Home' Afloat : AFLOAT January 2018 Contents 24 AFLOAT.com.au January 2018
do you want to learn? Lighting, posing? ’ I said, ‘I don’t want to
do any of that. I just want to talk to you, bounce stuff off you’.
“I said, ‘ I’ve been told I’m a bit impulsive.’ He said ‘no, you’re not.
You’re decisive.’ I said, ‘I’m told I’m extravagant. I spend thousands
on expensive cameras like Hasselblad.’ ‘ That’s not extravagance,’
he said. ‘ You run on enthusiasm. That’s what drives you. If ever
you lose your enthusiasm for photography, you’re stuffed. So
whatever bells and whistles it takes to keep you motivated, go for
it. That’s not extravagance, that’s an investment in your future.’
So I was well and truly motivated and I have stayed motivated.”
Richard Bennett went on to become one of Tasmania’s best-
known family portrait photographers. People came from all over
the island state to have the all-important portraits taken by him.
“I was a huge workaholic,” he said. “I would photograph
weddings on most Saturdays, and shoot family portraits on most
Sundays. I would do commercial photography during the week,
mostly in Hobart and then when people knocked off for Easter,
I would shoot four of five weddings.
“ When everybody else stopped work over Christmas, I ended
up shooting the Sydney-Hobart Race. I did work very, very hard
for very many years to be able to do just what I want to do. Now
I don’t do anything I don’t want to do.”
In late December of 1974 Richard took a fixed wing aircraft
on a scenic trip down around Tasman Island to photograph the
Sydney-Hobart yachts coming in. Later, he took a selection of
prints down to Constitution Dock where he says he showed
some yachties. With masterful understatement he described
the reaction as “overwhelmingly positive.”
In 1975 he decided to take portraits of each and every boat
in the Sydney-Hobart fleet. It was a bold decision but one which
was to pay off handsomely. “In 1975 Jim Kilroy came out from
America with his famous maxi Kialoa. We found her off Maria
Island with her red, white and blue spinnakers flying. She was
sitting up on the plane doing 23 knots.
“I took my pictures, then realised that if I went behind I’d get
the luminescence through her sails and the beautiful shadows
on the water. I took an absolutely magic shot. Just 20 minutes
behind her was another magnificent American boat, the famous
73-footer, Windward Passage flying along under her perfectly set
spinnakers. I shot her from dead astern. When the crews saw
those photographs they all wanted them. They had never seen
photography of the boats like that before. They were grateful.
So I never looked back.”
Richard Bennett is full of praise for the various pilots with
whom he has worked over the years, most notably Tas Air’s Chief
Pilot, Nick Tanner who developed special techniques for low level
flying in his single engine Cessna-172 which allowed Richard to
include some of the iconic south eastern Tasmanian coastal
landscapes in his images of the racing yachts.
“Because I had spent time at sea and had an affinity for it, I
was photographing the sea state a bit like a naturalist, capturing
the atmosphere and telling the story of the weather with a yacht
in the image. A lot of sports photographers go for the extreme
close-up shot, capturing the dramatic action, whereas I am putting
the yacht in the context of the beautiful wilderness of the ocean.
I put a great deal of time and effort into detailing the water and
the light and building the atmosphere, getting the salt in the air.”
And of course there was a great deal of salt in the air in
December 1998. In that cataclysmic event, unexpected near-
hurricane force winds and mountainous seas cost the lives of six
yachtsmen and the loss of five yachts in the Hobart Race. Seven
other yachts were abandoned and 55 sailors had to be rescued
by helicopters and ships.
Richard Bennett was the only still photographer out there,
the only one to record what became one of the worst maritime
disasters in modern Australian history. Even today, 19 years on,
his images still have the power to send shivers of apprehension
down the spines of even the most experienced sailors.
In 1984, the sea taught Bennett an important lesson. While
he was sitting in Hobart waiting for the racing fleet to arrive, over
100 competitors were knocked out in a violent storm. They never
made it and he had missed out on a great opportunity. In 1985
he changed his strategy and hired a twin-engine aircraft to fly
to Sydney and go looking for storms because as he puts it “that
is where the dramatic pictures were.”
“It was in 1985 that I photographed the pocket-maxi Starlight
Express virtually airborne in a southerly. So I went to Sydney and
paid for this twin engine Aero Commander every year from 1984.
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