Imagine what it looks like..

Imagine what it looks like..

At the time he didn’t even know what the island was called but I clearly remember him saying “Imagine what it looks like from above...

13 years ago, in the summer of '06, my 2 brothers embarked on a road trip around Australia with the idea of filming a documentary about searching for, and surfing the most remote and wild coastlines that this beautiful country had secretly hidden away in isolation. The idea of unridden, untameable and unnamable monsters that lurked in the darkest and hardest to reach locations, birthed in me a sense of adventure that was to shape the course of my life. At the time though, I was working full time on my own business, designing and manufacturing custom camera housings. I really wanted to accompany my brothers on their adventures but I wasn’t a good enough rider to feature in the film, and I wasn’t enough of an asset to justify accomodating me as a human resource for the project, so, I was continually left behind on such missions. For weeks after their return, they shared many stories of their adventures with me, and I listened in awe as they described the waves and places that they discovered, the situations that they got themselves in, and thankfully out of, and their accounts of being tested, trialled and challenged in the most rugged and dangerous places one could imagine. One story in particular that stood out to me was the story of the majestic pink lake. My brother had visited an island, one side was rugged, with steep cliffs opposing the sea, the other, was lined with pristine white sand beaches. At the heart of it, a magnificently coloured pink lake, as vibrant as a rose, nestled into the island, creating a remarkable contrast against the deep blues of the ocean that the great south west was so famous for. At the time he didn’t even know what the island was called but I clearly remember him saying “Imagine what it looks like from above.. one day I’ll go back and find out..”

Such a natural treasure sparked my curiosity at first, and over the years I let it grow into a myth. It was a time before technology, a time before pixels had replaced our passions..

I knew one day, when I had the resource to retrace my brothers steps and explore the greater southern coast of Australia, I knew that the pink lake was going to be something that would always remain in the back of my mind.

Getting to Middle Island, Western Australia

Fast forward to present, 13 years on, 5 kids later, my brother had to stay home and attend to family commitments. I’m thinking about his words from all those years ago as I’m laying in my tent on that that same stretch of coast, stalling to savour the warmth of my sleeping bag while pondering about what motivates me to do what I do..

It’s cold, and it’s dark, my fingertips will soon be numb, as I fumble in an effort to put my camera into my housing. I haven’t got to my frozen wetsuit yet, I’ll do that last.. The wind chill is adding to the challenge of preparing for the ocean endeavour ahead. “What am I doing? This is crazy.” I think to myself, a phrase I’ve become well acquainted with over time. I decide to swiftly move forward, fixated on the thoughts of what the looming light will reveal in the hour to come.

If I could sum up in one word, what motivates me into situations like this, it would be “Imagine”.

“Imagine what it looks like.. just imagine what we might see..” And this very thought propels me into the unknown, again.

This sounds almost poetic, but I don't feel as though this motive is adequately justified if the sole purpose of propelling ourselves into the unknown is just to discover beautiful places, and physical spaces. It just has to serve a greater purpose. I mean, who in their right mind would risk their life just to see a pretty view.. being lured into the dangerous unknown has to have a more significant agenda, at some point it needs to go deeper than a carnal delight, something that reaches the depths of ones soul. I propose the idea, that we've intentionally been given an imagination and a sense of wonder to serve as an exclusive invitation to reconnect with something greater, someone greater. An invitation, to reconnect with God. 

Photography is a crazy profession these days.. It really is. The lengths that we go to to capture what we capture is becoming increasingly insane. Personally, if my sole intention was to see a pretty view, have a nice day outside and gain a few followers then I would have seriously pealed out of this race years ago. But, I'm in it for the 'more'. We could of quite easily never returned from this island. It’s so remote, and so isolated, that if something went wrong, well, you may not have been able to read this story.. It does make me wonder though, this isn’t the first time it’s been photographed, and certainly not the first time it’s been explored.. in the 13 years since my brother told me the story of this incredible place, and sparked the desire in me to go and see it, many people have come and documented it, ’exposing’ its beauty to the masses, each time dulling its wow factor, unintentionally of course. I've been thinking lately, that surely at some point, a threshold will be reached, where these wonders will become so photographed and virally exhausted that it no longer makes enough sense to risk your life going there to see it for yourself. And when it comes to that, we will be handed a pretty image, and never understand the feeling and energy it took to capture it..

I remember when I first stumbled upon an image of the pink lake on my tiny iPhone screen, to be honest, it killed part of the desire in me to go and see it for myself, the image instantly replaced my imagination, with pixels. I felt as though my dream was spoilt, because the visual of it wasn't as exciting as the invitation my imagination had written. It's like finding out what you're getting for Christmas the night before.. I guess it's still exciting enough to get up, but it's never as fun.. When we're scrolling, we don't really know what's coming up next and you just can’t un-see such things when they do, but, it still didn’t stop me, and I’m glad it didn’t, because I was reminded that the journey getting there, establishes the platform for us to experience a real sense of discovery and wonderment from a place, in a way that an image never could. In fact, it kind of even redeemed my eyes for cheating a sneak peak of the view before the climb.. metaphorically speaking.

