The 26th of October 2019 will be a day forever engraved in Martin Von Stoll’s mind. The iconic shot of Martin’s two children standing on the beach at Black Head watching the fire approach while the area is engulfed by thick flame and heavy smoke is raw, confronting, yet beautiful, and has now been viewed by thousands of people around the world …
Hi Martin. Please introduce yourself and share your connection to the Manning-Great Lakes area?
Hi, my name is Martin Von Stoll, and I am 44 years old. I’ve been happily married for 24 years, and we have four beautiful children and a dog. Our family lives in Diamond Beach, NSW.
How long has photography been a passion for you, and what was it that inspired you to pick up a camera?
I’ve been taking photos for the past 38 years, and it all began for me when I was six years old. Our family would make the annual trip from country Victoria to Melbourne to then sit together with uncles, aunties, cousins and grandma for hours in front of my uncle’s slide projector, looking at photographs of their holidays throughout the year, while he gave a running commentary with elevator music coming from who knows where … but as a young kid, it was like going to the movies.
So, I decided from that point on to save my pocket money, and I bought my first camera, a used Hanimex 110 DF in 1984 at the age of nine. I grew up with film cameras and film wasn’t cheap back then for a young kid, so I quickly had to learn to take my time before taking the shot, analyse the scene or subject for the best composition, check the lighting, adjust the camera settings and hope all the elements would come together to capture a beautiful image. Sometimes it worked, and I would get a few keepers; most of the time, my images from a roll of 24 ended up in the bin. But it was my determination to get it right and a passion for photography at a young age that gave me the drive to keep going and not give up.
This past month, your iconic photograph has been shared and viewed countless times around the globe. What’s it like to have your work acknowledged in this way?
There has been so much incredible feedback, and this inspires me to pick up my camera each day. I understand people like to show their appreciation for what they see in my photos; however, as a kid, I was shy and to some extent that has stuck with me all my life. I guess that’s why I prefer to be behind the camera and not in front of the lens. May I say a huge thank you to everyone who has reached out to me with their kind words of encouragement.
Your shot is confronting yet beautiful. What were your thoughts when you were taking this photograph?
This is a day many of us will never forget: the 26th of October 2019. My two boys and I went down to the beach at Black Head to try and get some information from the RFS as to the developing fire that was approaching. While we were there, I saw a few people standing on the beach watching the fire approach from a safe distance.
Being a photographer, I had my camera with me, of course, so while my boys were playing in the shallows of the ocean, I decided to take some photos. I remember saying to the boys, “Turn around and check this fire out, because you might never see something like this again”, and just at that moment both my boys walked past me and into the frame – so I did what any photographer would do and took the shot.
It’s a special moment in time because the world seemed to stop spinning, if only for a split second. Conditions were peaceful, the wind was light and warm, the ocean was calm, and in the background, a huge cloud of smoke rising up into the atmosphere from a raging fire burning intensely through the bush. Seriously awe-inspiring to see the power of nature’s elements come together at once.
Some of your recent captured images also lend us a bird’s eye view and show just how much destruction these fires caused in our community. Is this your usual style of photography?
Recently it has been because the fires have had such a massive impact on everyone. So many have had their lives turned upside down and inside out; actually, it’s not easy to photograph something so devastating, and many times I have been touched emotionally by what I have seen when travelling around to document and share with others these latest events.
However, it is my love for creation and people that I prefer to photograph because this is where I feel the most comfortable. Street and portrait environmental scenes are also another favourite of mine. I’m not really into poses; it’s not my style, because when people know you’re pointing a camera at them, their demeanour changes and they often go into pose mode. When people are not looking at the camera, they often feel more comfortable, and this translates into a more natural, relaxed feel for the subject and puts the one viewing the photograph into the scene – where they can relate to being there.
What have been some of your favourite moments to capture over the years?
That’s a great question because there have been so many. These fires, as destructive as they are, can be so beautiful to capture in their natural surroundings, creating opportunities to document.
Standing on top of a mountain or on the beach and photographing lightning – that’s another favourite of mine. In 2018, I had the privilege of photographing the deserts in Abu Dhabi with my daughter – something I will never forget. Or sleepless nights staying up into the early hours of the morning to photograph the Milky Way is always rewarding.
I’ve had the opportunity on many occasions to photograph surfers in big waves getting barrelled or absolutely slammed; that’s always fun to watch. Or witnessing a beautiful sunrise or sunset always makes me appreciate what the creator of the universe has given all of us to enjoy.
But the most rewarding and favourite moments are the times we spend together as a family and leave the camera in the car or at home. Treasure those memories; they are the absolute best moments to capture.
What are your future plans?
To grab a coffee and see where this takes me. Yes, I want to get better, and keep improving; photography takes a lot of practice. But, if you want to get better at taking photos, you have to get out and take more. You have to get out and take more photos, good and bad ones because that’s the best way to learn. I’m a storyteller from behind the lens, and I hope to continue to share with others how I see our beautiful magnificent world.
As for new photographic projects, there are a few who have approached me asking if I can assist with a couple of upcoming documentary films in the new year, and some other photography projects locally which I’m excited about. Whatever happens though, it’s important for me personally to keep it real, stay grounded and keep my focus on the more important things. Where can we keep up with your work?