“Everything that I have shot in my life has been autobiographical, it has been a part of my life, it has to mean something to me. If it means something to me, generally, it will have some sort of feeling on someone else.”
In his work, Trent Parke carefully intersects his own, introspective world with the external realities of his country of Australia. His photographs follow a careful dance of self-reflection, light, chance, mistakes, and exploration of this home.
“Australia is my country, it’s where I photograph, and it’s where I have a real passion and love for the culture and the people, so that’s very important to me. And where I grew up in Newcastle on the east coast, all those things come about in a way that help me tell life stories. I can’t go to another country and be there for two or three weeks and make an important body of work. Yes I’m living in this moment, but it’s very much to do with the past and where I’ve come from that then becomes part of photographing whatever body of work I’m making.”
Born in 1971 and raised in Newcastle, New South Wales, Parke’s photographic career began with a tragedy, when his mother suddenly passed away in front of him at the age of 13. It was this moment that seems to have both provided the spark for his artistic career and led him on a path of exploration through both his internal and external world. He would work as a newspaper photographer early on before setting out on a career creating personal work, eventually joining the Magnum photo agency.
“There was a point for me that changed everything, when I was 13 my mom died of an asthma attack, I was the only one home, it was very sudden, my dad was at his squash night… after that you question everything, every single thing that’s going on around you. Why am I here? That started me off. Mom had a small darkroom and she took pictures and sent them into the local paper, so I picked up her camera and started taking pictures.”
“I’m a self-taught photographer, I’ve learned everything myself. It’s really about making those discoveries by processing and having those disasters, and a lot of times those mistakes will lead to something else.”
In 1993, Parke moved to Sydney and worked as a sports photographer, covering professional cricket. In his spare time, he explored Sydney and began a five-year project, Dream/Life, which was self-published in 1999. Filled with a sense of isolation, the dark, contrasty scenes and often lonely subjects with intense expressions seem to mimic his journey from a small town to an overwhelming city.
Minutes to Midnight
In 2003, Parke embarked on a 90,000 km road-trip around Australia with his wife, the photographer Narelle Autio, culminating in an exhibition and the book, Minutes to Midnight, originally published in 2005. The main theme within the project focuses on the growing up and growing pains of Australian society. The photographs are dark, eerie, uneasy, romantic, and nostalgic. According to Parke, what lead to the project was “a newspaper article that [stated] 60 percent of Australians thought that the country had lost its so-called innocence.” – View book.
“Fly by the seat of my pants, nothing arranged, but just go out and see what was happening in the country… What I do is I try and show it in an emotional way, not physically what the country looks like, but what it feels like emotionally to be living right now in this period of our life.”
The Black Rose
The Black Rose, Parke’s most ambitious project, began in 2007 as a result of Parke beginning to remember his childhood before his mother’s passing. It was a quest to experience memories that he had blocked out for 27 years. The Black Rose explores issues of life, death, and memory through a variety of photographs of objects, plants, animals, people, and everyday scenes of Australia.
“The Black Rose is the culmination of seven years of work. It started with a single line to a friend about the possibility of doing a project on the theme of home. Little did I know that seven years later, I would end up with hundreds of written stories, thousands of photographs, and 14 books, which dissected, basically, my entire life. Each book can be anything from, one page, two pages, to 500 pages. For me, it’s about how long a story takes to play out.”
“I take all these moments and events that happen to me on a daily basis, things that normally pass people by, and chance meeting with someone, and dream from that night, all of those things come in and I look for some sort of connection between them, and then a narrative starts to form.”
Following the title, trees and plants take on a major, symbolic, aspect of the project. The title is the result of a photograph of a plant found outside of a motel room, which became important to his quest to remember aspects of his childhood.
“Symbolically, The Black Rose is just death or the overcoming of a long journey. It is the search for absolute perfection, as the black rose does not truly exist. It is also referred to as black magic.”
“It’s always about finding answers to life. That’s what I’m looking for.”
Trent Parke Quotes:
“I see myself as an average Australian and the issues that affect me are usually the issues that are affecting a lot of other people too. I want my work to comment on what it was like to live in this country during my lifetime” – Trent Parke
“Usually when I start a project, I’ll shoot for three or four weeks and shoot manically, and then I’ll arrange them on the wall or in my tent and I’ll print out little tiny pictures that I can look at, and subconsciously, without you knowing it, this is what I love about photography, things that have influenced your life when you’re growing up, they come through in other ways. I am fascinated as to what I am drawn to, to actually take the picture.” – Trent Parke
“It’s still about discovering, and imagination, it’s always about imagination, imagination is the key to everything.” – Trent Parke
“Anyone can take a good picture, it’s about how you sequence that and how you take those pictures and make something more meaningful. That’s the secret, that’s the key, that’s the most difficult thing to do, and that’s the real art of what I believe I do.” – Trent Parke
“For me, it’s all about chance, coincidence, mistakes… it’s all about discovery for me, those things that change your perception of where you’re going with the next body of work.” – Trent Parke
“The city of Adelaide is where I live, the light is amazing, and that’s what I’m trying to express in my photographs a lot of the time, this very unique light that Australia has.” – Trent Parke
“Home to me is Australia, the place I was born, the place where I grew up. It’s very important for me when I’m photographing, that memory and experience, that I have a unique sort of feeling and understanding of the place that I’m in, that that comes through in the photographs that I take.” – Trent Parke
“For me, it’s all about emotional connection. I love this country, love the people, everything about it. Whenever I travel overseas or have to shoot for Magnum in another country, I find I just make very graphic pictures. They occasionally might be visually interesting but they sit on the surface. I am not really interested in any other country. Most of my projects last for years. I don’t feel I can achieve anything worth saying in a few weeks in a place. I have always been interested in why I am drawn to something and why I eventually push the camera button. Most of it comes from memory, the subconscious and events I experienced growing up. The beach, the outback, the suburbs, I could never leave any of it. So much to do here in Australia, there is just no time for anywhere else anyway.” – Trent Parke
View Trent Parke’s work here.
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5 thoughts on “Exploring the Internal and External World of Trent Parke”
Nice article…Thanks! I hope you get more time for more posts. They are always very good.
I am really happy to see you moving in this direction – sharing your insights into the creative process. Your Street Photography weekends were great, but I think it is a tired and overwrought genre in which most everything that is great has been done.
Your sharing of your creative eye through critique of the work of others is really interesting, and well worth a subscription.
Glad you like it Derek! I would say though that I certainly don’t think most everything has been done in traditional street photography. I think because of how much of this type of photography we see, the standard stuff can feel tired or overwrought, but it does not mean that great new work isn’t being done in this genre. It is and lots of it will come to light eventually as things change. Everything constantly changes and it’s important to capture it!
An artist with a very interesting work. Thanks for sharing. Greetings from Spain.