Guest Blog: Alan Lesheim
Writing this blog has not come easy to me; as a career photographer for over 40 years now I’m more used to recording things through the viewfinder of a camera than writing words. The immediate thought of simply providing a slide show of forest photographs that I have taken in the forests near the ObserverTree over the past seven years did seem the logical thing to do, but there are speciality photographers who do this sort of thing better than I, and the alternative of writing another piece on the uniqueness of Tassie’s old forests has also been done by far better wordsmiths than I’ll ever be.
However, as a photographer whose training involved the the art of observation, and whose interests and work involve the visual historic record to a large degree, I thought perhaps a piece about and including some photographs of Miranda and her dedication to the cause she promotes with such tenacity might be of interest.
On realising that Tasmania was slowly losing the integrity of its old growth forests and their attendant ecosystems to commercial exploitation after I moved here in the mid 1990’s, I started taking “before” photographs of these places as much as anything simply to contribute to the visual record of what existed before being logged and replanted with eucalyptus trees. In fact, doing the sort of thing that has pretty much defined photography and photographers since the very beginnings of the art in the late 1830’s.
In doing so my path crossed with the early protest blockade in the Upper Florentine in mid-2007, where seeking interesting people as subjects for an entry in the National Photographic Portrait Prize had as a consequence introduced me to the then almost untouched forests of the Upper Florentine. Looking back through my photographs taken during my almost weekly visits to the area since then, I came across the first one in which a shy and quiet Miranda appeared, dressed in a white wind cheater hoodie and seated by the fire on an unseasonably cold and wet January day at the early protest camp in 2008. At the time there was nothing to blip my radar as to the focused campaigner lying within, though as winter approached I noticed that she appeared more often in my photographs, such as this one taken inside the hut that had by then been finished on the spot that the first photo was taken.
Later that year she certainly drew my attention by routinely having over-nighted in her treesit “Frontie” whenever I arrived in the early morning to walk in and photograph the forests marked for logging. An earlier view of “Frontie:
More often than not she’d still be up there when I left in the evening. This certainly struck me as a rare dedication, as winter in the Upper Florentine is not exactly tropical resort weather, and spending night after night and most of the days 40 metres up a tree on a wooden platform with no heating would certainly be no picnic, as apart from the constant cold, damp atmosphere there was sometimes snow and often wind and constant, driving rain. However from time to time she still appeared in my photos.
In that time she has also co-authored a book Flora and Fauna Guide to the Upper Florentine Valley with Lily Leahy, which is now simply a must-have for anyone who walks off-track in the area. Here the two are at the book launch in February 2010.
My photography by preference tends mostly to deal with history, people and the environment in general rather than political or confrontational issues, and so the greater part of what I have photographed around the protest area tends to show the simple day-to-day happenings rather than the extremely rare confrontations, which perhaps is as it should be as this is the situation for most of the time. I was asked to photograph the “Triabunna 13”, however, the group whose protest brought about the famous photos of the conga-line of loaded log trucks queued up outside the Triabunna chip mill, which perhaps brought home more than anything the sheer scale of the removal of old-growth forests:
So when the ObserverTree project started, I photographed Miranda at its beginnings.
Perhaps the pinnacle of this was my visit to the platform in the tree to take photographs of Miranda, as to me this was a notable point in the history of the whole sorry forests saga and as such definitely needed to be photographed – a non-violent, non-confrontational protest streaming live to the world over the Internet. I’ll confess to finding the method of ascent into that tree just a tad terrifying, and once up there the precarious perch and acute lack of space became more than evident.
Now, months later and after a time which I don’t think anyone predicted would stretch for this long, I have to admit to having to re-evaluate my thoughts on the hardship that someone might deliberately subject themselves to in order to stand up for something they believe in. Miranda’s dedicated protest is certainly both extraordinary and astonishing, no matter what anyone might think of the reasons for her doing so. I found the few hours I spent up there taxing enough, and the fact that she is still there nearly five months since ascending that rope simply beggars belief. Conditions are unbelievably exposed, cramped and isolated, and I doubt most people could endure more than a day or two up there at the most. With no end in sight, this is simply an amazing feat of endurance and commitment.
Perhaps my favourite photo from that afternoon in the tree was this one, as a cold front swept through. Perched on the edge of the platform, hanging on to her ropes with the wind blowing the rain, branches and her dangling leg almost horizontal, yet still with a broad grin on her face, it perfectly captures Miranda simply being Miranda.
Guest Blog Bio: Alan Lesheim
Alan Lesheim is a career photographer, working full-time in photography since entering RMIT University (Melbourne) to study Illustrative Photography in 1971. Employed as an advertising photographer after graduating in 1973, he moved on to work at a portraiture and wedding studio in 1981, starting his own business in late 1982. By 1985 this had morphed into a specialist wholesale photographic restoration and copy service for retail outlets all over Australia. This continued after he moved to Tasmania in January 1995, although in later years as the digital revolution reduced the quantity of restoration work this has been increasingly supplanted with photographing in the forests and covering both news and social events, usually taken with emphasis on the potential historical record of such photographs, many of which he prints and displays in his own gallery. Always a history buff, he sees this as the purest form of the photographic art. Embracing digital photography for the possibilities it brings in better photographing things in previously impossible ways, he often works at the cutting edge of the technology in order to better display scenes as naturally as possible. Sometimes this can involve the combination of hundreds of photographs into the one finished result, exactly as the eyes and brain constantly do together in normal human vision.