Guy Nicholls talks to one of Australia’s top photographers about his passion for impossible places
“People come back changed when they return from these places,” says George Apostolidis of the remote locations he favours for his award-winning photography. One of Australia’s leading lensmen, Apostolidis has been names his country’s Professional Photographer of the Year and thrice Industrial Photographer of the Year. “Even journalists come back so relaxed they don’t even speak,” he claimed.
Apostolidis was referring to the middles of nowhere he is forever rushing off into, where colour and space are “big and loud” and the silence is profound. South-west Tasmania’s rugged terrain, its dangerous waterways and its cruel and unpredictable weather, are particularly enjoyed by Apostolidis, who revels in the rain forest and the sense of adventure to be gained by rafting the fast and freezing waters of the Franklin River.
Born in Lemos in northern Greece, which borders Albania and what used to be Yugoslavia, Apostolidis has from childhood held wide, open spaces in awe. “Landscape photography means having a sense of adventure,” he says. “Go somewhere like the Sahara, the Rockies or the outback in Australia and at sunset there is total silence. I don’t think you are ever more aware than you are at that particular time. You notice everything.
Apostolidis spent his early years in urban Australia, to which his family moved when he was seven. “A two-dollar camera given to me by an aunt when I was ten was the start. From then on I was your normal disease-struck photographer; I went around snapping everything from terraced housing to 20-storey flats. Then I entered the world of advertising.
“I started off by doing industrial photography. Mining stuff and so on. It was a great thing to do as it got me into the outback. Such photography is, by nature, fairly epic. The size of man against the sparseness of the land is unbelievable.”
Getting “man” into the right position in the elements has at times been quite a challenge, especially for the models. The one fishing for rainbow trout whom Apostolidis used in his shoot of London Lakes in Central Tasmania couldn’t walk for 20 minutes after the photographer had finished because the water has been so cold. In another shot, Apostolidis describes his model (unmaliciously) as “just crazy” – standing atop a pinnacle above Dove Lake in 30-knot winds and miraculously keeping his balance.
In another picture, a professional mountain climber supplied Apostolidis with the sense of scale by posing with a telescope above Devil’s Gullet in Tasmania. Just after the shot was taken, they all watched the telescope crash down the 600-foot cliff. The climber had been to slow to stop its fall, his reflexes stiffened by the freezing winds and made worse by the fact that the art director had insisted on him wearing only a T-shirt in such conditions.
As one of Australia’s busiest and most prolific photographers, he doesn’t get much time as he would like to be out in the sticks. For something completely different there was his recent all-in-a-day’s-work dangling out of a Hercules Transporter amid a fleet of Australian air force FA8 Hornet fighters. “A on-in-a-million assignment,” he says. “A classic experience. But I have just picked up another to do F16s!”
With such variety in his assignments, doesn’t the sensitive Apostolidis ever ponder the product he focuses in on? Jet fighters are a long way from his beloved unspoilt and wild expanses. “We are all confronted by a lot of moral questions. But to be honest, at the end of whatever day, everything’s a shape and what someone does with that shape is their responsibility; but I like to make that shape look as good as it possibly can.” As good, for example, as the fabulous Franklin River shots – for which he is still looking for a publisher.
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