One of the most accomplished travel documentary photographers in Australia today, Nick Rains is driven by a passion for depicting the lives of people and the world they inhabit. With numerous publications and awards under his belt, Rains has earned prestigious positions as Master Photographer with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, and principal instructor at the Leica Akademie.
On Thursday 26 November 2020 Melbourne Camera Club invited its members, and members of other camera clubs across Victoria, to enjoy some of the photographs featured in his latest book: “Heart of Australia”.
Over 18 months in the making, the book document his journey from far North Queensland to Tasmania. Accompanied by his wife he wended his way through twenty-five outback community festivals and events.
Rains began his presentation with images of Yothu Yindi at the Yarrabah Music & Cultural Festival. It takes a confident photographer to clamber onto the stage to get his shot. We glimpsed something of Icarus in Rains’ resulting image of the lead singer. Shot from behind, the singer’s outstretched arms cut a dramatic shadow across a stage-light’s orange beam as he sang to his audience. Rains is adept at capturing the relationship between people.
Like all good mentors Rains let us in on how he approaches the aesthetics of his shots. He prefers his subjects back-lit. Unlike many photographers he shoots straight into a light source to capture the drama and aliveness of the event: back-lit dust billowing from galloping horses; rim-lit stage performers; the dramatic contrast of evening shadows; sun filtering through cloth to reveal a rhythm of dancing legs. “But,” he warned, giving a nod to his Leica CL and Leica SL camera kit, “you need good glass”.
In Tasmania Rains and his wife found themselves in the midst of the annual Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival. He staked out a good position from which to document a pageant of full-on pagan, wicker-man burning locals who were there to excite the awakening of the apple trees. His portrait of a guy with impossible eyes looking like a big demonic goat on springs was one such local dressed for the event. It is Rains’ relationship with the people he documents that allows them to present who they are to the camera: sometimes playful, sometimes serous but always authentic to the spirit of the moment. Rains said, it helps to let your subjects know why you would like to take their photo. It helps you too. It’s easy to get lost in a world of endless activity: you need clear objectives to “narrow your creative energies,” as he put it.
Between the top end, and Tasmania there were other strange and wonderful festivals and events: the Inaugural Bacon Festival of Kingaroy with the beautiful Miss Bacon; the Deni Ute Muster with its bogan but friendly red necks burning rubber; The Henley-on-Todd Regatta “boat” race staged on the dry sandy bed of the Todd River in Alice Springs; the Man from the Snowy River Festival; the Parkes Elvis Festival and several Rodeos. It is Rains’ back-lit rodeo shots in particular that reveal a masterful sense of timing. He captures the dangerous, breathless, and ecstatic feeling these events evoke as man and animal contest, work together, and at the end of the day, bond, silhouetted, of course against a setting sun.
Rains can be described as a man who ‘captured’ the world, an explorer of Australia’s heart but at Thursdays’ presentation we also saw him as the man who shoots into light.
In the final analysis one can only marvel at the ingenious capacity of people in the outback to invent ways of having fun. Rains captures this masterfully in his intriguing book: Heart of Australia, A Celebration of our Communities.
Nick Rains website: https://www.nickrains.com
By Helen Lang
The video will be available on the Members video library page soon.