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Story: Terri Cowley Photos: Christian Fletcher
Christian Fletcher has had a love of small planes and flying since he went to an air show in Perth at the age of 12. Being asked to shoot aerial photographs for R.M.Williams was a dream job.
The work of the landscape photographer, who has two West Australian galleries and a thriving online business, adorned the cover of R.M.Williams OUTBACK in October-November last year, and caught the eye of the retail side of the business. Early this year Christian was commissioned to take a series of abstract aerial landscapes of the country that was important in the life of our founder, Reginald Murray 'RM' Williams. Originally the brief was to concentrate on areas of South Australia, such as the Flinders Ranges, where RM fashioned his first pair of riding boots with the help of itinerant worker 'Dollar' Mick. But Christian is based in Dunsborough, near Busselton, WA, so he had to fly over the centre of Western Australia. RM also had connections to places in the west, such as Kalgoorlie, so the shoot expanded to include this area as well.
Christian’s identical twin brother Michael complements Christian in the photographic business by doing research and shooting video while Christian concentrates on top-quality stills. ‘For us it was a dream job – we love aviation and we both did pilot training,’ Christian says. ‘It was a bit of a boys’ trip.’ The pair teamed up with pilot and friend, the aptly named Roger Avery, who they’ve often worked with. ‘He’s an amazing pilot who’s been flying since before he could drive,’ Christian says.
Clockwise from top: Nilpena, SA.; Lake Lefroy, SA.; Painted Hills, SA. Intro: Flinders Rangers, SA.
In Roger’s Cessna 210 they did 38 hours of flying over six days. From Busselton they went up to Kalgoorlie and crossed the Nullarbor, where RM travelled with cameleers, staying at the remote outpost of Forrest, on the Western Australia–South Australia border the first night. Then it was off over Maralinga, Coober Pedy and the Painted Desert, before stopping at Leigh Creek, where they were based for the rest of the trip. From there they flew over such iconic places as the Flinders Ranges, Lake Eyre, the Oodnadatta Track and Birdsville. ‘We dropped in to Birdsville one afternoon and visited the hotel,’ Christian says. ‘We only had an orange juice, and then we flew out again.’
The left window of the Cessna opened fully, allowing both Christian and Michael to shoot out of it. ‘It’s quite a bit of space to shoot from,’ Christian says. ‘We fly fast to get there and slow down to around 70 knots for photography.’ Roger would turn in the direction of whatever they were focusing on and the photographers would shoot straight down, avoiding signs of humanity where possible.
The twins have maintained an interest in flying since they went to that air show as boys and saw a Mirage fighter jet. ‘From then on we were hooked,’ Christian says. Now they’re aged 50 and still captivated.
Highlights of the flights included the white sand dunes of Eucla and Esperance, WA, ‘looking like meringues’ and contrasting with the bright blue ocean on the Great Australian Bight, and flying above a thick blanket of fluffy clouds near Kalgoorlie. ‘It was like the whole world was our own,’ Christian says.
Clockwise from top: a truck raises dust on Nepabunna, SA; Delisser Sandhills, WA; William Creek, SA.
However, the assignment wasn’t without its challenges. Within the first few hours of the journey they were flying blind over low hills as they navigated around a storm. They also experienced a thunderstorm out of Ceduna, SA. ‘We could see it in the distance – it was like a thick, grey wall,’ Christian says.
Images of such a high quality are achieved on Danish Phase One photographic equipment, including two camera systems – an 80 megapixel and a 50 megapixel one – and lenses made by both Phase One and Schneider. Each image, carefully edited in Photoshop, is about half a gigabyte in size, capable of being reproduced on a 12-metre-wide billboard.
Christian, a former surfie, generally works for himself and avoids commercial work, but he’d be back in the Cessna for a shoot given half a chance. ‘I love the view,’ he says simply. ‘Generally Australia is pretty flat but everything comes alive from up there. It is such an awesome thing to do – to get up there with the camera. The fact that you are up there and nothing is holding you up apart from wings …’
Clockwise from top: New Alton Downs, SA; Coober Pedy, SA; Dumbleyung Lake, WA; Point Culver, WA. horse on Angepena, SA;
This story is from OUTback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2016 Issue #108