'There's nothing new under the sun..' they say, I know and I hear it, and I realise that we're living in a world of recycled inspiration, but I can't help but think about if technology is really connecting us with the world, or actually separating us from the world?

One day, when we've 'already seen that', will we be at the risk of unintentionally losing our ability to wonder, our freedom to imagine, and neglect to respond to the invitation into the unknown? 

It's probably different for each person, but I do feel as though my thoughts are going to resonate with some. My concern is that we are missing out on what develops in the dark, we are being spoilt with the view on a set of fresh legs. Is it not the unknown where we become known to ourselves, and in the searching, where we're found?

I wonder if the explorers of the late 1700’s would of even set sail if they already knew what was on the other side.. or maybe discovery was just a bi-product of a profit driven trade industry? Either way, their motives for exploring put wind in their sails. Imagine what it would of been like though, to have absolutely NO idea what was out there.. what faith and courage it must have taken! I get a sense of exploration leaving the shore on a powered vessel with GPS, these guys were taught the world was flat and you could actually sail right off the edge!! Yet they still went..

The wind was forecasted to be strong the day that we set out for the island, being on a tiny Jetski, made navigating the wind chop extremely difficult. I wasn’t even sure if we were allowed on the island, which come to think of it, is the craziest thought to have, in a place that felt a million miles from humanity and any kind of regulation. But in my experience, I’ve learnt that things are so owned and regulated for profit these days that it’s really hard to escape the ‘trespassing mentally’, something that haunts every photographer to some degree. I was clutching to the ski for dear life at times, as my mate, Matt, navigated the rough sea. I really didn’t want to fall off out here, the ocean has a very dark and eerie vibe to it, only God knows what lurks in these waters, it’s certainly hard to not be intimidated into feeling very small.

About 10kms in, the ski suddenly takes a dive and we are completely immersed in a freak wave. We lose control and I voluntarily go flying off the back so that Matt can regain control of the vessel.

He doubles back to pick me up as I swim toward the rear of the ski to climb back on. It all happened so fast, and I scrambled back on quickly as the ski rocked wildly in the cold, early morning wind. Being out there plays tricks on the mind, I firmly believe that God has angels posted guard around my life, I’ve seen too many miracles to ignore it or even treat it as a fictional idea anymore, but that doesn’t mean to say, the temptation to fear isn’t as strong as it would be for anyone else. We eventually made it across the southern ocean and found a place to beach the ski. I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by a National Park sign that wrote “Welcome to Middle Island”, somewhat softening the feeling that I was breaking the rules. There was even a relatively easy to navigate track which took a pleasant 10-15 minutes to arrive at the pink lake, with informational signs about the islands history along the way. A pat on the back for our national parks for doing their best to minimise the footprint of humanity.

That’s what’s so special about going somewhere physically, you find unexpected things, and you are able to immerse yourself in the history, culture and presence of the place. It's all part of the foundational preparation for what the view will be like at the end of the track. I understand that this concept is circumstantial and that sometimes a person cannot physically go to a place. That's ok, I think these people have an extra measure of appreciation for the photographers that go on their behalf.

Middle island is the largest island in the Recherche Archipelago, a group of 105 islands and numerous islets named by the French explorer D’Entrecasteaux in 1792. Later in 1802, Matthew Flinders and his crew, arrived on the HMS investigator and were the first to set foot on the Island. Flinders climbed the highest point and was most likely the first to see the pink lake from an elevated perspective. What a marvel that must have been, to see something so foreign and obscure for the very first time! (And not be able to take a photo...) The next to arrive were the Whalers and Sealers in the 1820s. We walked past a bunch of old stone ruins, that must have been the remnants an old settlement from that time. During the 1830s and 1840s, Middle Island was the centre for sealing and whaling operations and was unofficially ruled by the notorious ‘Black Jack Anderson’; a giant African-American who arrived in Albany on a crippled Whaler called the Vigilant in 1826. Apparently this dude was “ruthless, murderous and cruel, yet charismatic..” What a description! Black Jack controlled the islands and surrounding waters for over a decade, plundering passing supply ships, killing and stealing fortunes for himself, etching himself into Australian history as its only “recorded pirate”. And here I am in 2019, worried about getting in ‘trouble’ for flying my little drone around! What a world we now live in, in comparison to just a few generations ago! Black Jack’s greed and dictatorial ways eventually led to his successful assassination, and is now believed to be buried somewhere on the island.. crazy. There’s been multiple shipwrecks on the island as well, one that still sticks out of the water just down the beach from where we landed, not surprised at all by that, the ocean out there would have been a nightmare to navigate, especially in the 1800s!

