Port Kembla Steelworks and Surrounds : a photo-portfolio
The vast scale and complexity of Port Kembla’s industrial plant is difficult to grasp, let alone convey. It is said that processing the iron ore takes place over an area equivalent to seventy football fields!
The upside is: there’s plenty of material to photograph.
These days industrial photography presents a unique set of challenges, some of which are the need for safety. Steel capped boots, gaiters, high-viz jacket, gloves, goggles and hard-hat must be worn. Worker’s protection is taken very seriously. This said, there were many times that I wished for less restrictive gear. Often I would have liked to see what I was doing — ‘auto focus’ being a frequent saviour!
And then there are the environmental challenges themselves: low lit interiors punctuated with glare may result in unsatisfactory exposures; at times the heat and humidity is stifling; loud noises, alarms or shrieks, ring out over a background of low frequency rumbles; the smell of sulphur from coal dust assaults the senses and lingers in clothing fabric; grit and grime (known as swarf) are ever present.
Given this relatively high level of personal discomfort, what drives, indeed intoxicates the photographer? Firstly, this is a unique built environment. ‘Form follows function’ is a principle associated with 20th-century modernist architecture — yet even in Sullivan’s day there were always concessions to fashion and ‘aesthetic appearance’. An industrial plant’s planning is driven by the pragmatic demands of process — raw materials ‘in’ and product ‘out’. Beauty here, is the result of brutal efficiency. At a more intimate scale, primary forms of spheres, cylinders and cubes interacting with steel columns, trusses and staircases are dramatic photographic subjects. The truth is, there are many, many possibilities. On my first visit, the visual opportunities seemed almost overwhelming.
Industrial plants don’t run themselves (yet). I was immediately impressed with the workers — to a person they were helpful, capable, conscious of their responsibility and always alert to safety. Their portraits are integral to this ‘Port Kembla’ project.
My second and final visits sought more distant images — attempting to convey context. Field note on Lunar New Year, 2019:
Cloud cover renders the sky coal black.
Sodium lights tinge the night canvas orange.
Drive into the darkness seeking gargantuan steelworks.
The beast lies, vast carcass, huge appendages.
A sleeping dragon with rasping breath.
Fire belches from twin nostrils, warnings ring out across the ether.
A locomotive rushes on elevated rails.
The dragon blows angry clouds of white-hot steam.
Then, relieved, settles back into another cycle.
Gasping and rasping continue unabated.
Dawn signals the resumption of the drama,
An endless sequential performance.
It has been a privilege to photograph the Port Kembla steelworks and surrounds. BlueScope staff afforded informed access and guidance around the plant — without which, these photographs would not have been possible.
Adrian Boddy, March 2019.
Adrian Boddy is a well-known architectural photographer. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Architecture and Master of Applied Science, and is the former Director of the Architecture Program at the University of Technology Sydney, where he taught for twenty-six years.
Adrian has lectured widely in Australia and internationally. His special interests include architectural design and photography, and wrote his Master’s thesis on the photographer Max Dupain.
Adrian is a frequent contributor to art and architecture exhibitions including Japan : Australian Perspectives (2015), The Unity of Art and Life : Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin (2013), and In Paradise : Artists of the Northern Beaches, (2009). He was honoured with a major retrospective, titled Body of Work, at the Justin Art House Museum (JAHM), Melbourne (2018).