Those left behind: Tom Goldner’s ghostly Australian landscapes

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The photographer’s latest project blends moving image, audio recordings, poetry and photography, examining the after effects of Australia’s bushfires

The Snowy Mountain brumby is found across Australia, descending from the horses brought to the country by European settlers. Tom Goldner first encountered the animal in 2009 while spending time in the idyllic grasslands around the Murray River, between Victoria and New South Wales. The second time he saw one was in January 2020. The grassland was burnt to a blackened crisp; the brumby was dead.

From the series Do Brumbies Dream in Red? © Tom Goldner.

“I was studying a MA in photography, making work about climate change,” Goldner says. “When the bushfires intensified at the end of 2019, people were finally acknowledging the dangers and realities of climate change. Our economy is propped up by coal mining,” says Goldner.

“I’m not a photojournalist, I’m an art photographer,“ Goldner explains. “The photographic coverage of the bushfires was already strong, but I felt like the work didn’t show what was left behind after the crisis. It was a deliberate decision on my behalf not to go out and chase the fire.”

Do Brumbies Dream In Red? is Goldner’s response to the long-term damage caused by the flames.“Smoke engulfed the whole of the country during the bushfires. I worry about how quickly that might be forgotten. It’s incredibly important that the discussion is ongoing;- a lot more needs to happen,” he says. His project hopes to achieve just that.

Existing as a multimedia exhibition, photobook, audio recordings and video, the work compiles multiple perspectives into a single ghostly, dreamlike narrative. It does not sensationalise or capture the fire’s flames. Instead, it is a post-mortem of sorts. It looks into the ashes, connecting the ecological tragedy to a wider network of lived experiences and national memory.

From the series Do Brumbies Dream in Red? © Tom Goldner.

Brumbies themselves are not without controversy. Due to their non-native ancestry, the brumby can be seen as a feral species, with environmentalists describing them as a threat to the ecosystem. Despite this, many regard the horse as a national symbol, a wild spirit, which found a new home in rural Australia. Regardless of public opinion, the bushfire poses a major threat to brumbies, as they do to countless other animals.

Do Brumbies Dream In Red? draws on the work of professor Timothy Morton and professor Donna Haraway to produce its methodologies. Blending their theories of ‘ecological awareness’ and ‘Chthulucene’, the project attempts to understand floral and fauna life through a non-hierarchical lens; everything is connected, with every element blending into one another. 

Goldner did not intend to create a series following the brumby, but fell into it after seeing the catastrophic impact the bushfires have had onAustralian wildlife. Through this project and photobook, Goldner remembers what was lost in the fires, hoping Australia learns from what happened too.

Isaac Huxtable

Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.