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The Making of My Book ‘Shelter’

When I think back to that time of making my first book ‘Shelter‘ I feel a mixture of many, many emotions. It was one full to the brim year of my life, which I gave to create Shelter.

I still can’t believe that I travelled around the entire country visiting each state, on a whim of loose leads and trusting strangers’ advice, seeking out authentic homes.

 

Above: Me, photographed in Victoria, while on the road photographing for my book.

When it was released I was beyond elated that people had a shared passion for Australia. It was something which I hadn’t experienced. Before it was released I was a little nervous that people wouldn’t fully embrace the Australian aesthetic – the aesthetic which I love so much. Though, luckily, I was wrong and it was fully understood and celebrated and perhaps even more voiced.

One of the best parts was actually taking my book on the road and meeting so many loyal readers and supporters; all sorts, people who had been with me from the very beginning, then somewhere in between and then caught wind of what I was up to at the end.

I thought it might be interesting to talk about some of the conversations we had at the book launches, on the radio and in the mags.

 

Above left: ‘The Highlands’ photographic print I made available in my print shop / Above right: The contents page list, I loved naming each chapter with such evocative words.

Q) How did the book come about?

A) In 2013, I was approached to do a book on vintage caravanning and the narrative was that I travel around visiting people’s homes and giving interiors advice. (I have a vintage caravan which I used to travel around in, in case you don’t know, check it out here) At that time I was flattered to have been offered a book deal, however I felt I had more to give, more from the heart.

To be offered a book deal is not something to be taken lightly and I wanted to make a larger contribution.

At that stage I was doing a lot of travel around Australia as a photographer and in regional areas especially. I had totally fallen in love with the landscape and the light and I wanted others to experience what had drawn me in.

I hadn’t seen this kind of Australia documented before and in my heart I had already decided that this was going to be ‘the book’ – on Australia, not caravanning, but truly living within the landscape and lapping it all up.

I pitched the idea back to the publisher, ‘How about a book on authentic Australian interiors, a book which speaks to the landscape?’….. um,  they didn’t love it – there were tears. …. I had to prove my vision –  so I was encouraged to go back into the field – the landscape – which I love and start from the very beginning and shoot a ‘sampler’, what I was seeing in my mind.

Then this was taken to the acquisitions boards and approved. Then it was goodbye and good luck – bring us back a beautiful book.

Above left: A chapter extract from ‘Shelter’  / Above right: Artist Luke Sciberras in his studio in my ‘Bridle Track’ chapter

Above left: The interior of Luke Sciberras’ home in Hill End  / Above right: The landscape of Hill End on sunset, this work is titled ‘Bridle Track’.

Above: The opening page of the ‘Dirt Track’ chapter

Q) You could have done a book on anything, why this?

A) I felt like it was about time that Australia dissolved our cultural cringe about our country and embraced the qualities that I had been admiring and loving.

Australia is actually a very exotic place and has such varied climates and landscapes – so many beautiful vibrant colours within the landscape. I saw a constant repetition for looking abroad for interior trends and I became disengaged and bored with what I was seeing on the pages of the magazines and in books.

I wanted to showcase a certain reality, a reality which I could relate to living here in Australia, with our climate and landscape.

 

Above left: The interiors of a beautiful and unique home in the former gold rush town of Hill End, in New South Wales.

Above: A dark and moody kitchen interior, with many layers of art and interest.

Above: An artful bathroom with many handmade considered touches and layers.

Above: A landscape in central Tasmania, with all its earthy muted tones.

Q) What was your favourite place to photograph?

A) Hill End and the home of Luke Sciberras ( – a few shots up). There was just something in the air when I visited the old gold rush village. I was only meant to stay for a day and ended up staying for five. Hill End is a community that’s closely knitted and keeps it real.

Because of the artistic undertone, people were really receptive to what I was doing. The folk of Hill End live a very authentic lifestyle that has a strong connection with the landscape that they live within.

