NGTI Raw File: Regenerative Growth

Acclaimed Australian photographer Matt Palmer juxtaposes life and death in a photograph that captures the aftermath of a Tasmanian forest fire.

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Signs of life emerge as Eucalyptus trees sprout fresh leaves months after the forest was razed in a bushfire. Photo by: Matt Palmer

NGTI Raw File, National Geographic Traveller India’s monthly series, is a celebration of travel photography in all its glory. We spotlight the craft of photographers, who bring us all those wallpaper-worthy shots. Every month, an accomplished photographer will share a signature photo with us, and give us a rare peek into a special story behind that picture.

For our fourth instalment in the series, we touch base with Matt Palmer—an Australian photographer who specialises in landscape shots with a focus on environmental causes. His body of work chronicles a roster of genres: commercial, portrait, wedding, sporting and music, including documenting profiles of stalwarts such as Metallica and Pearl Jam amongst others. In 2014, Palmer became the recipient of AIPP Australian Sports Photographer of the Year for his project titled “Eight Limbs,” which profiled Muay Thai Fighters, following several years of documenting the Hyundai A-League for at-the-time champions Brisbane Roar FC.

IN FOCUS: Hartz Mountains National Park in Australia sits on the edge of Tasmania’s expansive and wild South-West—a region that typically receives 2-3 metres of rainfall every year. Although the two places are strongly linked, the mountains receive about half the annual rainfall as compared to the further West. The lack of showers in 2018 resulted in the area’s forests turning arid, which was followed by dry lightning. Scientists believed this to be an indicator of climate change. The lightening-induced fires razed the region for months between December 2018 and March 2019, spreading over 278,000 hectares and exhausting the state’s firefighting resources. Rescue finally came in the form of rainfall towards the end of March 2019, but the damage had been done.

“My personal reaction to the loss of habitat in Tasmania was a project called “ASH,” Palmer wrote in an email. “It aimed to document the fires so that everyone could access visual information on what was occurring in the Australian wilderness. The underlying hope was to unite people in order to protect our natural world.”


NGTI Raw File: Regenerative Growth 2


Unfortunately, the loss felt by Tasmania during that summer was only a precursor to the incredible fires that ravaged the Australian mainland the following year, which affected 18.6 million hectares. The project was later expanded due to fires in 2020 as it inched closer to Palmer’s home in Tasmania’s East Coast.

IN SHOT: Rightfully titled “Regeneration,” the photograph captures life springing in the face of death. A charcoal backdrop cloaks the frame of a forest that was burnt to a crisp in the aftermath of bushfires. It was shot in May 2019, shortly after the majority of fires were extinguished by rainfall, but parts of the area were still smouldering. “I was often surprised to study the edges of destroyed forests and contemplate the fortune of forests and tree outcrops that somehow managed to survive. While some species such as the eucalyptus tree in the image are better adapted to survive forest fires and regenerate, there are many that were unable to escape the rather horrific fate.” The theme of life and death was a deliberate attempt and a dominant presence in the series.

Regeneration was captured using a 200-400 telephoto lens to compress and flatten the forest scene. “It also allowed me to pick out specific details within the scene rather than document the entire forest. I often photograph landscapes using telephoto lenses and focal lengths as I like to capture the splendour of mountains and the compression helps retain the relationship of a mountain looming over the foreground.” Palmer also uses lengths to create landscapes that focus on specific elements of interest as captured in the image.


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  • Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.


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