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Glenn Campbell


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Homelands is a body of work consisting of photographs taken in Australian aboriginal communities in the remote areas of the Central Desert, Western Australia and Arnhem Land.

I started thinking about recording Homelands issues when I was on assignment on the Afghan/Pakistan Border in October 2001. I was photographing in a refugee camp near Quetta, full to the brim with Afghan refugees, thinking that somehow none of this was new to me….how so? Having grown up in the North West of Australia?

The smells, the children so excited, desperate for the diversion that the tall white fella provided from the crushing boredom of a life without hope, the adults, shamed into lethargy by their inability to pull themselves out of a mire not of their own making… I’d seen it before in the camps and out stations where the Aborigines had gathered on the edges of town, in the remote deserts and coastlines… refugees in their own country.

My interests in the overall concept of Homelands stems from a personal rejection of the casual racism that I was brought up with – the pressure to conform to hate and ambivalence – and a deep underlying curiosity and suspicion about my own attachment to the land, this country… How can such an attachment be valid when the first Australians are living in conditions you wouldn’t keep a dog in?

I returned to Australia with a resolve to work further in the Aboriginal communities of the Central Desert and Arnhem Land, where in the photographic depiction of the Aboriginal world all I could find was a reflection of a past that is lost and of a future without hope.

I moved to the Northern Territory in 2004 to be closer to the people and places I was driven to photograph, to find stories of hope and progress in communities where they were thin on the ground.

If successful lives are built in the Homelands, stories can be told and successful communities will follow and with that the recovery of a vibrancy in this “other Australia” that is critical to the future of my country.

Parts of this body of work were shot whilst on assignment for the Age and Sydney Morning Herald Newspapers and are used partnership with the communities involved.



Glenn Campbell does not sing country music.

What he used to do was work in a mine and regularly blow things up,he also worked in a roadhouse where he served beer to drunks, then fill their cars and send them on their way.

What he does now is travel across Australia and South East Asia from his base in Darwin, taking photographs for a living and sometimes shakes his head and really can’t believe his luck.

He is happy being where everyone else is not, otherwise what’s the point?


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Glenn Campbell


Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

59 thoughts on “glenn campbell – homelands”

  1. WHEW!!! My God, Glenn, this is a spectacular essay! I’m afraid I’m going to be absolutely no help to you in terms of a critique. I can barely catch my breath after having watched it only once and can’t wait to go back and look at it again and again. Your images are so vibrant. Yes, they are richly saturated in color and in high contrast, but it’s more than that. It literally is as if they are jumping off the screen. I WANT THIS BOOK!!!


    P.S. I gather DAH’s tight edit was touch to swallow, but man, does it work.

  2. Glenn, congratulations…..I’m impressed….nice colors, nice point of view. I can feel the heat, the sand & the atmospere!



  3. Great stuff Glenn, yes, very “DAH-esque”

    The lack of “misty-eyed romanticism” in your photos and your statement is a welcome relief from what we too often see and hear.

    What I see in these photos is a view from within, you appear to have become a part of the community.

    The problems faced by aboriginal communities in Australia are common to many aboriginal communities here in North America. I believe the very concept of “homelands/reserves”, is part of the problem.

  4. Oh my… there’s something about this essay, it caught my undivided attention on the first visualization….
    so talented… so beautiful, water movement photos, portraits… oufff, talented!

  5. Couldn’t hope for anything better to look at while eating my apple and drinking my indian tea. I love how you capture the energy of the children and the heat of their surroundings. Enormously inspiring.


  6. Wonderful Glen – photos and statement. I wanted to see more and knowing that there are more, I wish we could have seen those too. Perhaps that’s part of the key to a good edit – leaving the viewer wanting more. Some of these shots remind me of “Samson and Delilah” the movie. I guess that’s the thing about the desert light, the red earth and those always delightful kids with messy hair tumbling over fences. I was tempted to stay in Darwin after my journey to be nearer to this magical part of Australia but I know how devilish hot it can be in summer I’ll just make do with being a visitor.

