THE majesty and trauma of the Kimberley is captured in equal measure in a series of a stunning photos taken over six years by Djugun and Yawaru photographer Michael Jalaru Torres.
Featuring everything from vast abstract landscapes to a person wearing a feather mohawk and high heels, the exhibition Jurru is as much about the local people as the region’s natural beauty.
Jurru doesn’t shy away from the dark history of the Kimberley, reflecting the appalling treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
But for every shadow there is light – colourful, vibrant photos showing the love of life in the tight-knit communities.
The exhibition is a deeply personal affair for Torres, whose dramtic life is weaved into the art on the walls.
“This goes to the maturity and confidence that I was finally able to share my trauma and how it shaped me as an adult later in life, going through broken families and cancer to depression and a relationship ending and becoming a single father,” he says.
“Those life lessons I hid for a long time, but now I feel it helps with my storytelling and to connect more with people through my art.”
Hailing from Broome, Torres has a background in graphic and web design, often incorporating techniques like etching and drawing into his photos to create a unique aesthetic (his “bending light” style captures the colour and texture of the landscape in a unique way).
A self-taught photographer, about four years ago he started to really focus on his craft, developing his technique as he photographed the people and places in the Kimberley and Pilbara. His work soon gained recognition, securing solo and group exhibitions across Australia, and it was somewhat of a personal landmark when Jurru recently opened at the WA Art Gallery.
“To be honest it wasn’t until the second viewing of the space and prints that it all hit me emotionally, knowing that my work is now inside the building after many years of walking past the art gallery dreaming of one day having my work inside those walls,” he says
“I sat in the corner and took it all in: Seeing my name on the wall and people engaging with my prints was very emotional and a belief that is not a dream anymore.”
Torres says he enjoys the “crazy iconic” work of American photographer and director David LaChapelle, who is known for his kitsch pop surrealism, but says his biggest inspirations are not photographers.
“My longest inspirations are H.R. Giger for his work with the shape of figures and shadow and light in a monochromatic opera, the technical mastery of M.C. Escher with his mathematic illusions, and the eye-bleeding world-building work of Salvador Dali.
“All of them have inspired both technically and thought provokingly how I can create my vision.”
A Djugun and Yawuru man with tribal connections to Jabirr Jabirr and Gooniyandi people, Torres says photographing his beloved Kimberley homeland over six years has brought him closer to his roots; learning as much about himself as the people and places.
“My work has adapted to my environment and people, but it has grown with my storytelling,” he says.
“…Maturing enough to speak about my own personal story within my expanded view, and allowing the viewer to see myself more and connect to the way I choose to share knowledge.”
Michael Jalaru Torres | Jurru is at the WA Art Gallery until July 3.
By STEPHEN POLLOCK