March 16 2011
The landscape photography of Peter Dombrovkis captured the rugged beauty of Tasmania’s highlands. His landscape photos were than just art, they became part of the political struggle to preserve outstanding areas of wilderness.
Dombrovkis played an important role in bringing environmental impact as a consideration of major developments in his adopted home of Tasmania.
Dombrovkis was born into the man-made chaos and devastation of Europe at the end of the Second World War, a conflict that claimed the life of his father. His mother, Adele, left the devastation of Europe behind and ended up in Australia’s southern island state, Tasmania.
Adele chose a house on the fringes of Hobart; squashed between the broad expanse of the Derwent River and the looming Mount Wellington. Houses in Fern Tree nestle in bush on the mountain’s foothills. This combination of bush and mountains dominated Dombrovkis’s life, much as the mountain dominates the city.
Adele and the young Peter fled from man made trouble and fell in love with an island where areas of inhospitable highlands shelter the fertile lowlands from the weather’s worst ravages. The weather is particularly savage when the wind blows from the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Nature’s savage forces discourage all but the most ardent from venturing in to admire, or despoil the rugged beauty. Tasmanian highland wilderness lacks the brashness associated with tropical abundance, rather the long struggle in a harsh climate fashions character, texture and shape.
Olegas Truchanas, another legendary Tasmanian wilderness photographer, acted as a father figure for Dombrovkis when he reached adolescence. Dombrovkis learnt the skills and passion for the wilderness. Truchanas’s part in the unsuccessful campaign to save Lake Pedder from flooding left a lasting impression on Dombrovkis. The flooding of the isolated lake to become part of hydro-electric power scheme sparked a struggle that was the genesis of Australia’s environmental movement.
Eschewing the popular 35mm cameras favored by bush walkers for the their compact size and light weight, Dombrovkis carried a large format Linhoff camera and tripod through the rugged Tasmanian highland wilderness. Naturally, the film stock was heavier and bulkier than 35mm film, and he carried it all on his back, along with supplies, tent and sleeping bag. This passion and dedication show in the widely acclaimed results. Not only are there sweeping renditions of the landscape, but pictures of minute detail within the landscape.
Following in the footsteps of Truchanas, Dombrovkis made a major contribution to the political debate in the early 1980’s surrounding a proposal to dam the Franklin, a wilderness river, to generate electricity. The leader of the state government at the time described the Franklin as a “brown, leech ridden ditch”. Dombrovkis’s iconic haunting image of morning mist at Rock Island Bend on the Franklin showed the great beauty and majesty of the area, marking worth leaving as untouched wilderness. This image featured in the Wilderness Society campaign centred on the 1983 Australian federal election.
In 1996 Dombrovkis died as he lived, on another photographic expedition in wild from heart failure.
The Australian National Library has on online collection of his work.
Dombrovkis, Peter. Dombrovkis, A Photographic Collection. Sandy Bay: West Wind Press, 1998