Cloudy Bay on Tasmania’s Bruny Island is aptly named. The rocky headlands flanking its beautiful beach are frequently enveloped in mist and rain sweeping up from the sub-Antarctic. It faces south, across the stormy Southern Ocean toward Antarctica. There can be no better reminder of Australia’s ancient affinity with the southern continent.
No-one would have appreciated this more than Wayne Papps, whose death on this lonely coast brings to an abrupt end an artistic life that promised something truly special in the long history of Antarctic and wilderness photography.
Those lucky enough to have worked closely alongside Wayne in Australia and Antarctica knew this. They knew that such dogged determination, such vision, such an unerring eye for the extraordinary lifted Wayne above the pack of Antarctic photography and into the company of the very best.
Powerful images of wild New Zealand and European streetscapes were evidence of Wayne’s photographic skills when he first came to the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston in the mid-1990s. There was the hint of something special in the gaze and demeanour of this compact, intense man.
Antarctica seems always to have been in his sights. From his native Christchurch, another Antarctic port, he came to Hobart via Melbourne. At the Australian Antarctic Division he happily took on the exacting, repetitive work of scanning thousands of transparencies, day after day for years, because he felt it brought him closer to the land of his dreams.
These images by others — few of them approaching the quality he could have produced — Wayne treated with utmost respect, applying the highest technical standards to their digital reproduction. He could not help it: it was the way he approached all his responsibilities.
Wayne’s all-too-brief Antarctic experience was limited to ship travel and visits to Australia’s Casey and Mawson stations. Only a few weeks were available to Wayne at Mawson, though the quantity and quality of his output suggested a stay of a full summer or a year. Here he produced images that would cement his reputation as an Antarctic photographer.
Ever-conscious of the severe constraints of time, weather and light, Wayne regularly rose at 3 am to drag reluctant expeditioners with him out to Auster, an emperor penguin colony on the sea ice offshore from Mawson. Solo travel is against station rules, but because no-one could match Wayne’s staying power he had to set up a roster of helpers so that he could spend the time he needed to catch that matchless moment.
Wayne’s helpers — some of them with long experience of Antarctic photography — responded in kind to give him the support he needed. Short-term visitors are usually treated with scant respect in Antarctica, but Wayne was an exception. This visitor truly knew his stuff.
The powerful images that resulted from these short Antarctic sojourns have placed Wayne Papps in the vanguard of contemporary Antarctic and wilderness photography. His work is displayed in the Wilderness Gallery at Cradle Mountain, as it is at the Vivendi Corporation’s international headquarters in Paris. It has several times graced the walls of Canberra’s Parliament House.
In Hobart, Wayne Papps’s photographs enriched our Antarctic experience in last year’s Midwinter Festival. In this year’s festival, Wayne was to be celebrated for his unique contribution to our collective vision of the south. The occasion will tragically be remembered by his absence. We are all immeasurably poorer.