  7. very NatGeo. I know it’s probably a problem of mine but I dont feel anything anymore in watching this kind of photography. However, I’m happy for once i’m not on the same line with mr Power (with whom i usually agree…).

  8. I enjoyed the photographs and thought #’s 3 and 20 exceptional. The rest are well done and provide good information. I think the warmth works and the captions are well-written and valuable.

    It doesn’t, however, work for me as an essay. I watched it several times before reading the statement and could find no particular story being told. I don’t think it’s necessary for every slideshow to tell a story. I can enjoy watching a series of related photos, particularly when they are of such high quality and were taken in such an interesting place. I enjoyed watching this one very much. But if you are trying to tell the story you allude to in the statement–one of poverty, redemption, hope and progress–then I’m just not seeing it. Perhaps I’ve seen too much rural poverty in various parts of the world (yes, definitely), but their’s doesn’t look all that bad from the photos. And progress? How to tell such a story through photos? The captions help, but I think I’d like to see a more logical progression. Poverty in the early photos, then progress. If, of course, that’s the story you want to tell.

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  10. This essay has left a sweet-and-sour taste in my mouth. The sweet one is very obvious (nothing I can add to the comments above), and the sour one……man I wish I could edit like that! ;)

    Bravo Glenn!! Incredible photographs!

  11. The photography was not always to my taste – I found the shots of children a little predictable. The concise captions meant the essay kept my attention ’til the end though. Interesting

  12. Really colourfull really powerlfull, I just love it… stunning photographs!!! congratulation Glenn and please keep them coming!

  13. Glenn, I have always loved your work and this is an affirmation as to why. I would like to see work of this high caliber on Burn with audio interviews, preferably narration by some of the people in the photos. I don’t know if you’ve gone down the multimedia road yet but I think you should consider it. It makes the work more accessible to a wider audience. I think it also makes it possible to include more photos without watering down the whole, enhances collaboration and serves to further the communicative goals of the essay itself. It ain’t easy, and I slowly work on my sound gathering skills, but it isn’t that difficult either. To me, this would make your excellent photo work sing with the rich voice it deserves.

  14. Glenn,
    this is extraordinary work!
    It feels 100 % Australia!
    Just this morning I read by chance Sam Abell’s article in an old edition of National Geographic on Cape York peninsula. I guess Sam Abell would be very pleased with your work.
    I am particularly taken with the composition and the arrangements of the kids in image 1, 15 and 20. This is very well done!
    The only picture that I don’t understand is image 9 with the dog. Hm?
    Your images give us an idea of the situation of the aboriginal people in Australia today. My impression is that not much has changed. Mysery, poverty and a sense of detachment is obvious. Tradition is a way to rediscover their identity.
    I was in Australia 20 years ago and I only had a glimpse of how the aboriginal people lived then, so I cannot judge properly, but the fate of minorities seems to stay the same. This is so sad to see. I feel it is an important issue that has to stay in the mind of the public! And I really hope we can overcome this racism towards aboriginal people. Australia is a modern country and it should have the means to support it’s first people better.
    Continue your good work and I am looking forward to see it published as a book one day!
    Glad you left the mines and the roadhouse behind and opted for the magic of the black box!
    All the best to you mate!

  15. Glenn. Glad you packed all that country singing nonsense up and picked up a camera instead. :)
    Really tight essay. Super light, and really well used. One of the first essays ive seen here where the text is in total sync with the pictures and both compliment each other. Its a powerful story, I remember reading pilger talking about the plight of the ‘first people’ and this essay shows me those people, not as some ‘anthropological study’, or in some romanticised way, but as real people. With hopes fears joys trouble, and dignity. I truly hope this work, and more like it, gets broad coverage in your country.


  16. ” ‘Sometimes,’ she said, ‘I’ll ask Old Alex to name a plant and he’ll answer ‘No name’, meaning ‘The plant doesn’t grow in my country.’

    “She’d then look for an informant who had, as a child, lived where the plant grew–and find it did have a name after all.