Once I hit Hill End I understood what the book was really going to be about – the direction I had to take with the visual storytelling and narrative. The story of the book had to be about the people I came across and their tales too.

Above left: A dishevelled interior in central Victoria, Newstead / Above right: Old scribbled phone numbers revealing the former home’s purpose – a mechanics.

Above: The chapter opener for ‘Central Interior’ chapter.

Above left: An original and enchanting pink bedroom enclosed with flyscreen / Above right: Peering through into the unique room, ideal for sleeping and napping in the hot Australian climate, while keeping the bugs outside.

Q) Which was your favourite interior?

A) Page 130, the pinks of Gracemere in the Central Interior chapter (above). It’s a small freestanding outdoor bedroom, enclosed by fly wire to catch the breezes in the hotter months and to keep the bugs out and animals out.

It was so enchanting and connected to the bush. The summer fragrances travelled straight through the fly screen on the hot air.

Above: An original duck hunting hut in Tasmania. I loved this photograph so much I made it available in my print shop as a photographic print, called ‘Hunting Hut’.

Above left: Connecting the landscape with the interiors of where they sit within the country. These apples are also available as limited edition print, titled ‘Country Apples’. / Above right: The moody interior of an apple orchard hut.

Q) How did you find the people?

A) I put a call out onto instagram originally and so many lovely people emailed me. The initial response was wonderful, but there is something to be said about serendipity and getting your hands dirty.

I started off in Western Australia, because I wanted to be completely thrown out of my comfort zone, from there I went to Tasmania where I thought I was going to stay a week and I stayed for 6 weeks, zig zagging around the state.

I would meet someone either accidentally or through a connection – the pub was always good (and bad) for this! I would tell people what I was doing –  a book, and I was looking for authentic Australian interiors.

I’d photograph a house and be sent on my way to a friend or relative,  living in another part of Australia. It was the most eclectic and authentic time of my life. A year of true magical thinking and being.

When a stranger opens up their home and life to you, the friendship is sped up. I became fast friends with all of the wonderful people who took me in and fell for the idea of a book like this – my project instantly became their project too.

Above: The chapter opener of the chapter titled ‘High Country’.

Q) Favourite landscape or place?

A) Ghost Gums was photographed in the initial pitch. When I photographed these trees with so much light and emotion I realised that’s how I wanted to photograph the landscapes for the book.

To be able to pour so much emotion into a landscape scene – that was the goal for me, not some flat landscape on a postcard.

Above left: The bedroom interior of Lucy Culliton’s home / Above right: Lucy Culliton’s clothes line at dawn. This is one of my favourite photographs from the entire book and is available here in my print shop.

Above left: Lucy Culliton’s art filled hallway / Above right: A collection of Lucy Culliton’s artworks in her home.

Above: The landscape of Lucy Cullitons home is almost dream like – this scene is an example of this. ‘The Highlands’ is also available in my print shop.

Q) What is your favourite page?

A) It’s hard to say because every page offers such different emotions for me. None of the shots were particularly easy – no shot that’s worthwhile ever is.

That feeling of being so vulnerable and being alone within the landscape still gives me goosebumps. Sounds strange, though Instagram really helped me feel as though I wasn’t alone – putting a picture up on instagram and feeling people’s support, love and conversation was such a positive part of the journey, I will always be grateful for that.

I had to go back through the book to choose and it was hard – but the image on page 190 has to be a favourite.

I just can’t believe all those components came together – fog, irises, homing pigeons, horses kissing, and emus. It feels so cinematic and captured the mood of a Lucy Culleton’s magical animal sanctuary perfectly.

Above: An intriguing kitchen filled with so many things to stare at, in a small shack in northern New South Wales.

Above: The opening chapter page to Bush Lore.

Above left: An unearthed layer of Victorian art, stuck to one of the interior walls on a property in Tasmania called ‘Shene Estate’. / Above right: A duck hunting hut along the coast in Tasmania,

Above: A beautiful room along the east coast of Tasmania, with the fire roaring and turquoise painted walls.

