Photographer takes on amazing BUSH project

BUSH project showcases outback Qld's resilience and stoicism

Life & Style
Murray Todd with his Merino flock, Turn Turn Station, Eulo.

Murray Todd with his Merino flock, Turn Turn Station, Eulo.

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Amidst the negativity and turmoil of 2020, photographer Sam Thies has captured the positivity of the bush.

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Outback Queensland has long been a place of contradictory beauty.

Ever moving and still at the same time, full of life and a place of death, harsh and yet amazing; it is a landscape in which resilience and stoicism flourish in equal measure.

And through the lens of a camera and the eye of a photographer, outback Queensland can be just a moment in time, but one that has links to both the past and the future.

In a year that was like no other, 2020 saw photographer Sam Thies embark on a project simply titled BUSH, but there's nothing simple about it.

"BUSH is a socio-cultural study of those who maintain a strong sense of community connection, mutual respect and shared purpose," Mr Thies said.

"As we explore the timeless Australian outback, often cushioned from the constant flux of ever-changing trends and technology, we celebrate champions of inclusion and diversity.

"Far from a nostalgic, rose-tinted view of traditional Australian life, this is a story of quiet, positive evolution."

The opportunity to complete such a project was borne of the havoc that COVID-19 wreaked - while everything had come to a standstill, Mr Thies was determined to find something to do with his time.

"I was, like most people, sitting in lockdown and scratching my head a bit about what was next work wise," he said.

"All my commercial clients had dried up and when that's your sole business it's a bit of a panic, but also nice to stop and pause and hang out with family.

"After two weeks I started to get a bit anxious and it was starting to get really serious with COVID at that point, so I thought if I wasn't going to be getting any work coming through the door from my regular clients and I wanted to tackle a big project, then this would be the year to do it."

Starting out as an initiative to get out of the city and see how badly impacted rural communities were from the pile-on effect of drought, bushfires and COVID-19, the project quickly turned into something more positive.

"The drought in most areas was record-breaking and then the bushfires came through and it was almost like that was forgotten about because the bushfires took over the media... and so much of people's thoughts get re-arranged when there's a new story that comes through.

"So, the bushfires were massive and again some of the worst we've ever seen and just as some of that was starting to be resolved, COVID came along and it was as though these people in these situations were being forgotten about.

"That's where it began and that's the story I was hoping to tell, so I jumped on the phone and started to call a heap of people through my networks and then that started to really organically spread through to a huge list of people that I'd connected with and had good yarns with."

Even a behind the scenes shot has a story to tell.

Even a behind the scenes shot has a story to tell.

Rolling out a map of the state and pinpointing the locations of these people, a roadtrip for the project began to reveal itself.

"Just before I left, there were a few conversations that I had about, 'you know what, we're actually fine. We deal with this year in year out, every season there's another major hurdle that we have to try and tackle; we're kind of built for these sorts of situations'," Mr Thies said.

"And so, the cogs started to turn in my head where maybe this is a bit more about what can we learn from outback Queenslanders to get us people in the city through a crisis like this or the social, cultural and health impacts that we're all experiencing; is there a way or some answers for us to learn from these stoic and resilient people?"

From Goondiwindi to Birdsville, Roma to Winton, and everywhere in between, Mr Thies said he and his project partners took away some incredible learnings about how people cope in these sorts of situations.

"The main thing I wanted was for it to be positive, there's lots and lots of stories of negativity that were there, but we were really trying to find a nice, good news story for 2020 so by the end of the year, we had a great document that people could reflect on in the years to come," he said.

"It acted as a bit of something tangible as well; first and foremost for us was turning it into a book so people had something to look through and touch and feel.

"Just like all these events that happened, we didn't want it to be swiped to the side with just a digital execution; it had to be something physical that everyone could return to and revisit over the years."

A mix of black and white portraits, and colour photography of the landscape that the subjects were attached to, the book also includes several interviews that the creators have singled out as "entertaining reading".

Most of all, the pages of BUSH clearly portray how willing people of the outback are to share their story with those who really want to listen.

"Just the unbelievable generosity and open door philosophy, the hospitality and the warmth of people in outback Queensland; I think that's part of that survival approach, you've got to be really welcoming, but you lose a lot of that when you get into the towns and cities," Mr Thies said.

In addition to BUSH now being available for purchase online via Mr Thies' website, or from his studio in Brisbane, there are also "some pretty exciting public displays coming this year".

"Part of that will be exhibitions within Brisbane and then touring rurally, and then beyond that we're looking at different areas of Queensland to focus on next."

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