Broken Dreams - Dialogue with Michael Cook
In ‘Segregation - The Tram’, Cook constructs a sombre montage based on personal stories and imagery from the 60s. What were the ideas around ‘Segregation - The Tram’?
MC - It was based around Mum’s stories from what I used to hear when I grew up. For that reason I’ve used mum and her best friend. I’ve used the Brisbane tram, something that was in the backyard from my childhood. A lot of personal things are added in there. Most of the people in this series are from Hervey Bay or Cherbourg, which is an Aboriginal mission, close to Hervey Bay; and they all kind of know each other in the back tram.
Even though we didn’t have segregated trams it just represents this whole thing that was in Australia but wasn’t really recognised by a lot of people. A lot of people didn’t really see it… unless you were an Aboriginal person.
What are other elements in your process?
MC - I sometimes start with an idea, or sometimes I start with the title like I did with 'Undiscovered'. The latest one was based on Captain Cook's journals. Ideas can come up from anywhere. Sometimes you'll end up with one shot or like the latest one, fourteen.
I normally layer up. A lot of photographers do photo-journalistic photography where they go out and shoot something that's available to them... they search, find and capture the moment. My creation is starting with an idea and then building on that idea. I layer and layer until I get the finish product that I want. There are all these different steps involved from the fashion and commercial background: retouching, styling, hair and make up. First thing I shoot is the background so I can see the lighting conditions. Most of the works are layered up to create a finished project that usually has anywhere between 5 - 30 layers.
And how long does it normally take?
MC - Idea wise, I've been known to sit on an idea for a couple years. But usually if I get stuck into a project, from start to finish, 6-8 weeks.
Amongst the subdued photographs in the exhibition, is a an image that bursts of bright, warm colour and recalls scenes from the iconic Australian film, 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' . An Aboriginal drag queen, bird-like and softly quelled in brilliant yellow, stands uncomfortably in heels in the dry, iron desert. The ‘Australian Landscape’ is part of a series Cook created in 2010. He's still waiting to find the perfect location to exhibit the series and he discusses some of the personal meanings behind the project:
MC - It’s about loss of identity and finding your identity through the connection back to your land. I’ve used drag queens but it’s about finding an identity.
It’s going to take a lot longer than 200 plus years of being displaced to find our focus on the future. When it’s hard to see your ancestry it’s hard to picture and focus on the future point. We all grow up and we wonder about our past, our ancestry and we find our strength in knowing that information whatever background we come from. They’ve lost their strength through the last couple of hundred years, so the identity is not as prominent from a past issue. It’s a fairly lighthearted look. I’ve taken an ultra modern, city - Aboriginal person that practices drag and put them back in the landscape where most people think about an Aboriginal person being.