Rodney DekkerQuestions with Rodney Dekker


Rodney Dekker drought

A farmer situated 20km north of Ouyen in northwestern
Victoria ponders yet another failed harvest. A combination of
the dry conditions and frost damage means that another season
has passed by without a good yield. How many more months
of these conditions will his property and livelihood endure?

INTRO IMAGE: The Girl in the Reservoir Laanecoorie, Victoria
A young girl plays in Laanecoorie Reservoir near Bendigo.
The reservoir had almost totally dried up, but a few days before
I arrived there'd been some rain bringing the capacity from nine
to 11 percent. There was a family there, playing in the cracked
mud, spending the day together at their version of the beach.

Rodney Dekker flood

Tim, a yacht club worker paddles in front of the flooded Gippsland Lakes
Yacht Club adjacent to the Esplanade, Gippsland, Victoria, Australia.

Rodney Dekker bangladesh

On 15 November 2007 the strongest cyclone that ever formed in the Bay
of Bengal struck Bangladesh killing over 4000 people. One year later people
are still rebuilding their lives. A storm surge of over 5 meters destroyed the dam
wall that protected Podma, Badol lost 9 of his relatives, including his wife.
He built a make shift house from debris he found lying around.
His rice paddy was destroyed so now he delivers wood to earn money.
14 of his cattle disappeared somehow amazingly 3 returned many months after

Rodney Dekker boy

As much as 18% of Bangladesh could disappear beneath the sea by 2050
displacing tens of millions of people. Forty percent of rice-farming land
could regularly be flooded by storm surges as cyclones are already
becoming more frequent and intense. Shaon helps his family raise the
floor level in their home. They are hoping this will prevent wading in
waist high water when the next cyclone comes.

Rodney Dekker spark


Rodney Dekker protest

People protest against the arrival on Dick Cheney, Sydney 22 February 2007.

Photojournalism is such an arresting and immediate way to highlight and educate people about climate change, so which came first, Photography or environmental science?

Environmental science was very much first. I completed a degree in environmental science 1996 and worked in the industry for many years before moving to Melbourne out of boredom and searching for something new. That something new was starting a Masters in International Development and Environmental Analysis at Monash University, which I just completed.

So after many years of mundane office work (I was still working while completing my Masters) my mind and body was a recovering dehydrated shell of its former existence. Each night after life sucking corporate work, I ventured into the cool darkness of Melbourne, finding, looking, poking, feeling and discovering the world around me again like a kid, using my beanie as a tripod and my camera as a camera.

I'm now re-hydrated.

I learnt how to photograph by asking lots of questions and by randomly pressing buttons. I'm fortunate, as I've met many photographers that I can bounce ideas off like my former housemate Orien Harvey who taught me the fundamentals. I've still got heaps to learn and seasoned professions such as Andrew Chapman and Bill Bachman provide me with great advice,

Can you tell us a little about your time photographing drought throughout Australia? The pictures are beautiful even though the context is sad, how did the locals respond to you?

Photographing the drought has been challenging as many farmers are quite sensitive to city folk and they are going through hard times, this means I have a responsibility to ask questions in a sensitive manner. The one thing that always provides a nexus between farmers and myself is the Australian humour and their laid back approach, which I encompass and enjoy, this is me anyway after all.

There are two main approaches to finding interesting stories to photograph regarding the drought. Firstly by driving my fuel efficient hire car (I ride a push bike in Melbourne) along the road and pulling up when I see something interesting. One-minute I'm cruising down the highway, the next I'm on the back of a tractor photographing people planting potato's.

It's quiet a surreal shift of space and environment suddenly and I love it. The second approach is to pop into the pub and meet the locals over a beer, they are always helpful and friendly, and usually I hook up with them the next day on their farms.

It's ideal to paid up font by a publisher for photographing the story, but often I need to self fund the project or receive grants and sponsorship. I just used grant money secured form the SEARCH Foundation for a documentary project I just photographed documenting how climate change is affecting Bangladesh.

People are still rebuilding their lives after Cyclone Sidr struck just over a year ago killing thousands of people - you can see an online photo gallery of the people rebuilding HERE. Rising sea levels triggered by global warming could flood 18% of Bangladesh by 2050 displacing tens of millions of people. Forty percent of rice-farming land could regularly be flooded by storm surges, cyclones are already becoming more frequent and intense.

Being in an unfamiliar environment required me to approach this in a completely different manner than photographing drought in Australia. Three people from a local not for profit organisation, the Bangladesh Peasant Foundation, guided me around southern Bangladesh for two weeks and their help was amazing. The people I very much wanted me to help them by telling their story.

What has been your greatest career highlight?

Being selected for the Eddie Adam Workshop in New York state USA 2008 is my career highlight. The workshop is an intense four-day gathering of the top professionals in photojournalism, along with 100 carefully selected students or emerging photographers. The workshop is tuition-free, and 100 people are chosen based on the merit of their portfolios.

I meet with picture editors from National Geographic, New York Times, Time, and Newsweek etc. They offered tips, mentorship and a chance to have my portfolio reviewed. It was also a fantastic opportunity to meet with other up and coming photojournalists, and build international connections. At the same time it was humbling and daunting, there are so many talented photographers out there.

Most recently I was selected for the second year in a row as a top ten photojournalist in Yaffa's Australia's Top Photographers 2009
I was also a finalist of the United Nations Association of Australia Media Peace Awards Best Photojournalism category 2008 for my Drought photo essay published in Australian Traveller Magazine 2008.

People, places or things - which inspires you to pick up your camera most often?

What makes me want to pick up the camera is the change to make a difference while doing a job that I love and am passionate about. It's long hours, hard work but very rewarding and fun too. I've merged my two passions, the environment (specifically climate change) and documentary photography.

My passion as a documentary photographer is to photograph stories that communicate a social or environmental message and from this I hope to inspire change. This motivation has been shaped by an academic background in environmental science and international development coupled with a desire to document history and promulgate anecdotes from the marginalised.

I'm interested in telling or investigating stories about a subject and this requires me to spend quite a bit of time understanding the essence of the story through research. The story needs to be timely and compelling. I sort of view the approach as a way of decorating an empty room, I figure out what items I need in the room to give the viewer a picture of what this room says, who lives there and what's happening.

For the tech fans, what is the standard setup that you shoot with.

The essential kit is:

Up to now I've been focusing on the fundamentals of composition, light, research and gaining access to stories. I'm good at these now so I'm now ready to understand more complex parts of photography so I can be more versatile.

How do you apply sustainability principles in your day-to-day work practices?

What advice do you have for people starting out in socially conscious photo journalism?

Focus on something that you are passionate about, keep it simple and master this aspect as best as you can. Then learn more about another aspect of photography and so on. By trying to do achieve or complete too much we dilute quality, I try to adopt this aspect in all parts of my life, but it's hard in this frantic modern world.

Are there other australian photographers working in this space that we should check out?

MAP Group have been documenting the drought for many years. They held an exhibition call Beyond Reasonable Drought, at Old Parliament House, Canberra 2008 and a book will be published of the same name in 2009. I'm a member of this group.

Finally, where are you going next and what do you hope to bring us back photo's of?

During the coming years I'll continue to photograph stories of climate change globally to understand its consequence on civilisations and natural environments.

I'm hoping to return shortly to Bangladesh to photograph the many aspects of how this country is already being affected by climate change. I also want to continue my documentary on drought in Australia. I'm photographing an eight-day field trip about scientific research in the Kimberley's Western Australia for Qantas Magazine 2009

All Images Copyright: Rodney Dekker

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