Allan Chawner was born in 1949 in Lismore, New South Wales and currently lives in Newcastle, New South Wales. Fine art photography and the moving image are the basis of Chawner’s artistic practice. His themes are based around notions of sense of place in portraiture and landscape. Over many years Chawner has consistently shown exhibitions of photographs and collaborated with writers or composers. He presents exhibitions internationally and has also developed links with small communities, exhibiting in venues outside mainstream art galleries. His work is a response to identity: both of the self and of communities. Chawner has lectured in visual arts since 1978 and currently holds the position of Conjoint Associate Professor of Fine Art at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales.
In August 2008, Allan Chawner and Glenn Albrecht, then Associate Professor in Environmental Studies at the University of Newcastle, set out in a helicopter from Newcastle to photograph Hunter Valley mines and the countryside surrounding mining areas. Their intention was to generate visual information for later use in programs and projects associated with the concept of solastalgia, which Albrecht had formally identified and was continuing to research. As they flew over Singleton, out to Muswellbrook and The Rouchel, then north towards Stroud and Gloucester and back via the west of Maitland, Chawner took photographs of the landscape below, looking at the visual impact of the mines on surrounding farms and built-up areas.
Solastalgia is at the heart of Chawner’s photographic work. His understanding of, and passion for the land, and his intimate and long-established love of the Hunter Valley, is apparent. His photographs reveal the devastation facing the people of the Hunter. They give visual form to Albrecht’s concept of solastalgia, aptly describing the sense of loss that might be felt by people affected by the mining industry directly or by its visual impact.
In Chawner’s images the contrast between natural forested areas, cultivated farming land and the sprawling mines could not be greater. The places may still be there, but they have been irreparably changed. They are no longer ‘home’ to the people who have lived on, and cared for, the land that has sustained them for generations, but have been transformed into something else. The music selected by Chawner for his work Life in your hands is the first movement of Veni Creator Spiritus, composed by Ross Edwards. Seductive and seemingly calm, the movement conveys an underlying sense of dread providing a sympathetic soundtrack to the powerful images.
The place is still there but it is irreparably changed. People no longer recognise the landscape of their own home due to mining in the area. Allan Chawner 2012