The Holga is a medium format 120 film camera with a meniscus lens that is made in Hong Kong. Sydney photographer Sally Mayman loved the unpredictability of using it for the landscapes and some of the portraits in her new book, Seeing Saltwater Country. In this post, Sally takes you behind the scenes of some of her favourite photographs.
This image is one of my favorite landscapes from the collection. I love its ambiguity, simplicity and life. It was taken in the liminal zone between land and sea, connecting land management and saltwater. There was a particular time just after dawn and just before sunset when low light rim-lit the sand patterns, bringing out a three-dimensional quality. It was always challenging dodging incoming waves and my own shadow. I often used an analogue film camera called a Holga, whose simple plastic lens brought a unique quality to the images. The camera is unpredictable – the antithesis of digital perfection. It teaches you to rely on intuition, slow down and feel what you are seeing, the resulting images being very emotive. While you could add tints, vignettes, film grain, and even toy camera effects to digital images, the results never seem to have the same soul as the real thing.
Goombaragin is exceptionally beautiful, with turquoise sea and golden sand backed by intensely red cliffs. Facing north, both dawn and dusk are superb and the light glows well after the sun sets. I loved the sand patterns, feeling a sense of time and continual change.
I photographed these portraits on a digital camera as I wanted to shoot in the soft ‘afterglow’ – that magic time of day when the sun sets and the light glows. To do this I required a faster ISO than I could achieve with film on the Holga camera. I tried to imbue my portraits with a sense of timelessness; many people here are living in two worlds, as Venessa Cox explains: ‘On the one hand we live in a system that has led us to think that trading our land for money is more important than home and family. On the other hand we have our traditional way where we look after our family and our land, maintaining a balance.’
The tonality suggests this link to country and the past – a long history, but also the present and future. I found Venessa extremely inspiring, with tremendous wisdom and intuition. She taught me many lessons I am continuously thankful for. Every portrait includes the collaborator’s handwritten story as well as their signature, to acknowledge their ownership. Stories were varied, covering a range of social, political and environmental issues affecting daily life.
About the photographer
Sally Mayman has worked as a commercial photographer in the UK, Europe, South America and in Africa, where her desire to tell people’s stories, create awareness and make a difference began. Her work from Africa, The Intimate Witness, raised funds for Austcare and led to ten years working with Mission Australia. Royalties from Seeing Saltwater Country will go back to the Dampier Peninsula for education projects. The book is available in all good bookstores and online.