Medford Taylor


I could hear the fatal thump of rabbits under the wheels of the big Land Cruiser as it hurtled through endless clouds of bulldust, up the Birdsville Track. Jock Makin, the Aussie writer, was driving us the 1,100 kilometers from Adelaid to Birdsville, into the ‘red heart’ of Australia.

In 1860 the explorers Burke & Wills died in the first attempt at this journey. Extremely jetlagged and disoriented, I secretly suspected this might be our fate as well. We did arrive in Birdsville, population 80, where I was welcomed by the entire police force…..Sgt Bob Goad. At the Birdsville Hotel/pub he revived me with the coldest most welcome ‘stubbie’ I ever drank and we remain friends to this day.

It began as a National Geographic story on the Simpson Desert and evolved into The Simpson Outback, life on the cattle stations at the edge of the desert. Once published, this story then led to a later one, Dog Fence. The Dog Fence, or ‘dingo barrier fence, stretches 3,307 miles across Australia’s interior and exists solely to stop dingoes, Australia’s wild dogs, from killing sheep.

Stuart Nunn was the manager of Anna Creek Station, the classic Aussie who, if this were a movie would be played by James Arness of Gunsmoke fame. Anna Creek was the size of Belgium and the last cattle station to muster cattle with horses. It’s all done with helicopters and dirt bikes now. After a huge steak from a freshly killed bullock, the ringers sat quietly around the campfire and talked of horses, cars, girls and dreams of yesterday and maybe tomorrow. I fell asleep in my swag on the desert floor under millions of low hanging stars to the sounds of Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks and Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Some random thoughts about my great adventure in the outback:



Fred Brophy’s Boxing Troupe was the last of the old time traveling shows and the tent was 30 years old. On the Sandringham muster, John the cook asked me “is Africa in America or Ireland?” I was camped alone by the Rock of Ages waterhole, dinner was pork & pineapple curry and Cognac; and I awoke at 4:00 AM to the screams of a screech owl, so I went for a barefoot moonlight walk in the soft sand of the dried riverbed. Owen Pannycan is an Aboriginal stockman who claims to be 100 years old but admits he doesn’t really know for sure. I gave “Stretch” my new Swiss Army knife. He was the best ringer in the whole outback. I’m getting the ‘wearies’…….the truck won’t start……bad glow plugs…….and another puncture. The satellite phone is down and the story is in trouble back in Washington. Fixed my tripod with Superglue and gaffer tape and wait for a baby to be born in Quilpie but the baby is too slow…….gotta go. Not so happy birthday changing another flat on the Birdsville track.



Bushflies, bulldust and too many blown tires but ‘no worries mate’. The desert is uncluttered solitude and I’m learning to live alone quite well in this “clean well lighted place”. On Christmas Day at dusk on Kangaroo Island, I found a perfect magpie feather.


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Medford Taylor

41 thoughts on “Medford Taylor – Bulldust”

  1. G’day Medford, I remember some of the photographs from Nat Geo – and that’s a compliment as it was some time ago. It’s hard to imagine a cattle station the size of Belgium but I remember a friend telling me that he once stopped at a gas station in the outback and realised that whichever way he looked, there was not a living soul for hundreds of miles. he said that he never felt so alive. That bull dust looks bloody lethal though!

    Thanks for the photos, mate.


  2. Medford love your intensity. your ‘digging in’
    your gentle manner and entrance into this world i’ve never seen but am experiencing through your pictures.

  3. Clearly not an emerging photographer, but really good stuff none the less, as would be expected. The “NatGeo” look, for sure. Excellent photos, interesting as a photo essay.

  4. Worked out in the scrub in the 70’s with the miners or land rapists as we know them here ……..Over saturated colours make it all too nice and glossy ………. a long way from how the reality. The colours literary take the heat out that dirty, dusty, grimy work the lads do but most wouldn’t trade it for any other……….except for mining these days as the wages spiral.

