Meet Brett Patman, an Australian photographer who runs Lost Collective — a project documenting “the essential roles that people and places played in shaping the communities who collectively make up the identity of our societies”, according to its website.
“It encourages people to share their stories, stories that would otherwise be forgotten as societies progress and generations age.”
Brett has been taking photos for well over a decade, travelling down long roads and across oceans to capture the eerie beauty of places long forgotten by humans and time.
The nature of Brett’s work means he’s often snapping from the shadows, in darkness — less than ideal conditions for photography. But when you know what you’re doing, you can turn a negative into art. Get it? ‘Negative’ — little photo pun.
To put Brett’s skills (and Optus’ super-fast network) to the test, Optus and Samsung challenged him to snap some night shots around rural southern New South Wales using the new Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, which has a super sophisticated Night Mode feature that rivals some of the best cameras on the market.
Watch the video below to see how it went.
We caught up with Brett to learn a little more about the man behind the lens.
PTV: Hey Brett, so how was the shoot?
Brett: The shoot was fun. I was definitely impressed by the pro and night modes. Quite surprised by how well it worked. It was just a bit of a shame that it was cloudy. If the stars were out, I think that’s where its capabilities would have really shown, but it was still impressive to see what it could do.
Let’s zoom out a little — why did you first pick up a camera? Give us the superhero origin story.
I picked up my first DSLR camera in 2011 while living in Melbourne. I was just looking for a hobby, and I figured photography might be something I’d enjoy. I worked with a guy who was an amateur but still took really nice photos — I used to pick his brain a lot and eventually decided to pull the pin. He recommended a Nikon D7000 and 24-70 lens. Both of which I still have today. I don’t use the D7000 anymore, but I still use the lens.
When I started out, I was just shooting city skylines and traffic from overpasses, trying to figure out a way to take a photo that hasn’t already been done a million times over. I always passed an old textile factory on the freeway on my way home from work — I thought that would be somewhere I might be able to get something a bit more interesting than something you typically see on a gift shop postcard. It was kind of panic-inducing but exciting at the same time. From that first time, all my friends were quite wowed by the photos I took, and from then, abandoned buildings just became something I would actively seek out.
What fascinates you about abandoned places?
The thing that fascinates me most is the hidden stories that they obviously hold. The scenes I photograph aren’t staged or manipulated (aside from the obviously stylised look I give them). I often wonder what it was like when the places were still full of people, particularly the industrial sites.
I worked in industrial environments myself for almost two decades, so I have first-hand experience, but I can often imagine being in these places and working. The smell of an abandoned workshop smells exactly the same as a working one with grease, diesel, all that stuff. I never particularly enjoyed that kind of work, but I definitely have an appreciation for it.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve come across in your explorations?
The weirdest thing I have come across was a massive taxidermy walrus inside a school corridor in Japan. A day earlier, we had a guide take us around the bankrupt city of Yubari and teach us about some of the city’s histories. We talked about the animals in the area, and our guide told us, “There are Deer. Deer OK. Fox also. Fox OK. Bear too. Bear not OK.” So I made a mental note not to pat any wild bears I came across.
Every building we shot in the city was full of animal scat, so I knew we might encounter an animal inside. In Australia, I have accidentally ended up in rooms with sheep and kangaroos, which is a heart attack inducing experience for everyone involved.
During the shoot, I went up a stairwell and turned a corner and here’s this six-foot walrus in full roar. I wasn’t expecting to see anything like that and never had before, so I couldn’t quite process what was happening, and then the conversation about bears came flooding back. I just froze, telling myself, “This is how I die. Mauled to death in an abandoned school by a bear I was warned not to pat.” After a minute or so, I got myself together and realised it was not a bear; it was just a six-foot walrus. So I took a photo of it, and I still hate it.
Ok, that’s definitely one of the better travel stories I’ve heard. What do you think makes the perfect photo?
Ha. I wish I knew, then maybe I could sell more prints! It’s hard to say what makes something perfect because you have to work with what you’ve got. I like so many different photos for different reasons.
Of course, you can’t get the same type of photos with a wide-angle lens as you can with a telephoto lens. Still, you can get amazing pictures with either. I guess, at a minimum, the scene has to be captivating. But in a general sense, nice soft light, plenty of shadows. Some kind of foliage starting to take over the room for bonus points.
Do you have a favourite pic?
It’s so hard to pick one, but maybe this photo taken from a fire escape in a Japanese hotel is possibly the one. I almost never took this photo. I had finished shooting everything I wanted to inside and knew I had captured so many good images. Some of which are also some of my favourites.
I just decided to go out the side door and have a look on my way out and saw this scene. I love the clear water in the wild river looking down the derelict hotel balcony, with all the other still operational luxury hotels further down on the opposite side of the river.