Book Review: Distance and Desire by Alex Frayne

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, Dave Bradley, shares his thoughts on Alex Frayne's deep dive into the heart and soul of South Australia, Distance and Desire.

Alex Frayne’s fourth photography book after Adelaide Noir, Theatre Of Life, and Landscapes Of South Australia (all available from Wakefield Press), this huge, handsome, and heavy tome sees Frayne finding a pretty much perfect balance between the urban landscapes of his first two books and the sometimes stark countryside vistas of his third.

Previously compared to Stanley Kubrick and Jeffrey Smart (by The Australian’s Simon Caterson), we open here with a lengthy introduction by Tony Knight (former Head of Acting at NIDA) and a respectful acknowledgment of First Nations people by Frayne himself. And then we’re thrown into the photos, from ‘Come With Me, 35mm slide, Stirling North’, to ‘Madlove Highway, 120 negative, Hindmarsh Island’.

Cityscapes include the side-by-side ‘Chief Street 2022, 120 negative, Adelaide’ and ‘Sausage Rolls And Whizz Fizz, Digital SLR, Adelaide’ (which still looks like it could have been located in some forgotten desert town), but then we’re suddenly in the near-outback with ‘Take The F Train, 35mm slide, Port Augusta’. And while some of the more rural images appear quite lovely and inviting (‘Curvy (04), 35mm negative, Sellicks Hill’), there are still many that prove mystical and ominous, and remind us that Frayne is a former feature filmmaker, and that his Modern Love (2006) was full of eeriness.

Particularly striking examples: ‘Spring Tempest, 35mm slide, Wilyaroo’; ‘Power Grid, 120 negative, Kersbrook’; ‘Euro Trees, 35mm negative, Alexandra Avenue’; ‘The Back Road To Kavenagh, 35mm slide, Barrier Highway’; two ‘Rocks Of Carl Sagan’ offerings, taken at Knight’s Beach (and the second with an infrared camera); and a ‘Monochromatic’ double-header.

Other stark images, such as “Thorns, 120 negative, Southern Expressway’, are unsettling because you initially can’t understand what you’re looking at, and yet there are gloriously summery highlights here too, especially the side-by-side ‘Sunny Before Storm, 35mm negative, Dump Beach’ and ‘Big Blue Brighton, 120 negative, Brighton’, with the beloved jetty to the left.

And, finally, Frayne can’t resist a little levity: an image of St. Peter’s Cathedral in North Adelaide is titled ‘Hey St. Peter’ (surely after the 1977 Aussie song), a picture of a stingray in clear water is called ‘The Name’s Ray’, and a menacing infrared shot of the highway on the Nullabor Plain is actually a ‘Selfie’, with Alex’s shadow visible at the bottom, holding the camera high over his head.

And surely grinning.

Distance and Desire by Alex Frayne is published by Wakefield Press, RRP $79.95


We would like to acknowledge the Kaurna people as the custodians of the lands and waters of the Adelaide region.

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