Minutes to Midnight Trent Parke Review

For this review of Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke (2013), I’ll be using the index created here. In a previous blog post I talked about the stylistic and technical aspects of the work, where the filmic qualities and the chance a film process introduces are paramount. This review is just my interpretation of the book, and no doubt won’t be the last, but just one voice in a really, really long conversation.

The work starts off with a description of a UFO sighting. I quote it here at length.

—- start of excerpt —-
Witnesses reported watching a ball of light move across the sky
For up to five minutes at about 5.50 am Saturday.
“It was a perfect spiral of light,” one Redcliffe witness told The Sunday Mail
“I realized soon it was not the moon but that it was shooting like a comet from the southern sky and off into the northwest.”
Another Brisbane resident said: “There was absolutely no sound in a perfectly clear, darkened sky before dawn.”

The weather bureau said there were no weather conditions which would explain the light.
A defense spokeswoman also said she had no explanation.

The sunday Mail. June 5th 2010. Queensland, Australia
—- end of excerpt —-

As I ponder this and turn to the first picture (1) which is of moths to light, I stare it at for a bit. The photo now seems to resemble an alien planet. Photos 2 & 3 just seem like a capture of amusements, but then in photo 4 we get a bit of long exposure. I feel like the aliens have arrived.

Photos 5 through 14 are scenes of life in the Outback, or the rougher parts of Australia. Photos 15 through 21 seem to be taken in Sydney and its environs.

Photo 22 is an homage to Robert Frank’s photo of the same: a car covered in a white tarp, except the atmosphere feels very Ridley Scott Prometheus.

Photos 23 and 24 are night scenes that seem to harbinger more alien action in later photos.

Photo 25 seems is a car turning up dust. Is it an escape from the aliens?

Photos 26 to 29 all seem to suggest some sort of alien visitation.

Photo 30 is the child hurt was very visceral.

Photos 31-43 seem to have life under the aliens tropes.

Photo 44 is of the author’s pregnant wife.

Photo 45 is of the author’s new born son.

Photo 46 seems to suggest a future family life with the aliens.

Photo 47 seems to suggest that the aliens have left.

I can’t help but conclude that Trent Parke told a tale of fiction using completely straight photos, but like any art, this work has its own kind of truth.

When I saw the squalor that the aborigines were living in in the beginning I couldn’t help but feel a retched sort of optimism. Human beings have survived all sorts of invasions of each other. Shouldn’t they be able to survive an alien one?

Minutes to Midnight by Trent Parke, Giving Valence to Film Flaws, An On-Going Review

How does one find a start for a photographic review? The first and only major blocks of text in Minutes to Midnight describe a UFO encounter by a set of witnesses. Will the photos be a fiction or a factual set. Will the photos be like the UFO, somewhere in between requiring interpretation?

In Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful he starts off with an analysis of Hegel’s turn of phrase for art: “a thing of the past.” How could Hegel say such a thing? Gadamer grapples with this and parsed Hegel as saying that art, gods and cultural significance used to be one. Christian, medieval art has this unity, although the god of Christ requires no architecture. (Matthew 18:20) Of our time (nihilism & many cultures in one state at each other’s throats – in a word, Balkanism), Gadamer must ask, “But what is all this compared to the alienation and shock with which the more recent forms of artistic expression in our century (20th) tax our self-understanding public?” (p. 7) Gadamer is asking this in 1977, a time of stagnation and malaise for the Western powers with conceptual art ascendent and eclipsing the “revolutionary” art of the 1960s. We still live in a time of “the conflict between art as the ‘religion of culture’ on the one hand, and art as a provocation by the modern artist on the other.” (Ibid.) (Perhaps a 21st century Gadamer might have written of our fractious time “religions of cultures.”)

In Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight we see the tension between this “religion of culture” as he is steeped in the tradition of street photography, and the provocations. Of the former he creates an homage to Robert Frank in Photo 22 of a car that is covered by a white tarp.

Trent Parke also provokes us by using film and focusing what in the 20th century were considered flaws: grain (most of the photos esp. photo 33) & motion blur (about 14 photos has this). The 21st century with its focus on hyper sharp images, megapixels and clean high ISO shots is anathema to what Parke has accomplished: giving film photography’s flaws a valence.

Grain occurs when a film is pushed or under exposed.

I focused on the aesthetics and style of Minutes to Midnight. In my next post, I’ll focus more on individual photos and how they relate to the UFO encounter.

A Highly Subjective Index of “Minutes to Midnight” by Trent Parke

This index of Trent Parke’s Minutes to Midnight is in preparation for a review of this great work published in 2013. Trent Parke saved up for 5 years to go on a road trip of Australia. During that time his partner got pregnant and birthed their son – both moments viscerally captured. Trent Parke used a high contrast black and white film with very rich, dark tones. Here is the index.

  1. Moths to light
  2. Children all with balloons except for one
  3. Beauty pageant contestants on cars
  4. Motion blur of pedestrians et alia on George St.
  5. A crowd
  6. Club Hotel Wiluna
  7. Aboriginal community? Some people lying on the pavement like dogs / with dogs.
  8. Diving into a reservoir
  9. A dragon fly caught on a spider web
  10. Guys driving in a car with an open beer container
  11. Kid’s wrestling
  12. Festival at night: XXXX Land
  13. Crowd under tree roots, motion blurred… has a Prometheus aesthetic
  14. Woman with infant; motor bike
  15. People at a beach; some reconnoitering from afar
  16. Dead cockatiel on road
  17. Child in a field
  18. Sydney Harbor with a blistering, lithium-like light reflected
  19. Soap bubbles in plaza
  20. White silhouette (famous photo)
  21. Street on a rail line
  22. Car covered in a white tarp (Robert Frank homage)
  23. White linens on a clothesline at night
  24. Child watching TV at night
  25. Overview / Aerial of a car kicking up dust through a curve in the road
  26. A marsupial jumping through the trees at night
  27. Man in the garden with leaves floating about (prelude to alien abduction)
  28. Spider webs, brush, twigs, barbed wire
  29. Horses at Twilight (ocf)
  30. Child with bloody elbow, screaming
  31. Dog with dead furry creature in mouth
  32. Bats with wings in flight back lit
  33. Two page spread: grainy silhouettes in park
  34. Burning kangaroo corpses
  35. Tree stumps
  36. Couple sleeping in the back of a pick up truck
  37. Dead, marsupial fetus
  38. Two page spread – black
  39. Night: bright white silhouette amongst leafless trees
  40. Raining on farm hands
  41. Kissing in a mosh pit
  42. Jellyfish
  43. Swimming / underwater
  44. Pregnant woman underwater
  45. New born in water
  46. Swing set with children at night
  47. Bats flying at night (long exposure with light trails and motion blur)

The Challenge of Sydney Summer Rain by Trent Parke


This photo taken by Trent Parke in 1998 screams of many contrasts: light and dark, wet and dry, soft and harsh, under-exposed and over-exposed. The last contrast seems quite intentional given Parke’s oeuvre. He was a sports photographer (Street Photography Now, p. 129) and this has given him the speed, reflexes and confidence needed to take some chances by not using traditional apertures and shutter speeds, and yet yield great results. For example, in the above photo, given the same composition a street photographer would go for 1/250th of a second and as much depth of field as possible. While still keeping the same depth of field, Parke intentionally goes for a longer exposure, despite having adequate light, and ends up creating the play of light with the rain.

The challenge behind this photo is that you should take photos even if the weather is far from ideal. The reward is taking a photo way better than photographs of breakfast or comfy interiors.