Len MetcalfNationality: Australia
Foremost I see myself as an artist working on paper, rather than a photographer. The camera is just one of my chosen mediums. Etching, Lithography and drawing in charcoal, pencil, pen and ink were my chosen monochromatic tools, until my love sketching with the camera overtook these other pursuits. I have a love affair with paper, bamboo, cotton, washi, and kozo. Paper is beautiful because it connects us back to nature, to the raw materials of plant matter it is made from. It reminds me of where our life blood comes from.
The long history of drawing on paper is my biggest influence. I work in a visual medium. It relies on visual communication. Our visual literacy comes from art. I am inspired by the great draftspersons of the world. Japanese ink wash paintings caught my attention as a youth. Norman Lindsay caught my attention with his figures. Rembrandt with his etchings. Caravaggio with his chiaroscuro. Durer with his draftsmanship. Pollock with his freedom with expression. Milo for his masterpieces masquerading as childlike.
I create my art solely for myself. I am to create artworks that are timeless for me. Ones I am happy with over time. For my ultimate test of the beauty in my work, is if I can still love it after looking at if for an extended period of time. I ache for beauty. I see and hear enough evil and terrible things in the world, and choose not to add to this mess. I, instead prefer to show a tranquil place in mother earth. One that is threatened and endangered. One that gives me my soul and spirituality. One that calms and comforts me. My work is always about conservationism. Preserving. Honouring. Looking after. I fear for natures future.I strive for simplicity, I carry only minimal equipment. Usually one standard prime lens. I choose to work in monochrome and in sepia. I only print on gentle soft mat fine artpapers. I want my work to reflect that simplicity. I work square to honour the medium format film work I loved in my teenage years. Keeping my work simple, I concentrate on my emotions, what my intuition tells me. It is a conversation I am having between my rational conscious self with my subconscious. Often these are years apart. In sharing this work with others I offer you to join in to this inner conversation. My monochromatic sketches and paintings share the beauty of the places I love.
Len began his obsession for photography in the late sixties when his father gifted him his first camera. Growing up in Australia’s spectacular Blue Mountains provided Len with an endless array of incredible scenes to capture. He particularly loves the light and mood of misty wet landscapes, abundant in that region. Naturally, Len pursued a Bachelor of Visual Arts in Photography and graduated with straight distinctions, also receiving the coveted award for ‘Most Outstanding Advanced Colour Photographer’. However, education had also captured Len’s attention as he had been teaching Outdoor and Environmental Education to pay his way through University.
This other passion coupled with a growing sense of disillusionment with the art world saw Len excel in the world of education for the next 20 years. During this period, he undertook a Graduate Diploma in Art Education and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education. His reunion with photography occurred at the conclusion of a three year lecturing tenure in the Middle East and he found that the love he had for photographing the natural world had flourished while he was otherwise engaged.
Len opened his first gallery in 2000 in Katoomba. Combining his flair for both education and photography made perfect sense and hence, Len’s School was created in 2001, when visitors to his gallery started asking him to teach photography. Len has become renowned as a leading photographic educator through teaching, mentoring and facilitating innovative workshops and tours.
His exquisite photographs capture diverse Australian landscapes, from arid deserts and windswept coasts to his backyard in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. He has exhibited widely and writes for photography journals around the world.
Other Len's qualifications education and training:- Master of Education (Adult Education), University of Technology, Sydney
- Graduate Diploma in Education (Art Education), University of Sydney
- Certificate IV Workplace Trainer and Assessor, University of Technology, Sydney
- Bachelor of Arts (Visual Arts - Photography major), City Art Institute, Sydney
- Diploma in digital imaging, Western Sydney TAFE NSW
1. WICH IS THE CENTRAL QUESTION IN YOUR LIFE AS A PHOTOGRAPHER?
I search for beauty in nature and in humanity. I look for simplicity and form. I search for understanding. Gaia brings me peace, and it is this peace that I wish to share with the world.
