Saturday, 20 September 2014


Bryant Austin's work is photography to be seen in person. His exhibitions display intimate portraits of whales displayed life-size, so the viewer can better experience what it is like to meet with an oceanic giant face to face. 

Austin is a man of patience. He sometimes waits weeks or months for one of his subjects to come close enough to capture. Whales cannot be corralled for a shot after all - and his technique demands the whale come within four to six feet of his lens. 

It is a risk few people would take in the name of art. Though gentle, whales with their enormous size are easily able to injure or kill with a misjudged movement. But Austin has found whales to be amazingly careful in their dealings with him, the enormous pectoral fins of humpbacks passing beneath him precisely as long as he is sure to remain still. 

He has also had a calf rest against him gently, and wrap a flipper around him when he was in a particularly despairing mood, following his lack of success after he had sold his house and car to fund his cetacean-filled dreams. He has also been offered a regurgitated piece of enormous squid tentacle as a gift (it was spat in his face). 

I have not seen one of Austin's exhibitions for myself yet but hope to soon at the Maritime Museum. 

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Black Swan

The beauty of the black swan is obvious – but they also have an interesting place in Western history. 

It was believed for centuries that such a creature was an impossibility. Rather like the phrase ‘rare as hen’s teeth’, the black swan was used as a symbol of that which could not exist. The poet Juvenal popularised the phrase ‘a rare bird in the lands and very much like a black swan’ (rara avid in terries nigroque simillima cygno) that was a common expression in 16th century London. “All swans are white” was a widely known truth. 

Upon the discovery of Australia and the sighting of black swans by explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697 this phrase became immediately redundant. In 1726 two birds were captured north of Swan River and transported to Jakarta to prove their existence to naysayers who held to old belief systems. 

Governor Phillip observed in 1789 “A black swan, which species, though proverbially rare in other parts of the world, is here by no means uncommon…a very noble bird, larger than the common swan, and equally beautiful in form…its wings were edged with white: the bill was tinged with red.” 

The black swan transformed into a representation of fragility of thought systems. It is also possible for any system to collapse with the emergence of a ‘black swan event’ that undermines its fundamental propositions.

Wall Street traded and finance professor Nassim Nicholas Taleb classifies many significant financial and historical events such as the invention of the Internet, World War One the September 11 attacks as ‘black swan events’ – unpredicted and influential events that shift traditional means of prediction such as standard economic theory. 

The black swan is the principal charge on the shield in the coat of arms of Western Australia.

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