Captured: images of a gifted country

PHOTOGRAPHER John Elliot sits listening to a young busker who has escaped the heat of the day outside and found himself a quiet spot under a group of photographs in the foyer of Ray Walsh House. 

As the young busker strums I was only 19 he becomes the newest image of the John Elliot Gifted Country exhibition, which spans 30 years of Australian country music history.

“The older I’ve got, the less gear I carry and the better my pictures have gotten,” Elliot said.

The well-known photographer and storyteller is a festival stalwart. He remembers hitchhiking into town back in 1978 with his camera slung over his shoulder and says he’s only missed three since then.

The official photographer for Slim Dusty for many years, his images focus on Australian culture, the bush and all things music.

Officially opened yesterday, the exhibition features 32 images of the stars of yesterday, today and tomorrow and features a five metre long portrait of Slim Dusty and Dame Edna Everage, greeting visitors as they walk into the cool of the foyer.

Interested people can share a yarn with Elliot every morning at 9am from Monday-Friday during the festival where he will talk about some of his best stories from years on the road.

He will be joined by guests Chad Morgan, 8 Ball Aitken, Dean Perrett and Graeme Connors, who have all felt the glare of John’s lens at some point ... and some many times.

John said the reason behind the exhibition is a life-long love affair with all things country music. “It’s my way of saying thank you to the artists for the music,” Elliot said.

“I fall in love with everyone I photograph.”

Elliot is also one of the judges for The Leader’s photo competition Best of the Fest and said a bit of preparation is key when it comes to photographing the festival.

“Make sure you go out with an empty memory card and a fully charged battery,” he advised.

“It’s amazing how many people will see a great shot and won’t be able to take it because of those reasons.”

He said it was best to get down on the same level as your subject and take plenty of pictures.

“Remember you only have to show your best, no one has to know how many you take to get that one great shot,” he laughed.  Tamworth Regional Council business events officer Catherine Burton said the exhibition added another element to the festival.

“It’s a chance to come in, have a bit of peace and quiet and enjoy these amazing images,” Ms Burton said.

She said her personal favourite was the one of the late Stan Coster sitting down next to a campfire, saying the image reminded her of the famous Australian bush painting by Frederick McCubbin.

Elliot said the image was based on a famous song By a Fire of Gidgee Coal.

“He was a legend, Stan, he wrote 74 songs for Slim Dusty,” he said.

“I tried to capture the essence of that song.”

The Gifted Country exhibition is on every day during festival from 8.30am to 5.45pm. Talk with John every morning from 9am - Monday-Friday.

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