    ” The dry heart of Australia, she said, was a jigsaw of microclimates, of different minerals in the soil and different plants and animals. A man raised in one part of the desert would know its flora and fauna backwards. He knew which plant attracted game. He knew his water. He knew where there were tubers underground. In other world, by naming all the ‘things’ in his territory, he could always count on survival.

    ” ‘But if you took him blindfold to another country,’ she said, ”he might end up lost and starving.’

    ” ‘Because he’d lost his bearings?’

    ” ‘Yes.’

    ” ‘You’re saying that man ‘makes his territory by naming the ‘things’ in it?’

    ” ‘Yes, I am!’ Her face lit up.

    ” ‘So the basis for a universal language can never have existed?’

    ” ‘Yes. Yes.’

    “Wendy said that, even today, when an Aboriginal mother notices the first stirring of speech in her child, she lets it handle the ‘things’ of that particular country: leaves, fruit, insects and so forth. The child at its mother’s breast, will toy with the ‘thing’, talk to it, test its teeth on it, learn its name, repeat its name–and finally chuck it aside.

    ” ‘We give our children guns and computer games,’ Wendy said. ‘They gave their children the land.’ ”
    –SONGLINES, chatwin

    brother G :)))))))))…

    so happy and so proud to finally see a carve of your stiff boot here!…It’s been a lovely ride indeed, hasn’t it?…and there’s nothing here for me to add that I havent told you in private many times before over the last 2 1/2 years….and it seems I’m not the only editor to scalp you up, eh? ;)))…now you trust my one good eye, i reckon!; ))))))))))))…..

    What i love about your work (here and in all your essays) is the physicality of the light and the color, that the light and color become a character, an extension of the REAL character in all these stories, in all Aboriginal stories, in all Aussie stories, which is the land. What i love here about Uluru is that she is more than a extraordinary rock, a nipple on the earth, but that Ulruru is alive here, is a character in the story as important as the red dust, the finger-blades of light, the swatches of color and the music of the the lives casting eye-ward…..Uluru is alive, as u know, and it’s there in the pictures too….

    but what i dig about this story, just as I love sister Lisa’s work (which I hope and trust will come to Burn too), is that the story which is told is of the relationship and the importance of land in the lives of the aboriginals, not that they’ve been relegated and segmented to carved up land (as what has happened from the settlers and colonists and government) but that they are still alive of the land…and it’s there in these pictures and the celebration of that….

    aint no one ever gonna tell you you can’t lasso light (u can), or pitch spectrum bits (u can) or boomerang a shadow (after your color, i always think of shadows when thinking of your work), all of that, but in the end, what i love is that the story unfolds with a lithe bite, straight, and clear and concise and musical….all that wonderful life that has affected you and now alights in front of us….

    I’ve stood up for you for a long time, amid a lot of silence, hoping for your shot, and now im just happy to be here in celebration of you….and the hope that more will also see those gorgeous aerial pictures, the songlines carved, that also are the necessary keys to this tale….

    so happy it’s finally come here…now i can rest with a dust-click bite :)))))


  17. ALL – Thanks for your support and comments , it means a lot when you are where others are not.

    BOB – All I can say is I am glad that there is a place for both of us here on Burn, but I am doubly glad that you and your words are here.

    TOM HYDE – Multi Media ??? Yes Yes Yes here’s a few links to what I have been up to , early days still ,very early days.




    ALL – If anyone has any questions about the work please drop me a line or post here and I’ll do my best!

    Cheers and thanks to Uncle and Anton.

  18. REIMAR – I am familiar with Sam’s work on Cape York and been trying hard to get it out of my mind ever since, It’s no use shooting when you feel like you have Sam Abel looking over your shoulder.

    Your right that not a lot has changed , but things are moving at least , there is now a conversation where there used to be orders , consultation where there was once edicts.

    I hope that your current trials are’nt permanent mate.