2. WHO ARE THE PHOTOGRAPHERS / OR OTHER ARTISTS THAT INSPIRE YOU?
Peter Dombrosikis is my personal photographic hero. His work of Tasmania inspires my search for beauty. An original Wilderness Photographer committed to saving the precious forests and rivers of Tasmania. For years I worked with a similar view camera, only photographing gazetted world heritage wilderness areas. Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, Shinzo Maedo, Micheal Kenna, David Ward. Mark Rothko, Miro, Kandinsky.
3. WHAT MAKES AN EXCELLENT PHOTOGRAPHER?
Passion to express the inner self through a mature visual literacy. Technically polished works of art that are fully resolved.
4. WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART ABOUT DECIDING TO BECOME A FULL-TIME PHOTOGRAPHER?
Fate forced my hand, one day I was still working part time, and teaching photography part time, then the next week I was a full-time photography educator. I haven't looked back since.
5. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU IN YOUR WORK AND WHAT IS DEMOTIVATING?
My passion is to produce meaningful works of art. Photographic art works that stand the test of time, that grow and develop, they mature the longer you look at them. If a photograph doesn't pass the test of time, it becomes worthless in my eyes. Each time I look at one of my great photographs and I find myself loving it even more, it then passes my test of time. This in itself is the intrinsic reward for me. Negative critiques are personally the most damaging, they interfere with my creative process. I find myself disappointed when a viewer asks to see a colour photograph or prefers the mainstream over-saturated images that dominate our social media feeds and popularity contests.
6. WHAT ARE THE MOST PASSIONATE MOMENTS IN YOUR WORK?
The excitement of a physical photographic print is the most precious object. Holding it in my hands, seeing it in all its glory at its intended size, beautifully printed on soft cotton rag paper. A photographic print is an object of beauty, one to be collected, preserved, revered and celebrated. A photographic print being exhibited is the ultimate moment of passion in my life as a photographer.
7. WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES IN YOUR WORK?
The greatest hurdle in my photographic work has been taming the inner critic. The critic that judges and listens to others. Learning to trust one's own inner instinct, to listen to one's intuition, and follow one's feelings. As I age and become accepted as an artist, this critical voice diminishes, and one becomes more confident in finding that inner voice in my work. My voice keeps getting stronger, the images become clearer, and the artworks become more refined.
8. HOW DID YOU DEVELOP YOUR ARTISTRY?
A life time of visual practice and study. I have studied the visual arts, in painting, drawing, printmaking (etching and lithography), botanical illustrations. Studying art history and great works of art is as informative as that inner reflection of one's own work. Having great mentors have helped in my journey, as has been the point where my heroes became my peers.
9. WHAT IS YOUR MAJOR PERSONAL LEARNING IN PHOTOGRAPHY THAT YOU WOULD CONVEY TO A "NOVICE"?
"Make art for yourself... make it the best you can... devote your time to getting better... make prints and books and physical objects... show it to the world... enjoy when someone else appreciates it... feel blessed if someone ever buys it... work on meaningful projects... learn to write about your work... and don't stress about it, for we do it for love and happiness."
10. WHICH ARE THE DRIVING FORCES FOR YOU PERSONALLY AND IN YOUR WORK?
My passion for the natural environment is unrelenting. I spent years as an environmental educator working directly with children and teaching environmental values. I believe that I gain my spirituality and soul from mother nature, and I devote my life to saving it. Environmental preservation is the heart of my story. As a perfectionist, I am for beautiful enduring works of art, that stand the test of time. Ones that stand the scrutiny of a mature art world, rather than the following the pack of mediocrity and sensationalism. I search for my own unique voice.
11. WHICH FEELINGS DETERMINE YOUR WORK WHEN OUT IN THE FIELD?
I have to be in a peaceful relaxed headspace and feeling connected to the environment around me before I can even contemplate creating photographic art. It is not a switch I can just turn on. I have to be inspired by the light and by the place. It has to overwhelm me with beauty. Once I reach this internal quietude, the photographic process flows, and I become engrossed my passion for creating art.
