Tales from the backlist: Richard Woldendorp

Richard Woldendorp had a long-established reputation as a master-photographer when he proposed a new book of photographs of Western Australia.

Indeed, I think he may have submitted several publishing proposals to Fremantle Press before the book that was to become Australia’s West, so we were well aware of his work and had used photographs from his library as cover images on some titles from our program.

Richard’s unique ability to capture something of beauty where others may not see it, produced a book that quickly established itself at the top of the market, was reprinted numerous times, and, in 2009, revised with the addition of a new selection of photographs which either updated the city landscape or added a new and more recently discovered ‘key location’.

The early and continuing success of Australia’s West made it an easy decision to partner with Richard’s own Sandpiper Press in 1999 to publish an extraordinary collection of his aerial photography, Down to Earth — Australian Landscapes. Richard’s work had always featured aerial landscapes, but the new book focused exclusively on this presentation and reflected his passion for flying over Australia in small planes, armed with his cameras, to record the landscape in his own particular way.

His obsession with landscape was shared by Tim Winton. I was home recovering from a bout of ill-health when Tim’s agent faxed through ‘Strange Passion — a landscape memoir’; the essay which became such an important part of Down to Earth. I well remember my excitement as I read the words. The essay remains a firm favourite of mine in all of Tim’s writing, and the work of two outstanding exponents of their artform produced an outstanding publication, critically well-received, and an instant bestseller.

At the breakfast launch of Down to Earth, Tim told a story about flying with Richard one day just to see how Richard did it. Tim said he got the biggest fright of his life when he turned around to see Richard (who would have been in his seventies by then) hanging half way out of the plane with his camera dangling around his neck.

I’ve worked with Richard a lot, both with books published under the Fremantle imprint and with those published by Sandpiper Press and distributed through Fremantle Press. One day when we were finalising a photo selection I told him of a particular favourite of mine titled ‘Dry season seepage pours down to form a gentle stream in Hamersley Gorge, Western Australia’. On Richard’s next visit I was presented with a copy because he thought I would give it a good home. It now hangs in pride of place at my place — and there is a list of family members all wanting to lay claim to it!

Richard is presently shooting photographs for a collection reflecting his more contemporary approach to aerial landscapes. The book promises to be another landmark publication.

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