    Thanks for the thoughts,
    Cheers Glenn

  19. John Gladdy – Mate that was the idea and I’m glad you picked up on it , there’s no point in representing any community other than how you find it – Now in the 21stcentury – not turn it into some romantic disneyland,

  20. Dan Clinch – Thanks for having a look mate , The kids are like kids everywhere , energy ,enthusiasm all wanting to be guitar heros or football stars – their experience is universal to a point and that point being is recieving the support to realise not just those dreams but the vague notion that they would like to be a hairdresser or motor mechanic and at the moment that support is just not there, the kids are the story in many ways.
    Cheers Glenn

  21. Michael Webster – True there is a plethora of images of poverty and not many pictures of an end result , but this is a process of reconcilliation that has only just started in the last 40 years , there is still a long way to go and the pics are just the story so far….from where I stand at least.
    Cheers Glenn

  22. GLENN

    This essay is especially important in the N.T considering the debate on bi-lingual education. Did you watch Four Corners last week? If not, give it a watch… Thumbs Up.

  23. Glenn

    The light on the land, and the people is fantastic.
    The long shadows speak of so much more.
    I have heard it said that a white man cant take a photo of a black man without
    looking down upon them. I dont believe that and its is clear You dont either…

  24. Glenn

    Just watch the broncos beat the dragons…than log on and saw your work…absolutely stunning
    …love the light and colours…on ya mate!!

  25. >>WOT, NO LEAPING DOG<<<

    well done glenn.. new website is looking great.. and thoroughly enjoyed this edit of your work.
    i think the dedication you have for this long term project shines through in the form of more unique moments..
    escaping cliche, i love the tender way you are working here.. it appears as though you are hanging out.. blending in.. enjoying.. and not projecting impressions upon your subjects/friends..

    good luck.. hope COMMISSIONS roll in from this showing.

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  28. Deep and rich photography. Aesthetically enticing. Quite beautiful work with what appears a complicated theme.

    Not sure if people are more up to speed with the subject than I and get it more but I am finding a need to find out more to understand. That in itself may be a good thing. It does raise the curiosity factor. I usually hope not to read text with the sets submitted on burn but in this case I needed to in order to form a better opinion on the piece’s purpose. Is photography visual verbosity ? (rhetorical) Eitherways I think the photography stands without words but whether it has a global understanding without the text i’d ponder – perhaps that is not necessary for your work. You know this best.

    I think you have done a wonderful job here and look forward to seeing more of your work.

    Best wishes for the future and hey, big congratulations on burn publication. *take bow, etc….* ;)

  29. Raw beauty and harsh poverty in combination here, which is very meaningful.
    Some clever American fellow once said that poverty has to be depicted as ugly in his country in order to serve a moral purpose, otherwise it would be subversive… There will always be folks around who are all too happy to wield the Aboriginal story as a moral lesson. I mean it as a great compliment that these pictures are subversive.
    Yes, the kid ones may be visual cliches (although masterfully done) but they are there for freshness, innocence, a reminder that nothing ages body and soul like malaise. And a reminder also that the problems are only going to be solved on the time scale of a generation.

  30. Beautiful essay Glen. I grew up in Central Queensland and did some work with a remote Aboriginal community (Woorabinda). I now live in Brooklyn, about as far removed from that time as can be, but your images transported me right back there — the land, the smells, the dust, the sweat, the sadness, the beautiful spirit of the people. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  31. Well done.

    …and here i pause…take a deep breath…think..look at the essay again, still not finding what i’m looking for but accepting that Burn is an online magazine and the essay works extremely well in this venue.

    …but for me, being so g-d demanding and insistent, disappointed that such talent, such passion failed to deliver a work that stimulates me intellectually, confounds me creatively, provokes me emotionally, excites me to do-make-achieve-be something more than i so frustratingly am. Yes, you see? i told you, i’m too g-d demanding.

