Communicating in ways that words cannot – a yarn with Hunter Callaghan
November 24, 2023
Take a closer look at the beautiful images on the wawa biik website, and below. You may notice they communicate not only the warmth and excitement of the wawa biik journey, but also hint at the pride and connection that the photographer Hunter Callaghan has to his mob and Country. Hunter belongs to the Nira-illim Bulluk Clan of the Taungurung Nation and was born and raised in the western suburbs of Naarm, Bunurong Country. He works as a content producer for RMIT University but is also a freelance photographer driven to capture the faces and places that tell the Taungurung story.
In 2020, Hunter created a powerful photo–documentary book titled UNEARTHED. The black and white images are a stark reminder of a duality that exists between the proud and enduring culture created by Taungurung Ancestors, contrasted with the heavy impact of colonisation and the painstaking daily work needed to protect Taungurung cultural heritage for the future. Hunter’s images provoke empathy and understanding of cultural complexities but are also his personal way of deepening his own cultural knowledge and connections.
What can you tell us about the type of images you take and why you take them?
My love for taking photos really stemmed from my days as a realism illustrator. I would take photographs of people then replicate them 1:1 with a pencil, right down to every wrinkle and strand of hair. One day I found so much fulfilment in the process of taking photos I just decided to run with it and see where it takes me. As a freelancer I had experience in many different areas of the industry such as product, e-com, lifestyle and events, but I spend most of my days shooting portraiture. There is something special about meeting someone for the first time and getting to know them and their story through the lens. To keep a balance, I explore ''composting'' in my personal works. This is the technique of capturing multiple photos and blending them into one digitally to create a single frame. I practice this technique as a method to create striking and vivid imagery such as my mini-series KFIVE,
What impact can photography have?
I really do believe that photos can communicate in ways that words cannot. Photos are a very approachable medium to introduce new ideas to people. I like to think that my photos play a role to break down barriers and close the gap between First Nations communities and non-Indigenous Australians.
Who or what inspires you?
Personally I take inspiration from the people closet to me. I look up to my Mum and my Aunty Lisa who push me to go beyond what I think I am capable of. Very fortunate and thankful to have them in my corner. Artistically I draw a great deal of inspiration from the natural magnificence of Country. We have many larger than life places on Country and I strive to capture that level of scale in my work and storytelling.
What photographic works are you most proud of and have you exhibited your work?
The work that I am the most passionate and proud of is my documentary photography. In particular my book UNEARTHED – capturing and telling our story, the Taungurung story. Our journey of rediscovering Country, healing Country, and protecting Country. For those that haven’t been exposed to First Nations cultural heritage, I hope that UNEARTHED begins to gather a clear image in the minds of the Australian people of what the archaeological space actually looks like right in your backyard, in your town or in your suburb. I haven't had a chance to do a solo exhibition in a gallery space yet. I would be stoked to share a body of work when the right opportunity is presented to me.
What have you learnt about culture through this photographic project?
I am very grateful to the Taungurung community for giving me this opportunity to create this book because while shooting, I have learned more than I have ever had about my history, community, culture and ultimately who I am. I have only scratched the surface of what cultural knowledge awaits me and I am thrilled to see where it takes me.
What does Country mean to you?
Photography takes me everywhere, but my world will always orbit around Country. Fun fact: At the heart of Taungurung Country lies Lake Eildon. In 1997 on the edge of the lake, this cult classic line was born “How’s the serenity?” Country grounds me and solidifies a critical part who I am and where my soul truly resides.