Kangaroo Island by Alison Higgs [ed.]

Reviewed by Wendy Lipke

This hard covered book of photographs was edited by Alison Higgs and captures some of the unique beauty and richness of Kangaroo Island. This is Australia’s third-largest island and is situated in the Southern Ocean off South Australia. Did Alison take the photographs? I cannot find an answer to this question.

The book is 35x24cm and contains 93 full page photographs and 10 smaller ones which benefit from a white border. The photographs are preceded by a page with a poem in script, a title page which displays a beautiful image of tree branches crowded with white cockatoos touched by the setting sun and Preface. At the end of the book is found an Editor’s note and map of Kangaroo Island.

Less than half of the images show a horizon and of these several have it positioned at the edge of the photograph. In these images, it is the foreground which takes precedence, whether it be the play of light on the water or rocks, the cloud formations, or the contrasting textures in nature. Many of the images have been taken from above, probably by a drone, and this highlights the patterns in the environment which are not always perceived from ground level.

What struck me at first glance was the beautiful patterns created by lines and colours in the landscape.

The native fauna of Kangaroo Island feature in these images, especially the birds. Some dominate the scene like the New Holland honeyeater in flight beside the flowering tree; black-faced cormorants strutting along the rocks beside the swirling sea; the lone white-faced heron on the hill; the magpie; the ibis and the majestic wedgetail eagle.

There are also the greater crested terns each on their own tiny rock, social-distancing; the black swans in the shallow clear water gliding over the sea grasses and the plovers, in a storm, having to vie for attention as they fly across the deep-pink saltpan. This picture reminded me of an earlier one in the same location where a strip of land thrusts into the colour like an injection into the body. When the central banded stilts and red necked avocets make their appearance, they dominate the whole page.

The dramatic gaggle of pelicans in front of an inky blue-black sea is contrasted with the closeup of a pelican with her beak tucked under her wing.

Other native fauna include the closeup of an echidna; the forlorn koala beside a charred tree, a reminder of the devastating fires that ravaged this part of Australia in 2020; the frolicking New Zealand fur seal and the silhouetted kangaroos. All show the diversity of species on Kangaroo Island.

Evidence of man’s industry on the island is shown in the many photographs of pastures highlighting the geometric shapes added to the landscape by fences, roads and machinery. The greens and yellows of pastures are contrasted with the fallow colours of the land.

I was particularly taken with the images depicting the sheep and cattle. The one called One down…Western region is an aerial shot showing one shorn sheep in the mob. I liked another of sheep standing in a circle as if they are playing the game ‘Drop the hanky’, as well as the cattle in a paddock looking like they were having a stand-off with a group of beehives while the apiarist looked on.

There are several items which need close scrutiny or several viewings to pick up the fine details, like the shadow of a hand, a tiny red car, footprints or birds resting.

There are many lovely photographs in this beautifully presented book.  Some have selective focus to draw attention to particular aspects, some highlight a single structure, and some reminded me of body tissues such as Lifelines, Central North Coast.

For me it was the natural beauty of the landscape from above which caught my attention with its various markings and colours that stood out. I also loved turning the page and finding the muted shades of the Bay of Shoals and Antechamber Bay which contrasted so beautifully with the, sometimes brooding, colours of many of the other images.

As the editor says, each person who looks at these images will see something different. She, as a resident of Kangaroo Island, saw love. This is a beautifully-presented coffee table book which will provide pleasure no matter who the viewer, and maybe it will develop a yearning to see the place themselves which inspired these photographs, Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island

(2021)

edited by Alison Higgs

Wakefield Press

ISBN:978-1-74305-703-2

$79.95;192pp

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