    Your essay, Glen, for all its lush light, shadows submerged into opaque darkness revealing not a hint or shred of subtle mystery there, for all its exotic (to me) subject matter, for its uber-professional editing (just call me e-n-v-i-o-u-s) that sews the essay up into something like French couture (read: impeccable)…still, you fail to scratch my surface itch to know more. Apples and oranges, i know but Sean’s recent essay on North Korea managed to do all that i ask and he was forced to shoot under terrible circumstances. That he did not have unlimited access to his subject matter, was forced to work around obstacles that would have stopped me in my tracks, could not rely on the right time of day to shoot (lighting? yeah, whatever!), probably didn’t speak Korean, didn’t have a sense of the place in his DNA and yet pulled off such a provocative essay with no slick tricks up his post-processing sleeves, shooting practically blind and yet because he was thrilled, mesmerized, fascinated by his subject matter (and also capable of communicating that), so was i thrilled with every single frame. Unfair to compare, i realize…and i am sorry, but i would not be honest with you or myself if i mumbled a few flattering phrases that said, yes, you have achieved a very slick, attractive bit of eye-candy that most would want to see, read, know and enjoy. Because those phrases would have been true but would also have lied by covering up my disappointment. As so many times on Burn, i KNOW the photographer has the ability and talent to go deeper and doesn’t. Maybe you did, maybe the edit edited out all but the strongest, leaving subtlety on the cutting room floor. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why this works for everyone else, because they ARE left hungry and wanting. But my idea of being left successfully hungry and wanting comes after having already been titillated at the deepest levels i am capable of responding to a body of work.

    I apologize for asking for so much from you. You have every right to be very proud of your work and being published on Burn. I salute you. And i look forward to your next essay when you go deeper, rely less on visual polish perhaps and more on conveying something quite a bit more perplexing, controversial, and personal, something that comes from your deepest reaches. And if none of that happens i am sure you will still be successful in your efforts and your career.

    All my best

  32. I echo all the comments about beautifully done work, especially the title image. However I found the perspective a little simple, and in some ways degrading. I didn’t like the comment ” the first Australians are living in conditions you wouldn’t keep a dog in?”. Along with the pictures of inside homes that are decrepit and dirty.

    I am working on a project of this First Nations community here in Canada, which is a dazzling, beautiful place that has these same problems with healthcare and housing and a variety of other social problems. I got there after a big magazine article talking about Canada’s “National Disgrace of First Nations Housing” published photographs of inside these homes. When I stepped into the community and started telling people I wanted to take pictures they were instantly guarded, and it wasn’t until I said I wanted to photograph elders and children and traditional practices that they relaxed. Having photographs published of there messy and damaged house was beyond embarrassing.

    I could have talked my way into their homes, and come back with pictures of black mold crawling around there sofa or on the window-sill next to a newborn’s crib, but that is just perpetuating what has been happening. Sure it inspires sympathy from a handful of people, but sympathy never really changes much, even if its published in a big daily paper. What I think will change things for the better is if I make pictures that raise these people up. That make there lives fascinating, not pathetic.

    I want to look past the health issues (including a current outbreak of H1N1) and falling down houses and see that these people live on what feels like the edge of the world. Exposed to the Pacific Ocean they have been here for thousands of years, and their “reserve” is actually an old village site on and island jammed between the mountains and the sea. Instead of photographing pain I want to photograph celebration. I will be joining a young man while he and his family paddle their great canoes hundreds of KMs north to the village of his bride-to-be. Braving the seas european sailors dubbed “the graveyard of the pacific”. Or be there as they celebrate festivals. Or photograph them not as humans suffering, but humans that still have their souls burning.

  33. Mark W – Thanks and I do take it as a compliment.

    Kerry Payne – Central Queensland? I’m from Mt Isa myself!

    Kathleen – sorry and a little confused , will try to do better!

    Byron Fry – Shame that I can’t see any of your work my freind , I am in these communities at the invitation of the people who live there , they want to affect change ,they want a better life for their children and are heartily sick and appaled by the conditions that some have to live in.
    I have to disagree with your views on the effectiveness of the work being published in the media or BIG Newspapers , the fact is that the Homelands are places are very out of the way in some of the most isolated corners of a very big country and if the story is not out there and in peoples faces as a means to affect change then all we will be left with is a constructed,easily digestable lie about what life is like in the lands.
    Good luck with your canoe trip!