12. ON WHICH CRITERIA DO YOU JUDGE YOUR OWN WORK AS SUCCESSFUL?
It is a great work of art if I want to keep looking at it. The longer I want to keep looking at it the better it is. If I have to keep coming back to look further the better it is. I put my prints on the wall and live with them. If they stand the test of time, and I still love the photograph a year, or ten years later I know I have unique and beautiful works of art. Time is the answer.
13. YOUR PHOTOGRAPHIC WORK AND THE BEAUTY OF OUR PLANET, NATURE: WHAT CONNECTION DO YOU SEE?
I see nature as the ultimate composition. The subtle nuances as mother nature grow's, wears, develops, dies, regenerates, flourishes and withers is the most beautiful symphony on this planet. Humanities attempts at beauty pale into insignificance. It is with this inspiration I can at least try to create beautiful works of photographic art.
14. ASSUMING YOU WOULD HAVE 15 MINUTES ON A TV BROADCAST AND PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD COULD LISTEN AND UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU WERE SAYING, WHAT WOULD BE THE CORE OF YOUR MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE?
Look after the planet and mother nature. She is growing weary of us, listen to her voice. The rise in storms and extreme weather events is her yelling at us to take stock and stop the rape of her forests, rivers, and minerals. She is our life blood, our water source, our food source and our breath. Without nature, we will suffocate, dehydrate and starve. Yet we progress onwards in our plight of consumerism, commercialism and endless fighting. Climate change is real. Look to Gaia for our spirituality and for our nurturing peace. Once we loose the beautiful environment, there is no turning it back.
»I see nature as the ultimate composition. The subtle nuances as mother nature grow's, wears, develops, dies, regenerates, flourishes and withers is the most beautiful symphony on this planet. Humanities attempts at beauty pale into insignificance. It is with this inspiration I can at least try to create beautiful works of photographic art.«
- Journeys of the heart, Jody Rose, Arbon Publishing 2015
- Photography Compendium, Australia, Bob Kersey & Mary Meyer, Daylight Productions, Sydney
- XOXO Magazine Issue #1 Nov 2013
- Better Photography, regular contributor, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
- Australian Photography, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
- Camera Review, 2014, 2017
- Australian photography and gallery compendium 2011, Bob Kersey, Daylight
- Productions, Sydney
- Mediapedia, creative tools and techniques for camera, computer and beyond, 2009, Kit Laybourne, The Global Pequot Press, Connecticut
- Studio Bambini 2005
- Olive cotton portrait awards - finalist 2011
- Willoughby Municipal Art Exhibition, Highly Commended, “Belmore Falls Series”, Kangaroo Valley. 1988
- Graduating Students Exhibition, City Art Institute, NSW Institute of the Arts, awarded Best Overall Advanced Colour Photography, photographic installation, 1987
- 5th Annual Lloyd Rees Youth Art Award, Awarded Second Prize, Open Section, photo-realistic watercolour “Autumn Leaves”, 1984
Project: Flesh and Stone
Flesh and stone is a long term project and a subset of another body of work entitled “Naked Landscapes”. In both sets I am exploring the connection between humanity and nature. I believe we gain our spirituality from mother nature, from Gaia. I think that as a society, when we distance our selves from nature, we are loosing part of our spirituality. In these photographs I am interested in exploring this connection.
You will notice the titles are all gods from our history. Ones that had a spiritual connection with mother earth. I am exploring our historical connection with nature, with stone and with humanity.
In this set of works I am contrasting the soft short lived flesh of humanity, with the hard, harsh and long lived rocks of the planet. These rocks have far out lived any of the animals and plants on the planet. They are pre prehistoric. They come from our prehistory.
