. *
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Glen Grant Single Malt Whisky.