Above: A portrait of John Dickman, in the home which he built, in Flowerdale, Victoria.

Above: Where the bush meets the beach, along the Surf Coast in Victoria. This work is also available as a print in my print shop and it’s called ‘Tracks’.

Above left: The studio of Bridget Bodenham, who is a converted container in Daylesford, Victoria / Above right: A purple cabbage from the extensive vegetable garden at Bridget’s home.

A) Did you really not style the shots?

I didn’t style the shots. At the beginning of the journey I wouldchan ge a few things around, then when editing the photographs I realised that the essence of the shot had changed. I had altered it. I had made the photograph about me.

I realised that if I wanted to do this project from an honest perspective, I had to do it from a documentary viewpoint – I had to shoot what was in front of me and use my skills to make it intriguing……

Above left: A secret little spot in Tasmania, brightly colour and highly decorated / Above right: So many raw yet beautiful textures within this small timber shack, hidden away in a secret spot along the east coast of Tasmania.

Above: A flock of curious sheep, all taking notice of where I was pointing the camera.

Above: The story opener of ‘Satellite Island’

Above: The Boat House on Satellite Island, where I slept with the doors flung open above the water.

Q) Which was the most memorable journey?

A) The most memorable was definitely my time spent on the remote island of Satellite Island. It was haunting, in the best possible way. I stayed there by myself, alone on the island. Well, mostly.

On the second day I had been shooting all day and I had no mobile reception when I poured myself a glass of wine and sat outside the boat shed.

The sun had gone down, I lit an armful of candles and a small fire. It was pitch black and all the stars were bright across the nights sky. Then, on the horizon I could see a boat light coming straight for the jetty, closer and closer, until the boat pulled up right on the jetty and this man jumped out – ‘Hi, are you having a party?’ this strange man asked, as he lifted beer and live crayfish out of his boat onto the jetty  – ‘umm, no, no party here’, I replied, ‘It’s just me, my name is Kara and I’m all alone, without even mobile phone reception’ – good work Kara, thats exactly how murder movies go….. Turns out he was a night watcher seal defender – as in, protecting seals in the waters.

Anyway, I shuffled the seal defender man back onto into his boat, explaining to him I was having a moment and he and his crayfish weren’t going to be part of it. Far out. Just when you think you are alone…..

Above left: Looking through the dirt stained curtain on a property in Western Australia/ Above right: A property called ‘Paratoo’ in northern South Australia, with its red dirt stained fly wire.

Above: A beautiful shack along the coast in Tasmania, sitting so effortlessly within the dune grasses.

Q) What’s next?

A) Lots! I always have a few different things on the go. I’m not working on another book at the moment, but have taken the essence of what I love about being on the road and have translated it into my new lifestyle range.

Whether it’s my signature leather bag, silk scarves or my travel fragrances made in Morocco, there are lots of pieces inspired by old-world travel and style.

I’m also heading away soon to produce a new body of work/print collection – inspired by the vastness of the sea.

There you go, hope you enjoyed! What a rollercoaster this book has taken me on. You can buy a collector’s edition of Shelter here.

K x

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7 Comments to “The Making of My Book ‘Shelter’”

  1. I have to say anything you turn your hand too will be absolutely fantastic.y
    I still get excited when I see the cover of Shelter, You are an inspiration xoxo

  2. Hi Kara,
    Love both your books! Beautiful words and photographs, well done. Thank you for sharing your vision of Australia.
    I was wondering what editing program you used to make the book, or did you collate it on Word? Also, did the photographs need to be of certain size quality?
    Thank you so much,
    Katy

    • Hi Katy – thank you for your comment. We brought the book to life on a number of programs and yes, photographs must be of a high quality to print, 300 dpi is a must. Thank you! Kara x

  3. Oh, Kara, I love this book. Not only for your beautiful photos – which make me want to visit every, well, shelter – but for your candour and the little pieces of yourself you leave in the introduction to each one.

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