During the 1970s Les Walkling’s work focused on landscape photography and poetic still-lifes, the latter typified by his work ‘Rotting fruit’. Working with a large-format camera and producing images of a distilled, reflective mood that suggest memento mori, he explores ‘those poetic moments in our lives; affairs of the heart; affairs of the mind’.1 A student of science and philosophy, Walkling turned to photography in 1975. Largely self-taught in the medium, he travelled to America on a Visual Arts Board grant from the Australia Council, studying with photographers Emmet Gowin and Frederick Sommer in 1981–82 and further refining his technically sophisticated prints. While both Americans are renowned for their meticulously crafted photography, Sommer’s work, in particular, reveals shared concerns with Walkling. These include the merging of philosophy, science, art and literature in subject matter, and a similar treatment of pictorial space, with their works devoid of horizon, the picture plane flattened, and the frame filled with detail but offering no single focus of interest.
Walkling’s recognition of both the creative and emotive qualities of light, coupled with his meticulous control of printing, suffuses his work with a wide range of luminous grey tones appropriate to its subtle, contemplative and enigmatic nature. While often making literary allusions, full comprehension of the intended meanings is undisclosed. Fascinated by puzzles and riddles, his images such as ‘Rotting fruit’ are resolutions of the unresolvable. The artist’s motivation is essentially personal: ‘My work claims no earth-shattering revelations. I simply make art out of personal necessity. We all collect the richness of human significance in the best ways we know how.’2
1. Walkling L in National Gallery of Australia 1994, ‘On the edge: Australian photographers of the seventies from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia; Philip Morris Arts Grant’, San Diego Museum of Art, California p 82-83
2. Walkling L in National Gallery of Victoria 1990, ‘So to live as to dream: photographs by Les Walkling’, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
gelatin silver photograph, hypo album toned
17.4 x 24.7 cm image/sheet; 35.8 x 40.5 cm frame
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Gift of the artist 1981
Not on display
Shown in 1 exhibition
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
Referenced in 1 publication
Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'Magical realism', pg.226-245, Sydney, 2007, 240 (illus.).