All landscapes have appeal. Some are easier to love than others. Many Australians love the beach and coastlines. Some love the desert, or wetlands, rainforests or the tall Ash forests. Some people have more obscure tastes – mangroves or mulga or gibber plains. But many of us love the mountains. And some of us express this love through writing, film, poetry, photography or other forms of communication. A new book called Chasing the Mountain Light delves deep into love of the mountains through the medium of images and writing.
The subititle of the book explains it perfectly: ‘A life photographing wild places’. The work of David Neilson, it is a glorious coffee table sized book featuring wonderful black and white images from south western lutruwita/ Tasmania, Patagonia, Karakoram and the Alps of Australia, New Zealand and Europe and other ranges such as the Andes.
It is a huge effort (264 pages), with the chapters interwoven with personal narratives of David’s life which follows his development and adventures. As he puts it, ‘in the early chapters I outline my exploring and climbing activities that were the catalyst for my life-long love of mountains.’
He delves in the ‘why’ behind how he developed a love of the mountains – suburban life in Melbourne that led to tree climbing, news of the first ascent of Mt Everest and a move to western Victoria, then Sydney. Back in Melbourne, he got into bushwalking in local areas, and then the Victorian mountains and the Snowy Mountains. From there, he moved into rock climbing. There are some wonderful images from a climbing trip on the imposing East Face of Frenchmans Cap in 1972.
His adventures continued to expand out into ever wilder landscapes: this led to a climbing trip to Federation Peak in south west Tasmania (with photos featuring some classic camping gear – heavy tents and the old H frame canvas packs). He visited Lake Pedder before it was flooded. David says ‘our brief visit to Lake Pedder … was ultimately the catalyst for my decision to leave civil engineering and become a photographer, conservationist and eventually small publisher’. He became involved in the campaign to save Pedder from being flooded by ‘Lake’ Gordon – the massive dam now covering the original lake and a large section of valley country in the south west.
Then he headed overseas – doing several seasons in Aotearoa/ New Zealand in the early 1970s where he climbed many peaks. Bigger mountains mean more risk and more complex terrain and one summer saw a tragic climbing accident.
From there it was on to even grander and more remote landscapes – including the northern Patagonia ice cap, the Fitzroy Cerro Torre area, and south into Tierra del Fuego.
There are also great images from closer to home: Wilsons Prom, and ski touring in the Australian Alps, with some lovely photographic meditations on snow and water and the impacts of fire. His journey to South Georgia in the sub Antarctica and East Antarctica have a stronger focus on the immense numbers of animals to be found on this island and the southern continent. The final images from big mountains in various ranges around the world are a real delight.
He finishes with a reflection on the enduring value of wild places. ‘Wild and untrammelled country significantly enriches the human spirit’. David acknowledges the long connection of First Nation people to country. He also reminds us of the eternal threat to wild places, including current plans to allow commercial tourism development within protected areas. Without wild places, ‘future generations will become increasingly detached from the natural world. We owe it to the grandchildren of our grandchildren to leave a healthy and sustainable planet where they too may be inspired by natural environments’.
This is a book that deserves at least two slow readings: firstly the text, which chronicles David’s evolution as a person and his many adventures. The second time, take a deep dive into the stunning images, which are often featured on double pages. Climbing history afficiados will love the images of early ascents on Frenchmans Cap and Federation Peak.
|DAVID NEILSON is the photographer and author of four previous books. South West Tasmania: A Land of the Wild highlighted the threatened wilderness of western Tasmania. Wilsons Promontory: Coastal Wildness celebrated the beauty of one of Australia’s foremost national parks. Patagonia: Images of a Wild Land drew on his climbing expeditions to the southern Andes and his most recent book, Southern Light: Images from Antarctica, was the result of six journeys to the Antarctic.
In 1990 and 2004 he received Antarctic Arts Fellowships from the Australian Antarctic Division that enabled him to spend two summers taking photos in East Antarctica. In 2021 he was one of four Antarctic Arts Fellows to be featured on a set of Australia Post stamps.
How to purchase a copy
The book is self published through Snowgum Press. It is a labour of love. If you want to support this great independent venture, you can purchase a copy here. You can also view sample pages from the book on the website.