New book honours the work of Shoalhaven photographer Matt Jones

The work of nature photographers Duade Paton and the late Matt Jones has been pulbished in a new book, Australian Birds in Pictures.
The work of nature photographers Duade Paton and the late Matt Jones has been pulbished in a new book, Australian Birds in Pictures.

It was an untimely brush with death that led former police officer Duade Paton to his passion for nature and bird photography.

But it also led him to an important relationship with photographer Matt Jones, who was to become a close friend and mentor.

Sadly, it was to be Matt who would not live to see the publication of his work in the pair's beautiful book, Australian Birds in Pictures.

Back in 2011, Duade was working as a police officer in Nowra, when he suffered a cardiac arrest at the age of 32.

"It was out of the blue. My heart stopped and my wife gave me CPR before I was airlifted from Shoalhaven Hospital to RPA," he said.

He said if not for his wife, local ambos and staff at Shoalhaven Hospital, he would certainly have died.

He said to say this was a life changing event was an understatement. But the upheaval in his life was to have other, more surprising consequences during the course of his long recovery.

"I was on life support for so long I had lost a lot of strength in my legs. So to help, I used to go walking around where I was living in West Nowra, down Depot Road, just walking as much as I could.

A Gang Gang Cockatoo: from Australian Birds in Pictures.

A Gang Gang Cockatoo: from Australian Birds in Pictures.

"I started to observe birds, and I wanted to know what they were, so I started taking a camera so I could photograph them and look them up in the bird book."

Duade even remembers those first birds he noticed in the bush that sparked his interest; common birds like the yellow robin and the willy wagtail.

"I was using my wife's camera, and I had no real experience or expertise. But I guess I uncovered an interest."

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When he was well enough, Duade returned to the police force in a reduced role.

"I found it a really good escape from policing. I could go out to the bush and watch birds and not be thinking about the things that happened at work, and some of the things you see in the police are not good for mental health," he said.

"It dawned on me that my photos were not very good. In fact they were extremely poor. I went online and happened to google a few of the different bird forums. I wanted to figure out how to get better and that led me on my journey of improvement."

The Rainbow Bee-eater: from Australian Birds in Pictures

The Rainbow Bee-eater: from Australian Birds in Pictures

It was in one of these forums that he met the accomplished Callala Beach photographer Matt Jones.

Matthew's background was in ecology, protected area management and nature tour guiding, and his work had featured in Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year catalogue for three consecutive years.

"I reached out and asked Matt if he would mind if I tagged along on some of his outings to photograph birds," Duade said.

"Matt was an extremely experienced photographer, but he was happy for me to come along."

In the following years, the pair spent many hours photographing birds, often here in the Shoalhaven, which Duade says is "incredible" in terms of habitats and variety.

"Matt and I connected almost immediately. He was somebody who was a mentor, he was extremely knowledgeable when it came to ecology. Anything I wanted to know, he had the answer.

"We would spend a lot of time together. We would spend hours together laying in the mud, waiting for a shot. We were comfortable in each others' presence."

Throughout their seven year friendship, the pair went on many trips and took many photos together.

"Matt was approached by publisher New Holland and they asked if he was interested in making a book," Duade said

Tragically, by that time Matt had been diagnosed with the cancer that would claim his life in 2018.

"We started to work to get images together, but unfortunately he was unable to finish the book.

"His wife, Nathaly, contacted me and we came to the conclusion that I would take it on and I was very honoured to be involved in the process."

The collection of photographs and the accompanying text were completed by Duade and Nathaly, with a strong focus on endemic bird species, portraits and behavioural shots.

"I took his images, some of mine and some that were special to Nat, and did the writing and collated the book," he said.

"I'm over the moon to see it published, it's a nice memorial to Matt."

The pages are packed with action shots, close-ups, and panoramics as well as species information and photography tips, making it a companion for all nature and wildlife enthusiasts and bird lovers.

"I think it's the quality of the photos, to be fair. You've got an intimate perspective that highlights the birds and their beauty. It's about trying to catch behaviour in a moment of time that people wouldn't see normally.

My hope is that the images inspire people to take an interest in birds and nature

Duade Paton

Duade now works to help other budding nature photographers along their own path, as a way of acknowledgingwhat Matt did for him.

"Without Matt's assistance there's no way I would have been able to learn what I have."

Despite his passion for birds, Duade doesn't describe himself as a "twitcher".

"I'm not that hardcore, I'm not a full on twitcher. I have more of an interested in photography than ticking things off lists!"

Australian Bird in Pictures, Matthew Jones and Duade Paton, New Holland Publishers RRP $45.00 available from all good book retailers or online www.newhollandpublishers.com.

This story The book that honours birds and a much-loved mentor first appeared on South Coast Register.