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OUTBACK: Paul Freeman's Most Poetic Photographic Monograph
on August 15, 2009
Paul Freeman's gifts as a photographer have been seen in many books - this is his fifth solo monograph and he is also featured in other well known books of photography - and yet this particular book, OUTBACK, marks a new standard of excellence for Freeman's talent. In a brief but as usual insightful introductory comment by expert David Leddick, the purpose of this large collection is lauded: according to Leddick, Paul Freeman has taken the usual approach to capturing the male nude from that of semi-artificial 'shaved and polished' tropes in studio settings or squeaky clean environments to the other end of the spectrum. That is, Freeman has concentrated on the personalities of men at work and men as men and has found the perfect setting for capturing this new look - the Australian Outback. While this book continues to celebrate the beauty of the male form, it also steps into the poetic arena of sharing the day to day lives of men isolated from society in general, men performing acts of tending the land and the flora and fauna of the vast reaches of raw Australia. And in keeping with this approach Freeman begins his survey with his very fine poem about the pioneer like atmosphere of the scantily inhabited setting he has chosen to present his special images of men at work.
Does this change of emphasis away from the dramatically lighted oiled and shaved muscle men and toward the casual view of scruffy men at work and relaxation on ranches work? Absolutely! In OUTBACK Freeman's skill has allowed the viewer to observe men as men - at work and at play - all in the setting of the spectacular beauty of Australia's 'last frontier'. These magnificent 'models' are seen shearing sheep, riding trucks, motorcycles, machines, tending horses, taking breaks from work in the barns, lying in the mud after rainfall, working the soil, and while we follow this group of men during the hours of toil Freeman invites us to gain acquaintance with the men, discovering personalities as well as complete views of the men both in work garb and in the buff. These a swarthy men, rarely shaved, at one with nature - a fact that makes them even more sensual in the natural flow of the environment, the weather, and the camaraderie of working and playing together.
Another aspect that makes this survey of the male is his sensitive use of color: sepia toning for the muddy scenes and careful use of development techniques add a timeless feeling to this superb collection. Yes, the photographs are in color, but in Freeman's artistic hands the colors are either muted or sensitized, depending on the atmosphere of the image. There is nothing that feels posed in these images of men: the works on every page give the sense of the photographer (and hence the viewer) as a welcome quiet observer of a very special collection of virile, highly sensuous men at one with nature. For this viewer this is the finest of Paul Freeman's books to date and one of the most unique and original monographs of the male nude yet published! Highly recommended for a very wide audience. Grady Harp, August 09