The physical devastation caused by the 2011 Brisbane floods was far reaching and obvious.Quietly, though, and with far less emphasis on it in the media, was the mental injury sustained by so many whose homes or livelihoods were submerged and destroyed. Iconic Australian nature and landscape photographer Steve Parish was among those who suffered almost overwhelming loss. But, in the years since, he’s recovered his life purpose, and he’s hoping to help others.
“One day in January 2011 it began to rain, and it rained and rained until eventually we were flooded … My partner and I, through flood and the demise of the publishing industry, went from owners of an extensive, content-rich publishing house worth millions, to owning nothing,” Steve explains.
Though as history will remind us, the story does not end there. The flood damage, while no doubt deeply upsetting, appears to have become – at least from an outsider’s perspective – a hurdle, an obstacle en route to even greater things for Steve and his art. It did, however, take a mountain of strength to move forward.
“It was the words of spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now) that began to set me free to work my way up from what I conceived at the time as a devastating loss,” Steve, now 70, tells. “I developed a string of anxiety attacks while in the field … a couple that resulted in hospitalisations thinking the old ticker was giving in. I began to observe the amount of anxiety the human race was currently experiencing.”
Truth be told, during a visit to Steve’s home, it was difficult to feel share his anxiety – quiet, secluded and shady in west Brisbane, the only noises were those emanating from the native birds perched confidently on the upstairs deck railing. They’re palpably comfortable around Steve, and vice versa. It feels good. Evidently, though, there have been times when life didn’t feel this good.
Steve talks about a lifetime of combat with mental health issues which have left him, at times, in deep depressions. These last few years especially have been a test, but again he refers back to something Tolle wrote: “You can lose something you have, but you cannot lose something you are”. It seems these words reminded Steve of his worth not solely as a photographer, but as an artist, a power and a voice for so many: for those in his age group and the younger generations; for anyone keen to learn; for those suffering mental health problems; and always for the natural environment.
In time, he dreamt up and established Steve Parish Nature Connect, designed to raise awareness and encourage conversation about the benefits that a connection to nature has on wellness of heart and mind. Nature Connect affiliates include Bush Heritage Australia and the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, a complementary combination.
“I developed a string of anxiety attacks while in the field … a couple that resulted in hospitalisations thinking the old ticker was giving in. I began to observe the amount of anxiety the human race was currently experiencing”
To kickstart the mission, Steve did what he does best. He created and has since exhibited As One, a fine art display featuring 39 incredible photographs taken around Australia. Each image has an accompanying story – we have featured two.
Like a giant maze spilling across the landscape, a myriad of minor creeks find their way to the lowest point where they become ‘as one’. A great metaphor for what has now become the ‘river of consciousness’. People begin a movement independently, which then forms one powerful collective. In this case, the many tributaries combine as Warburton Creek which then takes a 400 kilometre journey culminating in the flooding of Lake Eyre. The change the water brings to this arid landscape is one of the most stunning natural events I have ever witnessed
The best time to stalk a bird is while it is preening, they seem to enter a ‘now’ state when taking care of their plumage and can appear to be oblivious to their surrounds.
In speaking with Steve, it feels like he’s building Nature Connect to do something bigger than he’s done before, something that will have a highly relevant and lasting impact. He goes on to give his interpretation of what is considered by the media to be Australia’s imminent ‘predicament’ – the ageing population and the problems anticipated.
“I think it’s a blessing that we’re ageing, but society is getting a little bit, sort of, panicky about the supposed overabundance of elderly folk. But I don’t feel any different at 70 than I did at 30. I’ve certainly lost energy, but my creative faculties are multiplied by 50,” Steve says, counting himself among the seasoned. “In fact I consider in my 70th year, my creative thinking processes and output are at the very highest they’ve ever been.”
So what is it that is he is suggesting? Perhaps it is not so simple as saying older people are misjudged and stereotyped, but that too many are too quick to accept the boxes they are placed in, left only to worry about the future. We hear many stories about loss of purpose, uncertainty and even depression in the weeks, months and sometimes years that follow retirement, and if nothing is done to alter this pattern then we are only bound to hear more.
“The life choices we make, especially those made up to and around our mid-twenties, are those that may set up the pattern for rest of our lives,” Steve says. “They certainly did for me.” Recalling the story of his ‘connection’ with a lion in the Adelaide Zoo as a young boy, it’s clear Steve’s passion to connect with nature has never diminished. And it’s brilliant that now, after so many years and a successful career, he has chosen to bring that passion and purpose into the present for others, age aside, to experience with Nature Connect.
“We are as young as we feel, we are as buoyant as we feel,” he says.
“I think it’s a blessing that we’re ageing, but society is getting a little bit, sort of, panicky about the supposed overabundance of elderly folk.”
As part of Steve Parish Nature Connect, Steve is taking his knowledge of the camera and related technology around Australia for seminars and workshops. To discover more about Nature Connect, and to see the full As One gallery,head to www.steveparish-natureconnect.com.au