Creative collaboration in outback Queensland
Interview by Bec Bignell
The Rural Room Media Stringers Network is an extensive ecosystem of creatives located over regional Australia. The network was established by Rural Room to highlight the latent creative talent outside suburban locations. The specialization of the Stringers ranges from videography, photography, journalism, illustrations, performance, writing, art, design, music and events. While they’re dotted in different remote areas around the country, their passion for telling stories from the sticks transcends distance and is mutually shared. The Media Stringers have reduced access to basic resources and are frequently required to travel to undertake their work. Rather than being deterred, they’re fueled by a fierce resolve to bring the stories of their regional communities to the forefront.
This month we’re highlighting the work of a dynamic duo based in Blackall, in Queensland, approximately 960 kilometers from Brisbane. Earlier this year Kirstie Davison of MaRiKi Media, and Lisa Alexander of Lisa Alexander Photography, joined forces to document memories of Blackall’s people and places in the Enchanting Moments exhibition at the Bushman’s Gallery in Blackall. Kirstie, a videographer, and Lisa, a photographer, are both members of the Media Stringers Network and are experts in their fields. The talented team captured the heartbeat of Blackall by animating stories through photos and videos in a multi-media exhibition.
Over the past few months Kirstie and Lisa interviewed local residents for the Enchanting Moments Exhibition, commissioned by Red Ridge (Interior Queensland Ltd) in partnership with the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council. The exhibition was conceived in response to the local community’s desire to capture the oral histories of the area for the benefit of future generations and to mark the 150 year celebration of Blackall.
Kirstie and Lisa worked together over a three-month period, interviewing and photographing a number of local residents. Additional to the 28 photo portraits hung in the exhibition, Kirstie transcribed and edited video content into bite sized videos to accompany the stills. The 28 video stories were integrated into a purpose-built app, designed by Iain Anderson (Training Brisbane) in partnership with Kirstie and Lisa. The app was uploaded to iPads in the gallery to provide a completely immersive audience experience. The app interface mirrored the portrait wall in the gallery, enabling users to experience the photographic portraits in the physical venue and also in the virtual gallery. By clicking on the respective image on the app, users could watch the photo subject come to life in the accompanying video story. The exhibition was launched with a three day opening event, which involved teaching residents and visitors how to operate the iPads to enjoy the interactive experience. The exhibition will continue until the end of the Blackall 150 year celebrations on September two.
We interviewed Kirstie and Lisa to understand what was involved to bring the large scale, multi-dimensional project to life.
Q: How did the idea for the exhibition come about?
A local group was established to brainstorm ideas in relation to possible themes and projects and the idea of an exhibition to be held during Blackall’s B150 celebrations using the Bushmans Hotel, that had been closed for 20 years, evolved from there.
Q: What was the story gathering process like for you?
Getting people to agree to an interview can be difficult if they’re unclear about where their stories will be circulated or how they will be used. Fortunately, we were able to benchmark our intent for Enchanting Moments with a project undertaken in 2017 about Old Time Dance; also commissioned by Red Ridge. The outcome of the Old Time Dance project made such positive impact that it served as a great precedent for our work on this occasion. People saw what we had created through that project which meant others within the community were more willing to get on board and be interviewed for this exhibition.
Q: Was there a story highlight for you? For example, a memory or moment shared that really stood out for you?
K - I came to Blackall as an adult and have been here for more than 20 years, but this work has made me realise just how much I didn’t know about my own community. It’s been a privilege to hear the stories, learn the history and to make connections with many different people. I’d say the stories regarding life here during World War Two were particularly fascinating to me, as were the stories about the shearers strike in the 1950’s.
L –I grew up on a property in this area as a fifth generation local. The interviews were fascinating to me because I learnt more about how life used to be, and how tough it was for some. I also learnt fragments of my family history in the process, which was wonderful. I found it interesting that that there were a lot of things I ‘just knew’ from growing up on the land and in the industry, but that I had never really acknowledged or thought much about. The local intel definitely made the interviewing process easier.
Q: Were there any challenges during the creative journey, or obstacles you had to overcome?
K - Transcribing the stories to find the hidden treasures within the longer interviews was challenging and labour intensive, but ultimately very rewarding.
L - I really wanted to manifest the essence of every person’s personality in the portraits, so I was always concerned about whether I’d been able to capture it as I intended. However, I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about the images from the people themselves and others, so hopefully I managed to achieve this.
Q: What was the impact of the project?
K - I believe the impact of the project has been significant. Those who have taken the time to come through and listen to the stories have shared a laugh and learned about fellow members of their community. Visitors to the community are enjoying a more personal connection with some of the wonderful members of our community, as well as sharing in our oral histories. The Exhibition is still open from 10am-2pm Sunday to Friday until September 2 so we hope it continues to attract a vast array of visitors and people connected to the community.
L - The exhibition is really effective because the stories are short and capture interesting memories. It’s easy to listen to and very dynamic which is appealing to tourists who may not actually know the subjects personally.
Q: What was the most rewarding part of the experience for you?
K - The most rewarding part of the process has been watching people’s reactions to the stories. When they laugh and want to listen to another of the story, you know you’ve hit the mark.
L – Yes, exactly what Kirstie said. Having spent a number of days in the Gallery it’s wonderful to watch the giggles, laughs and reaction of people as they listen to the stories. The comments on the presentation of the entire Gallery including the individual portraits, the digital stories and the three door size collages of images I have photographed from around the area, has been extremely rewarding.
Amid the extensive workload involved to bring Enchanting Moments to life, Kirstie also managed to coordinate a film shoot for the ‘Visions Splendid’ Festival in Queensland. The unique Festival celebrates Australian films under outback stars in Winton and Kirstie’s film, ‘Wide Open Road’ won the Audience Choice award at this year’s event.
