Brisbane photographer Kara Rosenlund opens the door to Australia’s beautifully forgotten, well-lived and loved homes in her first book, Shelter– How Australians Live
Sitting down with Kara Rosenlund’s new book Shelter- How Australians Live, I finally put my finger on what it was about her photography that had always enchanted me. After following her work online as a Brisbane-based photographer and stylist (you will remember her photos from the Halcyon House feature in our last issue), it really was this book that finally made my fascination with her images clear. They are sublimely tactile. You feel the warmth from the rusty tin roof of the shack in central Queensland. You hear the lapping of the water against the barnacled jetty on the remote island you’ve never heard of before. Kara doesn’t have to tell you, through her lens, she shows you. This book, her first, truly shines a light on Kara– the storyteller– and takes her art from out behind the computer screen and onto your lap where it can be soaked in on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
It only took me one afternoon to drink in the entire book, but I still pick it up and see something new and divine each time I have a quiet moment.
Shelter saw Kara invited into the homes of Australian’s who live authentically Australian. Home’s where luxury is not a result of monetary riches, but a deep well of creativity and resourcefulness and an appreciation for the shelter than can be found in nature. For twelve months she drove dirt roads, following a trail of bush whispers that lead her to 24 unique dwellings rich with untold stories. The photographs that came from the journey show that Kara’s eye is caught by what is raw and real in a home, and her ear is pricked by the same in their owners. So used to just watching Kara’s art, this book lets you hear its voice.
I pegged Kara down as she travelled the country on her book tour, and she let us in on some of the more memorable days in putting together Shelter and what she bought back home to Brisbane.
Congratulations on the release of your stunning new book. What made you want to hit the road and explore?
Being on the road was all about celebrating Australia and the diversity of how we live. I wanted to create something that was reflective of the raw nature of shelters from coast to remote country.
I love that you didn’t head off with a set plan for your journey. Can you explain how the trip evolved as you went?
Creating Shelter was a project that grew quite exponentially and saw me travelling around the country for a year to produce the book. When I first hit the road, I decided the best way to do it was to ‘fall down the rabbit hole’ and follow it around Australia. Each home I visited led me to have conversations that evolved where I was going to visit next and everything really evolved in a lovely organic way.
You have mentioned that you were unearthing “authentic homes” for the book. What is your definition of an authentically Australian home?
A home which is at peace with the landscape and wants to be Australian. It listens to the language of the landscape, which in turn dictates a way of life with the climate and colour palette.
You are known for your impeccable styling and photography of interiors. Was there any styling involved in the images captured for Shelter or are we seeing untouched homes?
No. The authenticity, for me, was in shooting people’s homes as they were and giving people a true glimpse into their life. Changing anything would have taken away from that.
You have such a diverse portfolio of photography. What is it about interiors that catches your creative eye?
It comes back to my curiosity of how we all live behind closed doors and I love how intimate those spaces are. The home is such a sacred space and it’s always a privilege to be welcomed into others’ homes.
Despite the vast difference in their landscapes, was there any commonality in the homes your visited across Australia?
There was a level of resourcefulness because of how remote some of the homes are, but they all listened to the language of the land around them. That was a common thread – they welcomed the outside, inside.
Do you have a favourite interior or landscape from the book? What made it stand out?
Every home was a favourite. Whenever I would visit I would fall in love with the people and their way of life and many remain lovely friends of mine, who I visit and stay in contact with. In terms of actually picking a favourite, Satellite Island would be it because of the primitive beauty of nature.
What was one of your most memorable days in putting the book together?
The day after Boxing Day last year, I removed absolutely every item out of my lounge room and blew up three printers in the process of printing out all the material for the book. There was A4 paper on every surface and piece of furniture – but this was an important part of the process in bringing all the stories together.
Tell me about the types of people you met on your travels.
They were very generous people who immediately had an understanding of what I was trying to achieve with this topic of Australia. Like it did for me, it ignited a passion within them also – and I consider those people to be lovely friends. When you travel to remote and regional areas and capture people’s lives, it becomes a very emotional experience.
You have such a knack for making the mundane look exquisitely intriguing. In the book, you photographed a dirt road and turned it into art. What was your criteria for what images made it into the book, and what was left out?
They had to be emotional, they had to come from an emotional place. It was a year of trusting my instincts and it was important to get emotion into the photographs in order to have something for people to fall in love with.
Was there anything you learned on your travels that you will bring home and incorporate into your home life in Brisbane?
A lot actually. Again it’s about embracing the climate of your area, for me in my home, it has always been about having my doors and windows open. I see my native Brisbane and all of it’s weatherboards and mango trees – and find it quite charming – which I might not have noticed until now. All the tin roofs of the inner city suburbs are such a contrast and I love it.
You’re used to travelling with Frankie (a restored 1956 Franklin Caravan) with Travelling Wares (a pop-up retail space). Did you stumble across anything while photographing this book that you wish you could add to your inventory?
In the chapter Creek Bed, I loved this pair of leather armchairs so much that the owners actually gave them to me. They live with me in Brisbane now and they remind me of the kindness that I was shown.
I was driving near the small town of Gunnedah in New South Wales – as a photographer I do a lot of driving around Australia – and I ended up taking a wrong turn down a dirt track and found myself out the front of an old farmhouse, nestled in overgrown bush. The former beauty had fallen into some disrepair, with planks of the veranda falling off, and she was thirsty for a lick of paint. The old house, however, still stood strong; it looked beautiful in the light of the afternoon sun.
I wondered, what was the story of the old house? Why didn’t anyone love it anymore? What did it look like inside? I thought about these questions all the way home, for seven hours, as I drove back up to Brisbane. I had so many thoughts whirling around in my head. Someone needed to document authentic homes like this, which we take for granted. Someone had to get inside and see the interiors influenced by the Australian bush. Someone needed to love these homes. Someone needed to reconnect us with our country’s interiors. They needed to be photographed and celebrated before it was too late, and they crumbled into the earth and disappeared. That somebody ended up being me.
Extracts from the book Shelter by Kara Rosenlund with photography by Kara Rosenlund published by Lantern, rrp $59.99.