(From The Rongolian Star Archives)
Saturday, July 6, 2002
By ANGELA JEFFS
Journalist Paul Murray was slightly thrown when his photographic teacher told him to forget using a macro lens. “He said the best photographers technically were Japanese, so I might as well give up before I started.”
Yet Paul puts every doubting Thomas to flight this month, exhibiting remarkable photographs in the Las Chicas restaurant complex in Tokyo’s Omotesando.There was also the matter of his build — tall and gangling with (it has to be said) enormous hands and feet. Hardly easy to get down close to the earth to shoot the tiniest flower, or lean in close and still to record a quivering raindrop on a leaf.
It’s a long way from Australia’s Kangaroo Island, where he grew upon a sheep and cattle farm.
When Paul was 8 his father remarried. “I was already fiercely independent. Now I became fiercely rebellious.” At age 14 he was packed off to boarding school in Adelaide — a huge shock, he says,”but it made me.” When he left, he had no idea what to do except “have an interesting life.”
Well, he certainly did that!
He became a jackaroo, an Australian cowboy, working in different parts of the country. “I was tough as hell. But it was romantic, too. Pure. Three hours from the nearest town, yet never boring — and never lonely until I lived in a city.” The only recreation? Nurses, in for rodeos. “Bless their little Mother Teresa hearts!”
Moving from heaven to hell, he became a sheet metal apprentice in a factory. Seeing through the ruse (as a form of slavery) he went back to the land, as overseer on world’s largest sheep farm — 1,600,000 hectares and 70,000 sheep — aged just 19. “Acknowledging my agrarian blood, I then went off to study agricultural science, majoring in horticulture.”
When he graduated, Australia was in recession and the only jobs in chemical companies (“forget that”) or selling insurance (“which I proved scarily good at!”).
Next stop, marrying a multimillionaire’s daughter. Moving to Melbourne, he became a partner in an insurance company. “I began living up to other peoples’ expectations.”
Waking one day to find himself unhappy (“my wife was well into her own career”) he decided to go back to farming. Buying into a tropical fruit company to export custard apples to Hong Kong and Singapore seemed a great idea. Until a freak hailstorm wiped out the whole crop. “I lost everything, including my wife.”
With life at its lower ebb, he came to Japan on a working vacation to lick his wounds. “I liked the idea of treading water for a while.” One year turned into 18 months. “I was teaching at a high school for dropouts — kids with mental problems, bosozoku, girls who’d been hostesses, some of whom saw English as a way to escape Japan.”
The pivotal experience came at a dinner party in Shibuya. Guests, all successful in their chosen fields, were talking about a psychic in America who had changed their lives. “I was totally skeptical, yet for some reason decided to shut up and listen.” Later he made an appointment to talk to “Garry” by phone in Georgia. “I’d been told to prepare 10 questions,” Paul recalls. “Yet the first thing ‘Garry’ said to me was, ‘Paul, you would have been a much more creative person if your mother hadn’t died when you were 2.’ It blew me away. Then he asked me why I’d stopped playing piano. Now he had my full attention.”
Later Paul asked if he should buy some Fuji Bank stock. Good idea, he was told. Three weeks later Fuji merged with two other banks.
After speaking with the psychic, Paul realized that in every job he had ever done, there was a point when he leveled out, then lost interest. “It really made me think.”
Deciding to try journalism, he enrolled in an MA program through distance learning, taking exams at the Australian Embassy.
As a journalist, he says: “In writing, you can always do better. There’s no plateau. As I find it easier to express myself, I realize that satisfaction for me lies in creative pursuits.”
Volunteering with an NGO in Thailand, he began photographing faces, and was surprised — despite knowing little of a camera’s mechanics — by just how good some were.
In Europe, he focused on architecture. But then he began to be fascinated by patterns and designs in nature.
“The turning point was a butterfly on a sunflower. The inside of the flower reminded me of Spirograph patterns drawn as a kid.” This is when he bought a macro lens. “I’m not into photographing wildlife. I leave the Japanese to that. My motivation is in nature’s design, construction, the ‘art’ in it.”
The pattern on a bird’s wing reminds him of a flock of sparrows in flight. In a stretch of vegetation, he sees circles — the cyclical nature of life. “At my first exhibition in Ichikawa in March, people thought my images sexy.” He sold over 100 prints. One man bought five to get his wife in the mood to get pregnant. She is now expecting.
“Art of Nature — Contemplative Observation,” will exhibit some 30 photographs, plus a slide show. “I’m not interested in people saying, ‘Oh what lovely flowers.’ I want them to look in depth. We’re too complaisant.
“The government — the Liberal Democratic Party-led regime — has one criteria in assessing nature: its value as a car park. But nature’s value is intangible. I’d like to help people regain this appreciation.”
In August he leaves for New Zealand, where he has bought 32 hectares of natural forest bordering a national park, with 400 meters of river frontage. His goal, he says, is to make a living from his camera, to continue to remind people of the true beauty of nature. “I have to make it more interesting than Disneyland in order to help save it.”
For further information about the exhibition, telephone: (0468) 75-1149; E-mail email@example.com; or check: http://www.geocities.com/warrigulbartlett/artofnature