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Landscape of Virtue:The Life and Work of Photographer Wesley Stacey – Ziv Cohen 2003



I first met Wesley in 1986 shortly after I arrived to backpack Australia, and despite my low comprehension of the Australian dialect I could tell at first glance
that this fiery man had many special things to say.

Around a large dinner table in a Paddington terrace Australia was unfolding for me in a blaze and rumble as its stories from all times were told, enacted and sung by the high-spirited Wesley and his mates. This was my initiation to the cultural and natural story of the Australian continent, a new story that has captivated me since.

A few weeks later I was riding the then corrugated dirt road from Bermagui to Tanja following Wes and Narelle's invitation to visit, and a hand drawn mud-map. The South Coast was my first encounter with Australia's rural and natural landscapes and I will forever recall the blast of beauty and magic bestowed on me so unexpectedly.

Across the river, go up the hill, turn left at the tree with rust marks and glide under tall forest of spotted gums between primordial spiky glossy green cycads, the ocean appears and disappears with the undulated terrain.

Then came hours and days of watching and listening to Wesley, Narelle and many interesting characters weaving in and out of the camp. From a wooden trunk and a hardwood press, photographs were coming out, and humanity, the universe, Australia were unfolding, and again. The life I was witnessing, the nearness to the bush, the multi-layered communication exchange, the camp oven, the flexing of time from past to future to timelessness, all presented me with gifts I carried since.

Since, I've lived and travelled throughout of Australia for many years and the early naive fascination with the infant nation, its peculiarity of a Banksias and its comprehensively short history has grown to a certain cumulative body of knowledge.

My studies of landscape architecture in the University of New South Wales have been an academic excursion into the country I have explored in many forms before. Yet when the need to give it a conclusive form in a landscape thesis was raised, it was the vision depicted in the photos and stories of Wesley Stacey that I found most true to the country I came to know so well.

This thesis I hope is a worthy illustration of the breadth and depth of Stacey's photography and its varying perspectives on Australian cultural fabric, and the important place an individual's personal passage can have in these processes. Australia here is also painted as a backdrop for the ever-going and sometime very fragmented drama of humanity, as it expresses itself in art, literature and daily living.

As such, I hope the thesis will have some currency of thought and practice in areas other than the professional spheres of Australian art history and landscape architecture.

A concern that emerged as of fundamental relevance in this research is the place of the artist in society and specifically in the professions dealing with the built and natural environments. This issue is particularly important as the attitude of these professions towards the arts, as manifested in the academic training, is suggested here to be commonly trivialised.

The position of the arts and the artist within society on all it's different aspects is extremely intriguing as well as potentially powerful. The motto of the film Metropolis says ''The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart, and this quote might serve here to illustrate the role of the artist in society and to explain the reason for which Stacey is chosen here as a mirror of the artist's important social function.

It is suggested here that the artist throughout the ages has served as a mediator between otherwise segregated social layers such as working classes and the holders of capital or between decision making institutions and the broad community.

This unique position granted to artists as they are often evaluated and associated by their art work – a product with which they can often transcend social barriers while maintaining contact with both the means of cultural and economic production and the capital and political power that might dominate them. Being a 'go-between' between the impartial logic of the head and the thoughtless but sensitive action of the hands, the artist as the mediator-heart between the two can possess a grasp of both aspects of human conditions by combining practical reason and intellectual understanding with the action guiding faculties of sympathy, moral virtues and character of good life, the artist might posses a unique capacity to process and produce a balanced perspective of social and personal conducts.

The story of the unfolding journey of Wesley Stacey through many circumstances and social conditioning, his attempts, successes and failures at so many personal and collective endeavours, is offered as an analogical distillery where conditioning social traditions, spiritual cosmology, scientific logic, technology and existential wandering are fused and defined.

Seeking an ultimate truth might indeed end in the one person's idea of what truth might be, yet in the eternal quest for collective unified vision and social conduct that enables spiritual, economical and environmental sustenance and satisfaction, the truth of Wesley Stacey is a contribution of virtue and beauty.

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