Kristian Laemmle-Ruff was flying over the Australian desert when he realised his experience of his country was limited.
“I felt like I had a responsibility to educate myself,” says the photographer, who is known for his social documentary-style photos.
The lightbulb moment prompted Laemmle-Ruff to journey around the country and seek out experiences that weren’t available to him in Melbourne. This trip became the inspiration for his latest exhibition, Mind the Gap, opening at Perth Centre for Photography this month.
“When I returned home I felt alienated, it was a culture shock,” he says. “It seemed like people were oblivious to those deeper connections that happen out there.”
Exploring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ways of understanding land, Mind the Gap juxtaposes the realities of city-living with life in other parts of Australia. The photographer’s well-publicised photo of US-Australian spy base Pine Gap is the star of the show. Laemmle-Ruff went to considerable lengths to capture the detailed shots, but waited 18 months before he released them, for fear of the legalities involved. The shots have since provided researchers with important information on the base’s operation.
“Decisions that are potentially terrorising civilians overseas are being made through this big spy base in Australia,” he says. “We need to question whether it’s in our national interest.”
Exploring Australia’s responsibility in international affairs is one of the exhibition’s themes. The ‘Generations’ series features portraits of people affected by the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and were taken while Laemmle-Ruff worked as volunteer photographer in 2014. These images are juxtaposed against red sand from Roxby Downs: a reference to the Olympic Dam mine in South Australia and the presence of Australian uranium in Fukushima’s reactors.
“Our country is being used to fuel nuclear disasters,” says Laemmle-Ruff. “Radioactive storage hazards are a long-term public health issue. Three generations were affected by what happened in Fukushima.”
The works in Mind the Gap are beautiful, albeit complex in their exploration of Australia’s cultural diversity. It’s a diversity that’s increasingly threatened. Laemmle-Ruff would like viewers to acknowledge the cultural divide and become aware of our responsibility as global citizens.
“Australia’s connection to other parts of the world can be pretty dark,” he says. “Although the works seem aesthetically pleasing, the subject matter and context I find shocking.”
Victoria Laurie – a senior journalist for The Australian – will open Mind the Gap. Laemmle-Ruff will also talk on the night.