I am interested in the sculptural forms of both the figure and the earth. How they interact. How they strengthen each other. I search for the beauty in humanity, and in nature. I hope we can regain our spirituality from Gaia. I hope we can wake up, and and start to preserve, nurture, rescue, and save our planet.
Project: A stroll down Furber Steps
This series is an exploration of one small area over a whole year. Furber Steps is a small canyon, that takes you from the plateau at the top of Katoomba Falls, to the base of the escarpment and deep into the lush rainforest bellow. This has become my favourite area to explore visually. This is the most beautiful area in the town I was born in. Every time I visit, I am coming home. Its high walls hug and embrace me. It regularly fills with mist, my favourite light to work in. Wet cold thick heavy mist. Here it often blows up from the dam bellow.
Most of these photographs are part of a larger series. “I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.” said the Lorax in Dr Zeus’s famous book on the perils of industrialization and lack of conservation. This series or project is huge, and is the largest one I have been working on consistently for the past twenty years. I love photographing trees. I feel a very deep upset when I see one die, or cut down. I am fearful that we are loosing too many too quickly.
Ferber Steps can at first be overwhelming. Such a mess of trees, ferns, and a messy tumbling creek. I gain great joy in finding visual order within this chaos. To create beauty in such a tranquil environment.
Mist is without a doubt my favourite environment to photograph in. It is immediately full of mystery. Things are hidden. Depth is enhanced. Tones accentuated. It cleans and hides. It creates contrast and chiaroscuro.
Mist calms me. It takes me to my happy place. I don’t know which came first. The mist taking me there, or was it because my photographs started to sing in the mist. I cannot remember. Rain is similar, but with disadvantage of the all the wet.
Mist takes the mundane and makes it extraordinary. It elevates places and creates photographic bliss.
I hang for it. Days with full sun are so boring. Days with thick still mist are invigorating.
Project: Oceans Incarnate
There is something universally romantic and calming about the ocean despite its many moods. From calm to tempest, it has them all. Yet large bodies of water relax us. They take me somewhere else. I often find myself sitting still on a rocky headland, happy to just sit and stare for hours. Often so engrossed in the view I forget to photograph.
Photographing the ocean allows me plenty of scope to explore my favourite subject of negative space. I love photographing nothing. The space between. The figure and the ground. I regularly put more emphasis on the ground. Loosing objects in those huge washes of space. A simple long exposure and the waves smooth out, and the water is gone, replaced by milky gentleness. A calmness. The power of the ocean can easily be tamed.
The seas of the world, belong to no one. True neutral territory. The one place where some find their freedom. They are romantic places, full of poetic nuances. A visual feast. A story of time worthy of consideration.
When the ocean meets the shore, there is huge strength. Such power. Intensity. It is here I love to play with my compositions. Going further away from the mundane scenic. I restlessly pursue an understanding of its power, its meaning, and its presence. In photographing the ocean, I find my peace.
Project: Restless Waters
I am drawn to water. Like water I follow the easiest path down the hill. With its life blood, water brings the most interesting elements to its side. I adore the lush green foliage and moss right by the waters edge. The soft wet banks. The slippery slime. The intense greens. The dense foliage.
Water is the life blood of the eco system. It nourishes and hydrates. It brings and maintains life. Our health is dependent on natures health of its arteries of water. I ache to visit rivers that have been stripped bare with deforestation or domed and made to be kept still. It scares me that the Three Rivers Dam is so big that it altered the spin of the earth. We fight over water. We have to buy it in bottles.
I am interested in the plants that survive at the rivers edge. Their interaction with flowing water. How they grow. How they survive the damaging floods, and the lifeless droughts. The play of life and death seems more apparent at the waters edge.
I like to explore time, the gentle flow of the water, the current. I explore the patterns in the water. I love to use the water as negative space around the banks. Composing it as its own form. My aesthetic for soft water came with the historical precedent of slower films, older view cameras and smaller f stops. With so many years with a view camera, slow films, I fell in love with the look of longer exposures in water, and continue that tradition in my work with creeks and rivers.