The Photography of Peter Dombrovskis (journeys into the wild with an introduction and commentary by Bob Brown)

‘In 2007 the National Library of Australia acquired over 3,000 colour transparencies that make up the Dombrovskis archive.’

Peter Dombrovskis (2 March 1945 – 28 March 1996) was an Australian photographer, best known for his Tasmanian scenes. Peter Dombrovskis was born, to Latvian parents, in a refugee camp in Germany. He and his mother migrated to Australia in 1950, and settled in Fern Tree, a suburb of Hobart, situated below kunanyi/Mount Wellington.

Peter Dombrovskis, who was a protégé of renowned wildlife photographer and activist Olegas Truchanas (1923-1972), took photographs of the Tasmanian wilderness. Those photographs were used in Mr Dombrovskis’s annual calendars as well as in calendars produced by the Tasmanian Wilderness Society. While I don’t have any of these calendars, I do have a number of postcards featuring his work.

‘Many of us will never go to the wilderness he photographed, but into the most ordinary everyday places he brought something beautiful, contemplative and powerful.’

In late December 2017, I went to the National Library of Australia to see an exhibition on some of Peter Dombrovskis’s photographs. The National Library of Australia printed 70 of the colour transparencies it holds for this special exhibition. Most (not all) of those photographs are of remote and inaccessible parts of Tasmania. I particularly love the photographs of reflections in the remote lakes, as well as images of the Painted Cliffs (Maria Island).

But Peter Dombrovskis’s most famous photograph is undoubtedly the one entitled: Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River (c1980). This particular photograph captured what would have been lost if the Gordon-below-Franklin dam had been built. This photograph was used extensively during the last four years of the ‘No Dams’ campaign. The fight to build the dam ended up in the High Court of Australia. The High Court heard the case in 1983 and announced its decision on July 1. It found by a majority of four votes to three that the Commonwealth Government had the power to stop the dam. Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray accepted the decision, halted the dam works and the Franklin was saved.

‘Dombrovskis’ contribution to the environmental movement is profound but his technical ability and artistry as a photographer are equally celebrated.’

There are other photographs, too, of opportunistic plants clinging to life on what you might think are barren rocks, of reflections in isolated lakes, of nature absent of the impact of humankind. These are photographs to consider, contemplate and revisit.

For those with access to the National Library of Australia’s website, it is possible to see the digitized Dombrovskis collection online.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith