Australia’s Pilbara region is a visual delight. So why did Indian photographer Bharat Sikka choose to shoot its inhabitants instead of the landscape? Was it because the people were aching to tell stories—of themselves and of time itself?
It looks as old as time itself. Mostly red earth and a clear blue sky with myriad colours and features defining a canvas of a landscape. The visually stunning landscape—its coastal sandplain, desert and the inland uplands dotted with gorges—is perhaps the primary facet of Pilbara that enchants a visitor no end. This dry and thinly populated mineral-rich (iron ore in particular) region in the north of Western Australia has been a mystery of sorts for many, with a vividly unique geography on one hand and the native aboriginal people on the other. It gives a sense that the region, the place, the land, the people are aching to tell stories—of themselves and of time itself. Stories, that’s what got photographer Bharat Sikka hooked to Pilbara, rather than the large-scale iron ore mining for which the region is fairly well known. “I wasn’t really expecting anything in particular. I got an invite from FORM to come and explore Pilbara. I found it an extremely interesting space and it intrigued me to a great extent. It was really beautiful so I said yes,” says Sikka.
The ace photographer travelled through the Pilbara with FORM and a couple of other Indian photographers as a part of the Pilbara Project. FORM, Perth’s creative industries hub, has been documenting the culture and the history of the many communities spread across the Pilbara under this project. An exhibition of the Pilbara Project, including many of Sikka’s pictures, was recently put up in Delhi as part of the ongoing Oz Fest and the Delhi International Arts Festival. Sikka explored the region through his lens as a part of the second stage of the project, which seeks to explore Pilbara’s human capital, after the first stage of the project largely focused on the unique landscape of the region. And well, the human capital of the region has a mighty long lineage as the first people to inhabit the Pilbara and they were ancestors of today's aboriginal people about 40-50 millenia ago. “I was interacting with the aboriginal people and I’ve never experienced something of that sort before. When I take pictures I like to tell stories—about the people, the landscape,