  5. I adore #12..
    the music…
    tappin’ my foot along..
    guitar pickin’….
    great photographs

  6. god damn Medford! such great work. a real pleasure to look at these, and especially with the music.

    i remember walking down the street with you in Oaxaca a few years ago and two things that you said really stuck with me…you were talking about your work in the Outback and mentioned how before you left, Sam Abell said something like, “you’ll get the pictures, but they’ll be LOTS of time in between.” The other thing was you how excited you got when talking about serendipity. Your favorite word in the english language i remember you saying! I think about those two things simultaneously all the time, and, with very little experience making pictures at the time, it really enriched my appreciation for the process of photography and still does.

    hope all is well and best to you amigo.


  7. I get imants’ point about the saturated color, but I don’t think the story imants wants told is the one the photographer chose to tell. I see it as a romance, not as a hard hitting journalistic exposé or even straight documentary. The saturated colors romanticize the subject. The photographer thinks it’s beautiful and portrays it as such. One can, of course, consider the question of freshness in this approach to this story. This is tried and true, as they say. It’s not something else.

    I could, of course, be wrong about that. When faced with photographing in wide open spaces with merciless suns, the saturated color approach is probably the easiest way to get appealing photos. Other methods — black and white, infrared, blasting the highlights, capturing the flatness of light from the noonday sun, balancing flash, etc. — are more difficult to pull off. David has told us of the effort he went to to get that one great hi-side photo of the young woman on the beach. Imagine getting 25 of them.

    Does that matter? Do we use light to tell the story we want to tell or is the story dictated by the light? Perhaps the answer is never 100 percent either way, but I think this photographer used the available light in a variety of very accomplished ways to tell an interesting story. Bottom line: I’m enjoying it.

  8. The American cowboy, the American west, including the Indian cowboy – all of which I am familiar with in real life – but not America at all. Australia.

    I think the photographer captured what was before him exceedingly well. He told us of the ruggedness of the life, and of the threats to that life and to the land and the animals that live upon it.

    Superb, Medford – and excellent choice of music.

  9. The landscape out there is a lot more subtle and creeps up on anyone who is out there definitely a TT approach here ..photopgraphically

  10. skiwaves – yes! You are right! I had meant to comment on that cat, but somehow I forgot. That picture alone qualifies as any essay, impo.

  11. Sidney Atkins

    Yes, I too remember a number of these photos from an old NGM special issue on Australia. They’re just as fresh and as interesting as when I first saw them.

    Thank heavens somebody still takes pictures like this. And is not afraid of color.

    As for “saturated colors” or “romanticism”… maybe that’s just what it actually looks like out there…???(!!!)

    I spent a fair chunk of my life in the rural American West, very poor and doing dirty and hard manual labor for $2 an hour… I suppose some people might say that in the beginning it was a “lifestyle choice” but once you’re there survival is the paramount issue. But most of the people I knew there responded deeply to the land they lived on and its moods, were entranced by its admittedly often harsh beauty, and drew sustenance from it that no “city people” I’ve ever met could really understand. These pictures don’t look like a “tourist destination” to me but like a familiar place I used to live in (and sweat in, and get filthy in, and dog-tired, and not have enough money to buy my own beer at the local bar in)… but it’s the color and the light that feel most familiar, that lend reality to the pictures for me. To portray such a place without those colors and light strikes me as a very strange enterprise.

  12. maybe that’s just what it actually looks like out there…???(!!!) No it is all in the image making with a yellow cast to boot

  13. Maybe that’s what it actually looks like out there? Well, maybe if you catch the light just right when the sun is getting low and have a flash in hand, but when you’re out sweating in the dust on a 105 degree day, it looks quite different. Nothing wrong with the romantic approach for a cowboy piece. Some stories can be told over and over again without losing their sense of wonder. Everything doesn’t have to be straight documentary. There’s room for tall tales about cowboys and rugged beauty for beauty’s sake. And color through the right eyes tells its own story (see #9). I like this work. No negative criticism intended (though if I had to, I’d say #3’s a bit much).

    Looking back at my previous comment though, I see I botched it regarding where I placed the term “balancing flash.” Meant to include it in the saturated colors part, not the alternative approaches part.

  14. It’s a nearly universal story that goes back to the dawn of human civilization, hence I suspect, it’s appeal.

  15. Heritage is different but as you are American centric you just don’t understand subtlety and difference……… still the colours are digital Photoshop games in this series not light.

