Robyn Mussett is a skilled photographer who hasn’t allowed challenges – physical or otherwise – to stand in the way of achieving terrific images. Robyn’s creative eye allows her to experiment with shots many of us may not see at a location. Here’s your chance to see the world through her eyes and hands …
Hi Robyn. What part of the Greater Port Macquarie area do you call home, and what led you to live there?
I live in Shelly Beach. My husband was transferred to Port Macquarie in 1989, and we have lived in this house since 1993. The beach is nearby; it’s close to the CBD and a quiet neighbourhood.
Where did your interest in photography begin?
I bought my first SLR camera around the mid 1980s. My interest developed from then, when I discovered how you could use aperture and speed in manual mode to create different effects. I started the photography diploma certificate at Port Macquarie TAFE in 1990, which I found fascinating. I like black and white photography and had a darkroom built at home, where I developed and printed images for about ten years. There is nothing like the magic of seeing an image appear in the developer. I was hooked the moment I started.
I moved into the digital world about 14 years ago and use a digital camera exclusively now.
What are your favourite subjects to shoot?
Once I would have said landscapes and although I still like taking landscapes, my photography is constantly evolving. Light is an important factor, and I look for texture, patterns and lines.
Last year I concentrated on simple minimalistic subjects which print well in monochrome. I realise that many of my images are about trees, selecting parts of them or silhouettes against the light. Clouds are also great subjects. I don’t like oversaturated images; I prefer softer colours and strong black and whites.
What acknowledgements/recognition have you received for your work?
I’ve had a number of images accepted in both national and international salons and received awards; however, to me, the best acknowledgements come from other photographers and artists, whose work I consider outstanding, to want to hang them in their homes.
You’ve experienced some ups and downs health-wise – but I’ve heard you’ve been able to turn some negatives into positives where your photography and your physical abilities are concerned. Tell us more about this – how have you been able to turn disadvantages into advantages?
I have an Essential Tremor. This is a neurological disorder which happens gradually and effects different parts of the body, generally the hands, arms and head and causes shaking – or as my granddaughter said, “Grandma wobbles all the time”.
It became impossible for me to hand hold the camera, and even on the tripod I have to use the delayed shutter release to prevent camera shake. These simple things have enabled me to continue my photography.
A couple of years ago I was caught without the tripod plate to attach my camera to the tripod. I had been reading an article about Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), so I decided to give it a try. The light was very low, so I was able to use a very slow shutter, and I moved the camera back and forth across the scene in front of me. I liked the results and continued to experiment with this.
It’s very much a hit and miss way of shooting. You can take dozens of images before you are happy with anything. Mostly I use the tripod and move vertically or horizontally across the scene; other times, I hand hold and move in a circular motion.
Last year whilst driving around Australia, I took many images whilst the car was moving along. Between my husband and I, we worked out that about 20 kph on a bumpy road worked best, and the image “Gimlet Forest” is one of my favourites.
I’m currently working on doing double exposures in the camera, firstly doing a “straight” image, and then an ICM over it. My journey continues.
What, to you, is the essence of great photography?
As with any form of art, seeing is the essence, visually as well as mentally and understanding your equipment to achieve the result you visualise.
If you had the opportunity to travel anywhere to shoot photos – where would you go (and why)?
Oh dear, that is a hard one! I have been very fortunate to have travelled extensively, both in Australia and overseas and have photographed in many places.
I don’t like being cold; however, I would like to do some shooting somewhere in some virgin snow. I love works by Michael Kenna in his Silent World Winter series. Having said that, there are many great photographic subjects right here in Port Macquarie and nearby.
What’s the best advice you could give a camera “noob” – i.e. someone just starting to experiment with photography?
Start with the basics. Read the camera manual and get to know your camera – what different things in the menu mean. Set it to manual and discover what aperture and shutter speed do, and then go out and have fun.
The good thing about digital photography is that it doesn’t cost any more to take a hundred photos than it does to take one. There are also many photography classes available, as well as heaps of information on the web.
What photo club/s associations are you a member of, and how have they helped you grow as a photographer?
I joined the Port Macquarie Panthers Photographic Club around 1990. Camera Clubs have always been very competition orientated. This is fine; however, you do learn to shoot images to suit judges, and it is not necessarily a great learning process.
Through the club I have made many friends, and my growth as a photographer has come from informal chats and discussions about photography and not being afraid to ask for opinions and accept constructive criticism and advice.
PMPPCC has now evolved into a much more creative forum. We have fewer competitions throughout the year, and instead have image evaluation evenings where we discuss members’ images and help each other develop to become better photographers, rather than being judged.
We also have a number of special interest groups, where members with interests in, say, nature, macro etc., meet and go out and shoot together. Then we get together and discuss our work.
I belong to a group known as Masters, and we choose a well known photographer and study his or her work. This is a great way to try emulating these “masters” and takes me out of my comfort zone to shoot different subjects. We also go out photographing as a group. It’s amazing how many different images people see and take at the same location.
Where can people see more samples of your work, or find out more about you?
I have a website: http://robemphotography.zenfolio.com/
Currently I have six prints on exhibition at the Photographic Art Prize at Inverell Regional Art Gallery until 11th May. I will also have prints in an exhibition which the Port Macquarie Panthers Photographic Club is holding throughout November and December this year at the Masterpiece Framing and Gallery in Port Macquarie.
Interview by Jo Robinson.