In mid-2016 after I’d bought a swag I accepted Judith Crispin’s invitation to join her and her friends to travel to the northern Tanami Desert to see the Warlpiri people’s Milpirri Festival at Lajamanu. The Festival is held every two years on the cusp of the rainy season at Lajamanu, and it is the result of a collaboration between the Lajamanu Community, the Tracks Dance Company and the Lajamanu School.
There were several photographers amongst Judith’s friends–Juno Gemes, Helga Leunig as well as Judith herself, who had published her book The Lumen Seed. Judith had a keen grasp of Lajamanu as a dynamic place with a history from her previous visits. I only knew Lajamanu from googling photos on the internet. It was just a fixed location situated on a map for me.
I was the novice photographer on this trip. I intended to keep a low profile as I was very ambivalent about being a white photographer taking photos of the Wilpiri people in Lajamanu.
I had previously traveled parts of this country on road trips previously: the Goyder Highway, Port Augusta and then on to the Eyre Peninsula, or to Woomera and Andamooka in South Australia. But I’d never driven up the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. Though I’d travelled around Central Australia as a tourist in the 1970s I’d never been to Cooper Pedy, driven on the Tanami Track, or been to Lajamanu. I knew nothing about the Tanami Desert.
In some minor ways this Lajamanu trip linked up with previous road trips that I’d made in the 1980s: to Andamooka, to the Yorke Peninsula and to the mid-north of South Australia. This was a model from the 1970s —leave the city, travel the outback, take photos, have an exhibition, become famous.
It’s an old model that has been overtaken by contemporary mass domestic tourism. Everybody is now on the road around Australia, taking photos and posting them on their travel blogs or on Facebook. What role for art photography approach to roadtrips now?
I was basically a passenger on this trip–a tourist. I didn’t even know anything about the Walpiri or their history. For this trip I was content to sit in the back of the LandRover Discovery taking snaps out the window. We were racing through the country at a 130 kilometres in order to get to Lajamanu for the Milpirri Festival before the monsoonal rains arrived. So it was drive all day. Swag at night. Eat at a roadhouse morning and evening. Drive drive drive. 8000 kilometres. No time to explore the country.
Could a new model for art photography/roadtrip emerge from this road trip to Lajamanu? Maybe another model is to get out of the car and explore the country that we were racing through. That was the Andamooka model. Stay at a place for several days or more and get to know it as a photographer.
If so what would the project be? Would the trip to Lajamanu for the Milpirri Festival help to sort that out?