  16. Ah, more personal attacks from imants. I can understand and feel compassion for your self-loathing and sociopathic disrespect for others, but I find it disgusting on an entirely different level how you constantly shit all over David’s web site, especially considering how much he does for you. I know for a fact that many people have either quit commenting here, or just don’t, because there’s always a good chance you’ll jump on them with your nasty little attacks. David and others constantly make excuses for you, saying you’re a nice guy in real life. Well, if that’s the case, you should consider examining your online behavior and try to return some of the respect and benefit of the doubt you’ve been shown by David and so many others on so many occasions. Why can’t you let people interested in photography have interesting chats about photography without feeling the need to launch petty personal attacks?

    As for your interesting point about photoshop games rather than light, maybe a little, but I think not so much. One can certainly get that saturated effect with that kind of light in camera if one knows how to go about it. David has made a good part of his career doing just that and there are many excellent examples in the Rio project. Do you think his work is just tourist trap shit that’s nothing but photoshop?

  17. IMANTS … MW

    first off , i have never saved a picture in Photoshop EVER…i have no idea how to use Photoshop…a great tool but i do not use it…i am a transparency film shooter by trade…i get it in the camera…click that’s it….you may also inspect my raw files anytime….the light in my work is the light that was REALLY THERE…sure, carefully chosen perhaps, maybe not everyone’s color palette choice, but mine…

    by the way, i too have worked in the Aussie outback…the light is a blaring killer for 90% of the day…somebody COULD choose to overexpose and do it that way..fine, maybe somebody will…but Allard and Medford and Glen Campbell and many others have chosen this palette…i fail to see the difference between choosing this pallet Imants and all the stuff you do in Photoshop with all of your imagery….i like what you do….but why suddenly others must show “how it really is”, when you have free reign and totally support a manipulated image?? when i remember the outback, i remember it pretty much the way Medford has it here…and i fail to see how this is somehow Americancentric…we in America love Aussiecentric including your often brilliant work…can’t we just all get along??

    cheers, david

  18. Not a personal attack I stated that you are taking it from a American perspective and that what is here is from a very different heritage. This is something that you are not accepting. Come out here and you will see that the subject matter interaction with the light though harsh is a lot more subtle. I really disagree that this essay is a reflection of what is out there.

  19. I never stated that the work was Americancentric I stated that mw’s responses are Americancentric.

    I didn’t state that he or anyone cannot take images in this manner just pointed out the effects of the colour palette used and backed it up
    I “Over saturated colours make it all too nice and glossy ………. a long way from how the reality.The colours literary take the heat out that dirty, dusty, grimy work”
    “The landscape out there is a lot more subtle and creeps up on anyone who is out there “

  20. first off , i have never saved a picture in Photoshop EVER…i have no idea how to use Photoshop
    sorry to interrupt but I have close memories of North Dakota..
    I can guarantee to ALL that there is NO PHOTOSHOP installed in David’s laptop..
    Dead serious!
    That was my first question I asked him in that North Dakota coffe shop:
    “Dude!!??? it’s 2012 and you still have no photoshop ? Like not even an older version??!!”
    No, nope, nada…
    I’m a witness!!!!

  21. I don’t know where I mentioned David in reference to photoshop in this thread……..please indicate where if I have

  22. I “Over saturated colours make it all too nice and glossy ………. a long way from how the reality.The colours literary take the heat out that dirty, dusty, grimy work”
    “The landscape out there is a lot more subtle and creeps up on anyone who is out there “
    I’ll have to agree on this one..! it’s a point for sure

  23. And Mike ii think Imants is a great guy…
    I met u personally and u know my feelings about u too :)), positive,
    But I think that Imants did not cross a line with his theories…
    Mine, his, your theories are welcomed and always subject to scrutiny and examination…
    But I think we got rid of hostility few years ago..
    ( ha ha, and I was – coincidentally- causing most of it… Lol)…
    Good Ol’days!!! Glory days..
    But yeah point is: let’s leave defense behind us and let’s move on with supporting our case whichever/whatever it is..
    Love and peace
    And thank you all for the “food for thought”.. I was starving as usually..

