Patience and Timing: Lessons from a 20-year Photography ProjectPatience and Timing: Lessons from a 20-year Photography Project

Patience and Timing: Lessons from a 20-year Photography Project

Narelle’s work captures what the eye doesn’t immediately see. To her, this is what photography in camera does best — moments are revealed, not created.

“I find it very satisfying when life, light, energy and emotion collide and a photograph emerges from the dust. It is what got me into photography in the first place. The immediacy. The reliance on serendipity. Pulling something out of thin air — it’s all magical to me.”

Few photographers have captured the collision of people and the oceans of Australia quite like Narelle Autio, nor the depth of reflection each photograph brings.
Her work is an immersive exploration in more ways than one. We are plunged underwater as bubbles race happily to the surface, equally, we are immersed for a moment, eye to eye with a child-like experience.
A moment of unadulterated joy.
Narelle is a self-confessed collector of moments. She found her start as one of the few female photojournalists in Adelaide at the age of 21, spending her formative years observing “what makes us tick.” In an age before digital, mobile phones or laptops, she saw the world through her film camera, gaining entrance into people's lives and their stories.
“I’m not a compulsive photographer. Even though the work has a documentary sensibility, what I am drawn to subconsciously will often mirror what is going on in my own life.”

Narelle’s photography kit

“For the majority of my projects, I have used a small film camera and usually a 35mm lens. This setup is lightweight, unobtrusive, easy to use and fits in my hand. I have used transparency film throughout my career, giving me a continuity of quality across years of work and it helps me be more selective in the way I shoot.”
While the Leica M6 remains her camera of choice, when it comes to working in or around water, her Nikonos or using an underwater housing for the Leica M11 allows her to capture Australia's relationship to the ocean.
But she insists on using whatever camera works best for each project.

On her creative process

The beauty of Narelle’s use of film and photography in-camera, is in the moments of life she exposes to us, rather than something created or corrected in post production. There is an authenticity that only photography in-camera can reveal.
Narelle is most known for her documentation of Australia's coastline, the bodies that inhabit it, and our ongoing connection to the shore. She describes the ocean as being her muse for most of her artistic career, a place she loves despite the feeling that elements of the sea remain mysterious, even dangerous, to her.
Flexibility is a must, the ability to adjust where required and be in stillness to capture a moment you couldn’t possibly have choreographed. A skill Narelle has honed, from hours of treading water, camera in hand.
For the widely acclaimed body of work ‘Places In Between’, Narelle shot an effervescent-filled series depicting the moment bodies plunge into the ocean.

“I will float out in the deep water under the jetty and wait, sometimes all day. On each breath of air, I will lie on the bottom and attempt to capture the moment a swimmer bursts through that watery membrane. The separation between life and death. I never know what I am going to get, the body position, the play of light - the movement of water is always different.
“I love the moment when the body first enters the water, cocooned in an effervescent embrace of bubbles. Like the ocean is holding onto them.”

The origins of her project ‘Places in Between’

This series came at a pivotal time for her and has become a memento of a period of personal transition: the birth of her children and the desire to make art closer to home. Using life as a catalyst for the imagery you create is what sets photographers apart, and it's something that Narelle does while remaining true to herself. Or, as she explains it, photography is an extension of her life. As the years bustle by, that relationship has changed, but the ocean has always endured.
With summer beckoning Australians to the water's edge as it does every year, the same can be said for Narelle. With two new books detailing her exploration of the coast on the horizon — her summer will still be spent behind a film camera.
Narelle Autio’s career has spanned oceans and stories, but what remains consistent are the lessons and practises that come with working in and amongst a reliance on serendipity. Or, as she so eloquently put it when I asked about the most valuable lessons of her career:
Live it, look for beauty and long live the camera that can function without a battery.