By Lorraine Clarke
HIS LIFE in Tasmania is a far cry from the dizzy heights of international fashion photography, but Eric Manukov has never regretted moving to Launceston a few years ago.
He was born in Sydney, with Georgian heritage, and describes himself as ‘a strange creative child, a daydreamer’ absorbed with painting, art and music, whose first purchased album was jazz rather than pop or rock.
At school, he had dreams of becoming a photojournalist. Eric spent several years as a photographic stylist in the world of fashion, before studying at the Australian Centre of Photography at age 28.
‘Because I had the skill to create an image, my photography took off instantly,’ he said. ‘I could style my own photos. I worked in Fashion and Editorial for many years.’
Over six years, Eric often headed for outback Australia in a camper van to create his first big self-assigned project – Eric's Aboriginal series. He would fly back to Sydney for his commercial work, then return inland to his passion.
Representatives of five separate environments – desert, fresh water, salt water, cold climate and tropical – feature in this stunning photographic documentary that has been exhibited in Europe.
‘I kept going around the country. I met some very prominent Aboriginals. I would live in a community for about six weeks to get to know them, to develop trust and relationships.’
Eric posted photographs on his van or a tree to generate interest in what he was doing, in the remotest areas where some residents had never seen a white person and spoke no English. He travelled throughout indigenous communities, from Mornington Island in the Gulf, through the central desert, to Hermansberg, the home of famed Aboriginal painter Namatjira.
Eric hangs a dark vertical canvas as backdrop to all his portraits, and people are invited to step out of their own environment into his.
‘The person is the subject and context, not the environment,’ he explains. ‘The canvas is used to delete the background completely and remove the time-line. The intention was always to show them as a very proud people. All the photographs were taken of people in traditional tribal totem paint. I wanted to capture these totems before they were lost. It will all disappear. The series is a historical document.’
Eric holds great respect for the subjects of his hauntingly beautiful photos. He knows their names, their histories, and remembers their home lands. ‘I would wait and talk to people, and tell them what I was hoping to achieve historically. Some of the older people knew about the genocides and would not allow photos.’
Earlier photographers have captured the shaming history of our country’s treatment of its first inhabitants, but Eric had loftier aims. ‘The injustice has been covered. I don’t need to show that. I wanted to show how beautiful they are.’
All Eric’s 80 Aboriginal portraits were taken on film, and developed as silver gelatin prints. ‘I am very proud to have photographed them and printed the pictures myself as well,’ he said.
‘I was allowed in. They trusted me. That’s the number one thing I am very, very proud of.’
Pixels Gallery at Deloraine Online Access Centre is pleased to display Eric Manukov’s significant and striking Aboriginal series throughout the month of October.
There will be an evening viewing where invitees can speak with Eric about his photography and the subjects of his Aboriginal series.
Check the Gazette Facebook for the date and details, or call 6286 8216.
Eric’s website showcases all his photographic collections: www.ericmanukov.com.