A group of photographers has been so moved by the enduring drought conditions facing much of Australia that they’re capturing it for posterity out of their own pockets. Beyond Reasonable Drought is the fifth project undertaken by the Many Australian Photographers (MAP) group, a non-profit team of 80 photographers who share a passion for and commitment to high-quality, independent, documentary image making.
Their latest project, which will be launched at Old Parliament House in July 2008, is inspired by the work of the US Farm Security Administration in the 1930s. When the American mid-west faced both crippling drought and economic collapse, it hired some of the country’s top photographers to bring the situation to the attention of the wider world using compelling, compassionate imagery. Seventy years later, these images are highly regarded and still used as historical, teaching and social references.
Beyond Reasonable Drought will be made up of 80 framed prints, which will first be shown as part of the National Photography Festival and will then travel to Horsham Regional Art Gallery for display in 2008 and 2009. A smaller selection of work will be exhibited at Wangaratta Regional Art Gallery in 2009.
Most of the photographers hail from Victoria including Andrew Chapman who is coordinating the project, which he hopes will acknowledge the impact of the 10-year drought on the people, landscape and psyche of the nation. “Despite photography being endemic in this media overloaded age, I believe it is still easy for things to slip under the radar,” Andrew says. “This is a historic moment, and we should document it from every aspect.”
Julie Millowick, acting president the group, says the photographers are working with affected communities. “We want to have their complete co-operation, and to give back to the communities whatever we can,” she says. “These are people whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the impact of the drought, and we want to communicate that message as strongly, as sensitively, and as widely as we possibly can.”
Julie lives in Fryerstown in central Victoria – an area that has been on stage 4 water restrictions for a year. “When I read the letters pages in the mainstream newspapers, it sickens me when I come across angry responses to drought relief packages for farmers,” she says. “I want our project to communicate to people throughout Australia what is actually going on out there – and that every one of us is, ultimately, going to be affected by the drought. No one is insulated from it.”
The group ranges from emerging to well-established photographers, many of whom are recipients of national and international awards. The imagery will eventually be deposited in national and state libraries, and, if a sponsor is found, published into a high-quality book, with all profits being donated to the Country Women’s Association.

This story excerpt is from Issue #56

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2008