Peter Derrett approaches photography with the same attention to detail that he once put in to theatre direction. He has a capacity to see beneath the surface, read and extract the hidden meaning, and visualise his subjects not only from their immediate appearance, but also from how they appear in reflections.
His new exhibition of photographs has opened at The Channon Gallery. Called Venice Seen & Unseen, (Visions of the Mercurial City), the exhibition displays 30 of 80 exquisite images that show not only Peter's artistry with his camera, but the art and architecture of Venice from his point of view.
It's a city Peter has visited many times in the past 20 years.
"These are pictures I've taken in the past three years," Peter told The Echo.
"And they're not Photo-shopped - they are images taken on a digital camera and printed on photographic paper in a darkroom."
Some of the images, taken through water or with images reflected in water, may seem digitally enhanced but they are actually the product of Peter's vision of a city, perhaps more than any on Earth, associated with and surrounded by water.
With his wife Ros, who is currently writing a book about festivals, Peter goes to Venice every year towards the end of November, when the tourist numbers are down and there are not so many people at the art and architecture biennales (festivals) the city hosts every year.
"There are always about 80 exhibits within the biennale. So many of them are extraordinary and memorable. That's what drew us in.
"We stay in a rooftop apartment on the edge of the Camp Santa Margherita - it's a neighbourhood where the shopkeepers and cafe people are getting to recognise us."
After 36 years as a high-profile drama teacher at Trinity Catholic College, and as founder and director of the Lismore-based professional theatre company Theatre North for 18 of those years, Peter retired from Trinity a year ago.
"I still keep up my connections there - last week I was helping the Year 12 drama students with their HSC performance pieces," he said. "But the stress of putting on up to six shows a year was extreme - I think I've done about 300 shows, each involving 15 or more people.
"I'm amazed I don't feel the need to keep doing that, but I don't. I have had some health issues, with a bout of cancer, and one of the ways I'm dealing with that is by going into meditation, and mindfulness. It didn't interfere with any religious beliefs and is wonderful for pain management and stress relief."
Another major project for Peter has been as a photographic illustrator for a soon-to-be-published book about old dogs, written by Suzanne McCourt.
"I was put on to Suzanne by a friend, and she sent me the manuscript - it was quirky and very moving, as much about humans loving and ageing as it is about dogs," Peter said.
"Anyone who's read it has had a bit of a howl.
"Now she's thinking of doing a second book and I'm interested in doing something about dogs, meditation and mindfulness, so I'm on the lookout for dogs with a meditative air about them!"
The book will be launched in Sydney and locally, at Eltham.
Peter's photographic exhibition is at The Channon Gallery; open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm, until October 7.
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