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Foreword to
Badlands (A Photographic Tribute) by Bernard O'Connor


One day.  We are in the present, inexorably.  The priest envisions the eternal, but the ordinary person is trapped in the existential present, able only to will an explosion.  “One day” is a day of dream, impossible for these souls on the knife-edge of confusion, desperation, release.  Even for the priest, time weighs heavy.  Will “one day” ever come?


This pain.  One character is alone.  Two others are together.  A further two are in conflict.  Each has their own pain.  The human creature is a vessel of feeling and thinking, of pain and joy, able to act and react, but unable to escape its nature.  This pain lies in the divide between self and other, and self and world.


Make sense.  Is the pain inherent in us, or a temporary intrusion?  Is it necessary, or a cruel hoax?  Is it an original sin, or a by-product of existence?  Does it lead to redemption or destruction?  Pain may or may not “make sense”, but it is a very real part of our lives, as we negotiate our way through the fire.


To you.  To you, to me, to us.  The “consciousness” of every living being is a given, not just “philosophically”, but also “actually”.  Just as the pain within someone is really only felt by them, the elimination of the pain is again only felt by them.  Life is personal, precise, non-transferrable.  Only you exist.


In this beautiful photographic homage to three classic films by Terrence Malick, Robert Bresson and Sean Penn (Badlands, 1973, Diary of a Country Priest, 1951, and Indian Runner, 1991, respectively), Bernard O’Connor name-checks the photographer Robert Frank, the writer Flannery O’Connor, and the singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen.  At first glance this may seem odd, but all these artists are connected by their respect for the ordinary man and a keen sense of “unease” they spot in the ordinary man.  (Bringing to mind Thoreau’s famous line: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”)  The placement of Bruce Springsteen in such a pantheon is also a refreshing and brave move by O’Connor.


These photographs are taken in Australia.  Again, this is odd at first glance, this quintessentially American and European content given an Australian setting, with Australian characters (and actors).  But Australia, alongside its natural beauty and overall freshness of character, does indeed possess “disturbing” landscapes, both exterior and interior: the menacing outback, the strained church-houses, the hotbed pubs.  Spaces indeed where pain resides, where people engage in passion plays, where life simmers and explodes.


O’Connor does well to bring all these disparate elements together.  This project is obviously an homage first and foremostly, but it is also a broader thing, a cultural blending, a gesture towards art being a communal, “connective” practice.

© Bill Mousoulis November 2012
This article first appeared in Badlands (A Photographic Tribute) by Bernard O'Connor, 2013.