One of the talented artists showcasing their work at Ballarat Cemetery during Ballarat International Foto Biennale's Say it with Flowers exhibition is Jon Paley. You could argue that Jon's striking images are very much at home in this unique event, given the discord between his vision of what makes something beautiful and conventional wisdom.
"I think it's really easy to see beauty in the pretty things, but there's actually beauty everywhere and just because something's dead it doesn't mean it's not beautiful," he says. "There's beauty in the decay and if you can sit still for long enough and enjoy it, it's worth the time and effort."
Jon lives halfway between Clunes and Creswick, having moved to Australia from England nearly a decade ago. "I grew up in the north of England in a place called Bradford, a pretty bleak northern town based on the mill industry," he says. "It's kind of grim, so most of what I've really enjoyed looking at is quite dark stuff, not traditional beauty."
Jon has been taking photographs since he was a child in the West Yorkshire city. "My dad's a keen ameature photographer and lent me a camera to go to my local school camera club, and it kind of went from there," he says.
The idea of becoming a ridgy didge photographer however, properly kicked off after moving to Australia. "There's a really lovely, positive, cango atmosphere here," Jon says. "I was living in London for 20 years and kind of dabbled, but it's so competitive and cutthroat. Unless you're prepared to really play the game it's quite hard to make a go of it over there, 'cause there's so many people doing it."
Jon describes his style of photography as "dark beauty". "I've suffered on and off for quite a long time with depression, and what often happens is a bout will arrive and it kind of stops me in my tracks for a little while, but it also helps me really focus in on the beautiful decay, particularly this time of year when the seasons are changing (and) there's a lot of dead stuff around," he says.
"It kind of presents itself to me and if I'm in the right frame of mind and open to it, often I'll find it when I'm just walking around." Jon points out the dead artichoke head he recently found while walking around his garden. "It just struck me," he says. "Artichoke heads are really beautiful and vibrant when they're alive, but there was so much texture and golden tones in the thing."
This story is from the spring edition of Out & About magazine. Click here to read the entire magazine online.
John's home studio acts as his sanctuary and he also works in what he refers to as a "dark box", a large purpose-built cube that's black inside. "It's on wheels, so I can move it around and play with light and be really spontaneous."
So, moving from the dark to something more light, what does Jon love about capturing springtime? The chillier months are clearly preferred, so he pauses to reflect on this comparatively bright season. "There's a very famous garden designer from Holland called Piet Oudolf and he talks about planting gardens for five seasons - spring, summer, autumn and winter, where gardens are in different states of growth or decay.
"But the fifth season is planting for things that will grow, die and stay in place as their dead form," he says. "The one that comes to mind are sedums, (which) carry on throughout the seasons, so you get the contrast between the new growth (and) the dead things as well. "I particularly like dead grasses because of the patterns and textures they offer up - I"m looking at our paddock now and I can see the green growth coming though, so it's really about contrast."
Together with Say it with Flowers, Jon is exhibiting in the Biennale's Open Program with Focus on the Beauty and Respect the Decay. "The thing I look forward to the most is seeing other people's work," he says of the extensive program. "It's a monster of a thing and staggering what the people behind the scenes do - it's a thing to behold.
"Some of it I'll hate and some of it I'll love, and there's always something in the exhibitions that stops me dead in my tracks and think, 'Wow, that's amazing'. You can alway learn from your peers and contemporaries."
Say it with Flowers is on now. The remainder of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale is scheduled to open to regional audiences on September 15. Visit the website for more information.
While all information for events featured in this edition of Out & About was correct at the time of printing, dates and details are subject to change - and in some cases, already have. Readers are strongly encouraged to contact event organisers for the most recent schedule.