  34. Glenn this is lovely. Beyond. I’m fascinated by the depth of humanity you’ve captured. The tones and warmth and long shadows are wonderful.
    I would love to know some of your technical tricks. I, unlike you, truly am an emerging photographer. You my friend, have emerged. :)
    Loved this essay.
    Wish I could offer you some better feedback. I am not qualified however.

  35. I know this is a very classical way of shooting, but more and more I see photography like a medium that merit more than this…I feel strange when I read all comments, Jim reaction finally make me understood…

    I don’t know why but something miss and another disturb me.

    – miss; to see some moments while they don’t ask you to be taken, control badly and naively their images or even when they don’t know you are here shooting. I always feel your presence and it bring me really far from real life, it is superficial.

    -disturb; I am bored of all children photographs in general. Children jumping, with balls, playing, etc… and also of images that just say what they show…and honnestly I just see people playing guitar, having nice tribal graffiti, some lonely dogs, dead animals… Nothing else.

  36. JIM POWERS – Thank you for your words , I was bracing myself for your Texan Wrath , I was surprised and smiled , in my formative years as a young newspaper photographer I had many hard taskmasters and I’m sure that if I had worked for you we would have clashed , but gotten over it quickly enough!
    Cheers Glenn

  37. Glenn,

    first of all Jim points never influenced me, it just make me kindly laughing.
    I had enough respect for photographers to not be such a stupid guy!

    Probably all the positiv and ecstasy reactions pushed me to say my own thinking, in few words, because I deeply think that we are not on flickr. As far as I respect Burn, this more and more when I see the real work done and by David and also the contributors.

    About my critics, I think I saied shortly what I think. Not about the project itself, it seems to be a good spot to document, not about the text, never the text because at this “online” level it have no interest, images never have to illustrate a text to my eyes, or it mean that images are not good. I just read when it’s published, and even this sometime I never read. One photos is supposed to be able to have 1000 words…so it’s enough… I like words but in other books.

    I will check your website, but the link you sent (from imants) doesn’t work anymore! I am curious and also, as a photographer, I now perfectly that an editing can change everything.

    But what I will think after your website is another thing, here on Burn I think what I told.

    I had been doing this kind of reportage for 10 years. When I started photojournalism I would had love your work. But the photojournalists who was really surprising me 10 years ago, today, after years of personnal experiences had made some words disapeared of my own language and forgot some photographers names.

    So I re-reads your photographs and it really confirmed to me my words of yesterday, even that I would be more critical today because some editing mystake show that it’s not clear what it aim to say and be at the end.
    You know how to compose one image but something miss in this general editing and this even you had some greats images, technics and colors made some punchy photographs and honnestly I am really bored about punchy picts…those picts I loved when I was younger. Ok sometime but only and always this form make it superficial to my eyes… Keep the spot and go far…

  38. Glenn,

    You have shown us a beautiful, captivating set of images which I have enjoyed immensely. I’m left confused by some of the comments here. Sure, maybe the beauty could detract from the desperation of the subjects. Perhaps there is a different edit… But I’m guessing that you have been as exacting with the content of your images as you have been with technique that you demonstrate. For me you have hinted at enough – I don’t need to see any more pictures of grinding poverty – we all understand that now. What I want to see are images that invite me into relationship with your subject – that invite me to care. These images do that. Thank you.

  39. water..
    you brought me there..
    with them….
    dogs and all…..
    footballs and basketball……

  40. glenn, what i like about your work, is that theres very little superficial “pretender” in presenting such a place/society. usually in similar cases, the civilized eye and mind has romantic sympathy or prejudices, or both at once. beneath the prejudices lies the very intuitive judgement – perception of primitiveness and almost ortho-dox view of what is a progressive society. in your work, theres something honest, direct, without sweet melodrama or urban-man context.

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