Reading the history of Middle Island was fascinating, and further softened my guilt of breaking the rules, but you know what Mr Picasso was famed for quoting.. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”. I learnt about some things that day that I probably could have googled but felt somewhat enlightened by having read during our peaceful bush walk to the lake.. it was exciting to read of stories I could barely fathom, imagining what it would of been like as an explorer back in their day. 

When we eventually arrived at the lake, it was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined, a quaint little gem, tucked away from the elements of this relentless and wild part of the world. It’s a shallow salt water lake surrounded by narrow strips of white dunes covered by a dense woodland of paperbark and eucalyptus trees that separate it from deep blue southern ocean. Studies suggest that the colour of the light comes from tiny algae and bacteria that contain red pigment. These grow in the water and in the salt crust at the bottom of the lake. During the dry summer months when there is a high level of salt, the lake turns a vibrant pink, which deepens with an elevated angle.

Having arrived here in 2019, 13 years after I made the decision I would come, and after so many other footprints, it did stir up the thoughts in me..

Does the earth have a finite resource of wonder? Will we reach an age when we become desensitised completely to the natural wonders of our tiny little home? Are we still biting into the apple that was never designed for us to eat..

I mean, billions are already being spent looking for other worlds.. yet what are we really looking for? Are we seeking knowledge that belongs to God alone.. I think a lot, and this may just be me but it’s a thought that’s worth a moment to entertain, because it's the inevitable evolution of humanity, to search, to find, to uncover, to expose, to know. The question I’m asking myself though, is, are we missing the miracle in the midst of all the fast paced exposure and thirst for new discovery? Have we become so fixated on visual stimulation and the 'next thing', that we walk right past the one that sent the invitation that originally ushered us into this journey called life? I'm speaking to myself here as well, at times I feel like I'm blinded by my own distorted idea of beauty, and fail to recognise the one who created the very concept of it, the one who placed eternity in our hearts and set our thoughts in motion, so that we might one day turn and believe on our own watch. So I'm taking a step back with this series of imagery and inviting you to do the same.

Growing up, the world seemed enormous, unlimited, and unexplored, nowadays, I feel like those ideas of the world have been buried beneath a mountain of visual stimulation, from an army of entrepreneurial content creators.. yes, I’m guilty as charged with that! I know I can't have my cake and eat it too, but I desperately want to remind myself and those with a listening ear, that it wasn't always this way, technology has a way of making the world feel smaller than it is, information feeds have a tendency to make us feel more powerful than we really are, and a world saturated in imagery has the capability and agenda, if we let it, to desensitise our reception to the remarkable miracles of nature, that may well have been solely put in place to point us back to the master designer..

"For God’s mighty miracles astound me!
His wonders are so delightfully mysterious,
that they leave all who seek them astonished.
Everything he does is full of splendor and beauty!
Each miracle demonstrates his eternal perfection.
His unforgettable works of surpassing wonder
reveal his grace and tender mercy."

This Psalm describes the feelings one gets from nature before technology made it so important to frame it through a viewfinder. Hear me out though, I absolutely LOVE technology and what it empowers us to do, like capture these kind of images to share with ya'll, but it's important to recognise that we live in a world that subtly wars against our wonder, replaces our passions with pixels and encourages our logic to overrule our sense of intuition and faith. By embarking on my photographic journey's and immersing myself fully in such beautiful environments, I can only come away believing that every thing out there is not a result of some random, evolving pandemonium, instead, I believe each one of natures miracles is specifically orchestrated to create an opportunity to deepen our understanding of His eternal perfection. Just a thought.. ;)

Enjoy this series of the pink phenomenon that is Lake Hiller. 

Lake Hillier, Middle Island, amazing pink lake

The infamous Pink Salt lake in Western Australia

Panorama of Lake Hillier, Middle Island, Western Australia

Thanks for reading! Bless your heart!

1 comment

Tim Young (#timyoungimages)

Tim Young (#timyoungimages)

What a great narrative and beautiful photos, Philip.
I agree with your thought …“everything out there is not a result of some random, evolving pandemonium.” “Nature’s Miracles”, I believe, are specifically orchestrated by Almighty God “to (as you said) create an opportunity to deepen our understanding of His eternal perfection” and His majesty.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and taking the risks you do to give us photos of places and “Natures Miracles” that most of us will never have the opportunity to see.
There are also many smaller things in Nature we overlook, or don’t take the time to notice, given to us by the “Master Artist”.
Thank you for what you do!

What a great narrative and beautiful photos, Philip.
I agree with your thought …“everything out there is not a result of some random, evolving pandemonium.” “Nature’s Miracles”, I believe, are specifically orchestrated by Almighty God “to (as you said) create an opportunity to deepen our understanding of His eternal perfection” and His majesty.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and taking the risks you do to give us photos of places and “Natures Miracles” that most of us will never have the opportunity to see.
There are also many smaller things in Nature we overlook, or don’t take the time to notice, given to us by the “Master Artist”.
Thank you for what you do!

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