  24. I’ve lived and worked in the area where Medford shot that series…and I remember it well…seeing his take on my familiar was an inspiration to me as a youngster and probably stayed with me as I was figuring out the possibilities of a life making pictures somewhere where the light is so oppressive and all encompassing, where the success of a whole week, hundreds of kilometers and hours spent getting to know people can be measured in 1 picture in the afternoon where the outback has reluctantly given up a jewel.
    When you are 1 of 2 people in a hundred square miles, and the other one thinks you are a soft handed city type , photoshop is the last thing on your mind…don’t need it.

  25. Powerful and in your face.
    I know it sounds like a corny movie review…yes, yes… but that is just how I feel. Honestly.
    Great work!
    I can see this over and over again and not get tired.

  26. I enjoyed this essay and it’s also nice and long, as I am usually left wanting more. Isn’t this light just standard early morning and late afternoon magic light with the saturation pushed up a little? Probably the light is a little too glorious for what I’m absolutely certain is a very tough life and job.
    Hey taking photos without being dependent or tied down to Photoshop must be so very liberating. I’ve always found messing around with my images a real drag and I think I’ll give this a try. I bet it will be rather like the same experience I suffered when I spent years playing electric guitar with a load of effects like wah wah, delay (echo), reverbs, distortion and switching to nothing else but an acoustic guitar.  Then realizing I wasn’t as good as I thought and hell that was a nasty shock, so hard to play something “real”without all the fanfare and flashy extras. I felt like giving up everyday for nearly a year and then suddenly I forgot my “crutch”.

  27. What a great body of work. Powerful, beautiful and interesting – transports me to a place I’ve never been to. Shows me a unique way of life through a unique artist’s eye. Great music too. The colour argument going on here is a waste of valuable discussion space, because of the spirit dampening tone, not because it isn’t interesting to discuss aesthetic values or perception or whether photographs are ‘transparent’ showing reality, or even the vision of a viewer, crystal clear through their delivery of words, versus the vision of the artist.. for a photograph is a work of art, not pure reality – even on film, even without photoshop. If you want only the reality and no soul or style, just go travelling with open eyes and no camera. But even then, your view will be tinted by your life and your character. A good photograph surely shows the photographer’s vision, one human’s portrayal with his camera, his history and his dreams. I like this particular vision a lot. And the portrayal. Just love the atmosphere in no 23, 12 and 36, and the juxtaposition of hard and soft subject matter. And the cat at the bar is a true gem.

  28. DAVID, ANTON and DIEGO….Thank you for your patience and unheralded backstage work in producing this essay and Burn magazine everyday. To the Burn readers who have so graciously commented, a sincere thank you also. It is gratifying to see that your work can have another life and not just die with the expiration of an issue of a magazine.

    I often marvel at how ‘ideas’ have been the magic carpet that flew me off to many strange and wonderful ‘life-adventures.’ Today, I looked back through the Burn archives and I marvel at how David’s ‘idea’ has, in a very short time, become a much respected and emulated, avant-garde international magazine. Good on you mate and all those of you who have played a part in this incredible Burn adventure.



    i think we might as well tell this group the truth (yup it hurts)…the fact that we both were newspaper boys for the same newspaper in Norfolk when we were kids, long before we were to later meet in grad school at the University of Missouri grad school of journalism when you had just come back from Vietnam and Sue was pregnant and Cliff Edom hated us both for being revolutionaries and drinking cokes and laughing with girls in the darkroom almost got us kicked out of school before we landed newspaper jobs in Houston and Topeka and before we both shot for Time Magazine and then ended up traveling around the world for NatGeo and getting stoned when we met when not on assignment and i slept on your sofa during divorce and well the party was on and well i am exhausted just telling this much of it…..relax,i will stop it here..won’t go into Honduras trip…no won’t…save that for the movie..sorry Medford, but you mighta known this would happen..

    beautiful work here Medford , which for sure you know i have long well appreciated….and somebody above mentioned you were obviously not an emerging photographer which i am sure made us both laugh…in the very best sense you are emerging and i cannot wait to show the folks here someday your Mexico work and i for sure mostly wait to see your next…you keep on keeping on…who could ask for more…

    abrazos bro, david

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