Originally established as a group of press photographers, including many current and former Sydney Morning Herald and The Age photographers, Oculi has featured many of the best and brightest of Australia’s photographic talent, including names such as Nick Moir, James Brickwood, Tamara Voninski and Narelle Autio.
The big influx of fresh talent is designed to keep Oculi relevant in an era when photography is changing so rapidly.
“We’ve been 20 years in the business of being a collective and I guess it was time,” said co-founder Dean Sewell. “We needed to do something to take the collective forward. In the past, we have been fairly conservative and only allowed in two or three people at once.”
Of the 80 or so applicants, most were women, reflecting a significant demographic shift. Seven of the successful applicants are female.
“It has been a mostly male-dominated profession but there has been a massive surge – even in the last 10 years – in women photographers around the world and in Australia,” said Sewell. “If you look at any of the major awards in Australia, women have been dominating.”
Another of those successful applicants is Melbourne-based photographer Abigail Varney, whose latest work documents the so-called “build-up”, the period between wet and dry seasons in the Northern territory.
“I work with a strong visual language to build my storytelling,” she said. “I’m definitely attracted to some of the multi-layered stories we have here in Australia.
“The new Oculi member are really going to shake things up. It’s exciting and I’m intrigued to see how it’s all going to work.”
Like most of the new members, both Crispin and Varney rely on channels such as Instagram, exhibitions and self-produced books to get their work in front of the public
Sewell said there had been massive changes in the photographic ecosystem in the two decades he had been a member of the collective.
“When Oculi began the whole group were all press photographers,’ he said. “A lot of these guys now are finding new ways of telling stories. The narrative might go beyond the traditional linear style of documentary storytelling and they are finding new ways to disseminate their work other than through daily newspapers.”
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald