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Matt Palmer: ‘We stand on shoulders of giants’

Matt Palmer’s 2019 AIPP Professional Photographer of the Year portfolio consists of four landscape images, taken in ordinary, ‘un-iconic’ Tasmanian locations which many would walk past without a second thought.

‘The edge of where a forest was cleared, and then ravaged by fires in the Hartz Mountains allowed me this straight on perspective of the forest. This photograph calls into question the survival of forest in this whole area as it documents the varying damage of the trees.’ Photo: Matt Palmer.

The photos aren’t the breathtaking, wild Tasmania that brings tourists in droves, with mountains hugging lakes, rocky cliffs falling into the Southern Ocean, or crystal clear bays. They are simple moments which ‘resonated with him’.

‘Even without winning awards I was incredibly pleased with my personal work this year and what I had created from scenes that are relatively unknown,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘They aren’t lookouts, attractions, “secret spots” or in any way places that invite crowds to take “that shot”. I think the ultimate achievement as a photographer is to find your own moments and compositions that others perhaps walk past.’

He captured all the images with a new Sony A7R III, which he’s thoroughly enjoying. But he ain’t no fanboy, and acknowledges all manufacturers are designing quality gear – ‘we really are in a golden age of digital photography!’

‘This is a lake in the Cradle Mountain region, but one that doesn’t have the same interest as nearby Dove Lake and its iconic boat shed. I was photographing in a wondrous blizzard that filled me with creative industry. The composition is very simple but something about the feeling of the place and that moment spoke to me. Many people have assumed that there is a texture overlay on this image, however it is just the snow that was falling in the scene amplified in post-production to create something a little more unusual and perhaps referencing tin types and historical processes just a little. While lakes like these look pristine and beautiful, it has been discovered recently that they contain incredible amounts of lead, copper and arsenic from historical mining in other areas.’ Photo: Matt Palmer.

Matt, 35, has been a professional photographer for over a decade, yet only felt confident in communicating complex and important social messages in the last five years. With bushfires recently wreaking havoc throughout Tasmania, the photographer’s ‘theme’ for his winning portfolio is climate change.

‘This generation doesn’t have a Great War or Great Depression to define us. We have the greatest threat to humanity that we have faced – climate change. My photographs this year speak to that, what we have lost, and what we stand to lose.’

While Tasmania is where he now calls home, Matt’s photographic roots were planted back in Queensland when he began photographing live music.

‘I took my DSLR to a free-to-attend live music gig and it really grabbed me as something I wanted to devote a lot of my free time to. Photographing Darren Hanlon at the Brisbane Powerhouse, using a telephoto lens to photograph his shoes bathed in red stage lights led to an obsession, which led to 10 years of photographing hundreds of live music performances. During that time I was photographing everyone from locals like Powderfinger to international acts like Metallica and Pearl Jam.’

While shooting gigs, Matt’s day job was graphic designer. The two skills complemented each other, as Matt regularly worked with photography and understood how it was edited for design projects.

‘This is a scene looking over part of the Florentine in Tasmania after it was affected massively by bushfires in 2019. 3.5 percent of the state was burnt in these fires and there are huge concerns over the future of Tasmanian old-growth forests as well as the future survival of species such as Fagus (Nothofagus gunnii). These bushfires were lit after uncharacteristic dry and windy weather, followed by dry lightning, in what is usually one of the wettest places in Tasmania.’ Photo: Matt Palmer.

Life in Queensland took a sharp turn for Matt after his marriage fell apart. Feeling trapped, Matt decided the only way to move forward was with dramatic change. So, in spring last year, he moved to Tasmania.

‘The breakdown of my marriage… felt like a huge life failure for me as I took my commitment as a husband very seriously,’ he said. ‘Honestly, at the time I just wanted to escape and put the emotional hardship to the side. It’s not something I’ve really discussed but I think it’s important to start talking about it and I hope others going through the same difficulty can see there is some light at the end of the tunnel, and we can make the best of the life we have right now.’

He arrived in Tassie with no contacts, family, friends, or a job. Plenty of ideas but few plans. It was a big risk, both professionally and personally, and could have been a failure. But he says that, ‘over time luck starts to change your way if you’re persistent and hang on, and keep doing what you are passionate about’.

Some of the eucalypts charred by fire begin sprouting new life in the Hartz Mountains. While it’s heartening to see the resilience of nature, areas such as this will see a major shift in bio-diversity towards species that can survive fire. Photo: Matt Palmer.

It’s safe to say Matt’s riding on a big high and is a pretty happy camper now – whether shooting around his home in Geilston Bay, near Hobart, or out in Tasmania’s wilderness.

Reflecting on the APPA win, he says no one can do it by themselves.

‘We all stand on the shoulders of giants, and we’re all a creation both of ourselves and all the people that have helped us, and even the people that have hindered us. I am so appreciative for those that make this community great and for all of you out there that are genuinely passionate about photography. Through our photographs we have the power to give voice to things we care about, so get out there with your photography and shout!’
– William Shipton


  1. Violet (Vi) Wilson Violet (Vi) Wilson September 20, 2020

    Hi Matt
    This comment is perhaps a long time coming but it was only yesterday that I made the connection as to who you were.
    I find your images very emotive. I agree they are not the in-your-face over-done images that we often see, but looking at them allows me to pause and truly contemplate their message. i am a tree hugger from way back and worry about the rampant clearing of land, as well as the fires which have devastated so much of our forests – and not only here in Australia, but all over the planet. We can’t survive without lungs.
    Congratulations on the recognition you have received this year and last, and especially the Gold with Distinction in NZIPP Iris awards. The image you have created is amazing. I love it!

    • Matt Matt September 21, 2020

      Thank you for the kind words Vi! All of it including the recent Gold Distinction has been a surprise. Looking forward to sharing some new work at AIPP State Awards and APPA next year – hopefully with everyone able to get together and celebrate.

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