Opal Mining in the Australian Outback

Blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, Antoine Bruy explores the alternative lifestyle of those living in the remote Australian mining town of Coober Pedy.

© Antoine Bruy, from the series Outback Mythologies - The White Man's Hole

French photographer Antoine Bruy graduated from the Vevey School of Photography in Switzerland in 2011. His work studies people and their relationship to privacy, their physical environment, and the economic and intellectual conditions that determine them.

He has received many accolades, the most notable of which are the Emerging Talent Award by Getty Images (2014) and the Lens Culture Emerging Talent Award (2014), and he was also named in PDN’s 30 New Photographers to Watch in 2015. His images have been featured in such publications as The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Guardian, WIRED, and Le Monde, and they have been exhibited across the world in Los Angeles, New-York, Paris, Dhaka, Barcelona, and Seoul.

 How did you begin work on your project, Outback Mythologies?

I travelled in Australia for one year in 2008. At that time, I was already into photography and made a lot of pictures in this territory called The Outback. I had been working in different cattle stations and recorded the daily life of the stockmen when I was there. I discovered as well the condition of the aborigenes in the northern territory, which made a strong impression on me. Unfortunately, I lost all the films I made. So, for the last 6 years, this project matured until I decided to go back there to make a project about the Australian Outback. Last year, I went to Queensland to document, once again, the lifestyle of the stockmen, to see how they managed the land and how they deal with the drought on a daily basis and how this problem could affect the cattle industry.

© Antoine Bruy, from the series Outback Mythologies - The White Man's Hole

Can you tell us more about how the chapter, The White Man’s Hole developed.

During my first trip in 2008, I took a bus from Alice Springs and Adelaide and went through the town of Coober Pedy, where I had a stopover. I was amazed by the manufactured landscape I discovered there. A place which looked like another planet. A flat land where millions of holes have been dug in the ground by miners to look for opal and mullock heaps in a radius of one hundred kilometres. It is a truly surrealistic place. I kept thinking about it and decieded to go back there. I met people living underground, in the dug outs. A place which inspired film makers like Wim Wenders (Until The End of the World), Werner Herzog (Where the Green Ants Dream) and of course, George Miller (Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome).

Why did you decide to divide the project into six chapters?

I want to show different issues (social, environmental, economical) related to the Australian Outback and their interconnection.

What will the other chapters be about?

The 4 other chapters I would like to make would be about the mining industry, the tourism, the legacy left by the first Australians, and their social condition today.

© Antoine Bruy, from the series Outback Mythologies - The White Man's Hole

How did you gain access to the locals in the Coober Pedy town? What has their response been to your project?

At the beginning, most of the people were a little bit suspicious and some of them were tired of journalists and photographers. But it became easier to work there when I came back with pictures I made the first time. It opened so many doors.

You seem to be very interested in documenting alternative lifestyles. What are your thoughts on that? 

That's true, I'm very interested in documenting alternative lifestyles. For a simple reason: they offer me the possibility to introduce an ambiguity into my work, which blurs the frontier between documentary and fiction and opens up a space for greater subjectivity.

Would you say you have found any similarities, in terms of society, with your previous projects and Outback Mythologies? 

Even though their strategies are different, most of the people I met who choose these "alternative lifestyles" are similarly looking for more independence towards states and modern societies.

Once you accomplish the six chapters, do you intend to publish a book? or do you have different plans?

The book is the best format I can think of for this project.

To learn more about Outback Mythologies - The White Man's Hole, visit Antoine's PHmuseum profile.

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