His image ‘Creation’ enchanted selectors of the 14th International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY), making Robin Williams ASIS FRPS overall winner of the prestigious competition.
So who is the Melbourne-based photographer whose colour-infused macro-image captures the beauty of the ancient lotus?
A professor of photography for more than 25 years at RMIT University in Melbourne, Williams initially made his mark as a medical photographer, rising to director of medical illustration and teaching services at Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School in London. In 1977 he received the RPS Combined Royal Colleges Medal for an outstanding contribution of imaging in the service of medicine.
These days, Williams is best known for his work in landscape and nature photography, which has been published in titles including Time Life, National Geographic and New Scientist.
Here he tells us how he made five of his favourite images, including ‘Creation’, which the IGPOTY judges described as having “a delicious allure and promise of sensory satisfaction”.
‘Creation’, 2020 (pictured above)
This image, which won IGPOTY 14, shows the reproductive parts of a lotus flower, which holds great symbolic meaning in many eastern cultures and is considered one of the most sacred plants in the world.
I captured the moment that the first male stamens are about to enter the holes in the female receptacle which contains the stigmas, and eventually the seeds. The lotus was photographed in situ, in water, and I had to use a long focal length to be able to get a sufficiently large image. Off-camera flash ensured a sharp image.
I don’t really consider myself a flower photographer – this is the first time I have entered IGPOTY – but I’ve been doing it a long time. My first success in a club competition was with an image of snowdrops, when I was just 12 years old – 56 years ago.
I admire the beautiful, ‘dreamy’ artistic work often submitted to IGPOTY, but I guess my work is more driven by my scientific photography background. At their most harmonious the artist and scientist in me lets me capture a faithful image that also engages the viewer in the sheer beauty of the natural world. The artist in me wants the viewer to experience the same emotional rush I did when surrounded by nature’s beauty, while the scientist wants me to objectively record the evidence. Nature needs no embellishment.
In the deserts of Utah are the so-called Slot Canyons, deep ravines cut into the sandstone by flash flood waters only a metre or two wide. Light from the sky overhead finds its way into the canyon by being reflected multiple times off the orange canyon walls. It is very dark inside.
The desert winds blow sand into the narrow opening, which falls into the canyon like waterfalls. To be honest the real challenge here at Antelope Canyon was not technical, but trying to do five long time-exposures (to be combined as an HDR image) with the camera on a tripod while hundreds of tourists crashed through the narrows of the canyon (often kicking the tripod legs as they passed in the near dark). This was more like combat photography than contemplative landscape photography.
Australians are ‘girt by sea’ and the beach is a quintessential feature of the Australian psyche. We are often taken with the dramatic and colourful nature of a glorious seascape. I too have been fascinated by the coastal view, but for me the classic ‘sharp’ view was too granular, too detailed.
So I set about trying to record a series of images that would reduce the complex and detailed scene into something rather more ‘essential’ – the colour palate characteristic of the time of year, season, day or climatic conditions.
I used a process of intentional camera movement that caused the fine details to be lost as a horizontal blur. In a project that lasted more than three years, I recorded Edithvale Beach in Victoria from the same location, with the same technique, and eventually selected 12 images to represent 12 moments across ‘the year at the beach’. This image is one of that series.
‘Stockton Shack’, 2017
Stockton Beach is more than 20 miles long and stretches north along the coast of New South Wales from the Hunter River. It is remote and only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles.
This photograph is of an abandoned fisherman’s shack in the first light of dawn, my favourite time of day. Having spent my life photographing people, I don’t often include man-made objects in my personal work – where I do, it is often of nature reclaiming its territory.
‘Vitruvian Man’, 1978
During my career as a medical photographer I developed an innovative range of photographic methods for the measurement of three-dimensional shape, volume and surface area in vivo – contour maps of patients.
The techniques were adopted by hospitals as far afield as USA, Canada, Japan, South Africa and Australia. They were used to improve outcomes for children undergoing facial reconstruction surgery, techniques for managing burns, and the treatment of thousands of young patients with spinal deformities such as scoliosis, besides monitoring treatment in cancer therapy.
Interestingly, while the contour maps produced offer pure scientific information, they are also considered beautiful works of art and have been acquired by individuals and galleries all over the world. They have featured in dozens of popular publications and were even used for the opening titles of a James Bond movie. Exhibitions of these body maps were installed at The British Medical Association, The Science Museum (London), The Pompidou Centre (Paris) and The Royal Institution (London).