Q: Congratulations on winning the Audience Choice award! Tell us about your inspiration for this film?
I was really excited to win the Audience Choice Award for my film, which Olivia Ralph (journalist) helped to make.My inspiration for this film came from my desire to show the rest of the world that living in the bush is interesting and full of opportunity and that children, in particular, benefit from the freedoms it affords. Children have unique opportunities to develop skills and self-reliant abilities that are often unavailable to their city cousins. I wanted to share the amazing part of the world we live in and what kids get up to in the bush.
Q: We understand you got the whole family involved! What do your children think of the work you do and the creative adventures you enjoy?
My family are very patient with me, as filming is rarely an endeavor you get right first time around. They’ve seen and enjoyed enough of the things I’ve made to tolerate the process, thought they always expect something fun to watch at the end…no pressure! They’re valuable honest critics and I appreciate their perspectives enormously as the constructive feedback is really more important than the positive. If they don’t like it or find it captivating, I go back and try again.
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to emerging filmmakers in regional Australia, what would that be?
Believe in your unique point of view. It may ultimately be what sets you apart from the pack.
Lisa you were also honoured with a prestigious award for your involvement in a highly unique and contemporary creative event, The Instagram Project.
L -Yes, I was one of two creatives involved in producing The Instagram Project, a volunteer community initiative installed within the Blackall town in October last year. In The Instagram Project, we created an Instagram account @betterinblackall which we promoted to the community to gather a multitude of images to represent life in Blackall. The account became a content reservoir for all things Blackall related- what people love about living in Blackall, what tourists discover when visiting, activities locals enjoy for fun, what they do for work. We aggregated all the images and, with the assistance of funding, we were able to print the images onto stickers to exhibit them in empty shop windows and active businesses in the main street of the town. The images brought life to the shop fronts and the instant pride felt within the community was completely unexpected and very profound.
As a result of this project the community now has hundreds of photos installed down the main street, visually documenting the life of the area and reminding locals, or people travelling through, of all the moving parts of our special community. 2018 has been our first tourist season since the installation and the feedback from visitors has been amazing. I was honoured to receive an Australia Day Award in 2018 for this project.
Kirstie and Lisa are both highly valued role models, and their work paints an exciting picture of the creative future in regional Australia. Increased connection and new creative mediums, as enabled by emerging technologies, present opportunities for regional communities to invest in creative projects to leverage their stories to broad audiences. Locally in Blackall, Red Ridge’s vision to introduce a new cultural tourism product through digital mediums will bring five story telling projects to life over time. The creative vision includes the renovation rescue of the Bushmans Gallery, The Lost Art building and an additional installation at Smiths Garage. Digital platforms and interactive initiatives enable direct access to regional Creatives and their fresh, authentic ideas. We spoke to Kirstie and Lisa about their experience in the creative sector and discussed why the investment in regional stories is paramount.
Q: What inspired you to take up your creative disciplines (videography/ photography)?
K - Filming my family was the initial driving force behind my videography and it’s grown into something I love doing and seem to have a knack for. I want to be able to share my incredible part of the world with others in a way that is engaging and makes people want to know more about rural and regional Australia.
L - I have always been interested in photography, and I guess my business has evolved to a new level over the last 5 years. I love to photograph my family doing what they do, every day and I also love sharing where we live. I have the opportunity to photograph just about anything, this includes everything from mustering, weddings, campdrafts, local shows, field days, family portraits and images for webpages. I sometimes feel like I am a jack of all trades, master of none!
Q: Describe the style of your work in one sentence.
K - I try to authentically represent whoever or whatever it is that I have been asked to film, to capture the essence.
L - I feel my images capture the cycle of life, love, beauty and passion I have for the ever changing Outback and its people.
Q: Do you have a creative muse or practitioner you aspire to?
K - Sascha Estens from Rabbit Hop Films in Moree
L - My kids are mine. Particularly my daughter and her horses at this point in time, given my son has now finished school and left home. I aspire to be a photographer who portrays emotion and passion that shows through images. I am particularly drawn to photographers who live in the bush.
Q: What is your experience of being a creative in regional, remote Australia?
K - It can be tough. Sometimes the extreme weather makes it challenging, it can be 40 plus degree temperatures, harsh sunlight, flies, dirt and dust. But ultimately, it’s a privilege to play a part in telling our story.
L - I love it! Yes, it can be challenging, isolating and a test of skills but there is nowhere else I would rather be. I’m surrounded by a constant daily source of inspiration, who wouldn’t want that?! We have so many stories just waiting to be shared in regional and remote Australia.
Q: Why do you invest in story telling in the sticks? Why do you believe it’s important for you to represent voices outside city areas?
K - I think globally people are disconnected from their food sources. Fifty years ago family holidays often involved visiting their country cousins, where kids learnt about growing animals and crops and some of the practical necessities that come with such an occupation. That rarely happens anymore, and the lack of understanding has created a division and lack of empathy. Rural people need city people and city people need rural people. I’m passionate about telling stories from the sticks to help bridge this gap by sharing different perspectives. I’m passionate about where I live and want to connect and share our stories to bring people closer together through a shared understanding.
L - I love to share what we do, and how we live, through my images. Yes, we seem to be constantly in drought at the moment, but if we all look hard enough so much beauty can still be found in our surroundings. I try to promote a positive connection and love of the land, but at the same time document the realities of where we choose to live and the challenges of providing food and fibre. I believe it’s ever important to collaborate as artists and share our stories with city folk because a the end of the day, we all need each other in this country.
Q: Name three things you’re passionate about that aren’t related to your field.
K - Family. Rural Australia. Wine.
L - Can I say the same, but red wine not white!
Q: Where can we find more examples of your work?
Instagram : @marikimedia