Passion transcends the photo

By Edward Tse

More recently, Mel Gibson invited Duncan to shoot a series of stills on the set of his new film, The Passion of the Christ.

I stumbled across the Ken Duncan Gallery in Sydney, Australia by accident while walking around Sydney Harbour, home to the famous Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The gallery was packed with people who had come to see Duncan’s newly published prints from The Passion of the Christ.

Walking into the Duncan Gallery, the first thing I noticed were huge plaques engraved with biblical quotes like "for since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine natureƂ—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all men are without excuse." Clearly, the man is religious, but why would Duncan risk mixing religion with his profession?

To get to the bottom of the matter I purchased a DVD of photographic tips, Creative Photography Made Simple by Ken Duncan.

First, Duncan discusses the all-important question "why do you want to do photography?" For some, it’s to make money. For others it’s to remember salient life events and friendships. For Duncan, the motivation is a little different.

"I believe the motive should have a greater purpose than mere selfish gain," he explains. "My goal and passion as a photographer is to show the beauty of God’s creation so that people may look beyond the self. I’m just an average photographer with a great God."

Duncan was not always a religious, patient man, however.

In the DVD, Duncan describes a situation in which he had been hiking in the bush for about five days to get to a particular waterfall. After reaching the site, Duncan set up his equipment to capture the waterfall when a person in an ugly canoe came rowing into the middle of the shot.

"Argh, you’re ruining my shot!" Duncan recalls saying.

He took the shot anyway, waited for the canoe to move, and took the shot again. When he developed his pictures, it turned out that the one with the canoe created a better sense of dimension than the one without.

Another time, Duncan–along with photographic teams from MTV Australia, MTV France and the Blue Sky film crew–was hired to shoot a Midnight Oil cover photo for Rolling Stone magazine. Duncan was told he had priority on the shoot, but during the first day fights broke out over the best positioning of cameras.

To avoid creating more tension, Duncan told the other photographers he would work around them, as long as they gave him the last half of the last day to photograph by himself–he had to have peace when getting the shot.

On the final day, at 9 a.m., it was 40 degrees in the shade and getting hotter–so hot that the heat from the ground was transferring through Duncan’s leather shoes and burning his feet.

"Well, the weather’s not looking good is it?" remarked fellow photographer Richard Wilkins. "You’re going to shoot a Rolling Stone cover, right?"

At 3 p.m., the sky was dark and grey, but Duncan still felt the time was right to take the shot.

"It’s not looking real good Ken," someone laughed.

Then, a huge wind swept the scene, blowing a hole in the clouds, letting warm light stream over Midnight Oil, revealing a small rainbow over the head of Peter Garrett.

The Midnight Oil photograph earned Duncan the International Music Photographer award and taught him that because there was no way he could control nature there had to be something bigger than himself.

"Not to get religious on people ’cause the world doesn’t need more religion," he explained, "but I believe when you see these beautiful sunsets it just opens you up to [the thought that] there’s something more than just me."

For more information on Ken Duncan visit


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