“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.”- Gerard Manley Hopkins
These lines from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ sonnet God’s Grandeur, published in 1918, speak of man’s loss of contact with the environment.
But they don’t apply to Bootawa resident Dr Jim Frazier OAM ASC, who was born with what he calls an innate ‘sixth sense’ for the natural world intact. A sense, he says, all humankind has, but has lost. It has served him well from a childhood spending time in the bush through to his working life as a wildlife cinematographer.
Jim Frazier, Renaissance man, embodies the terms innovator, leader and risk taker. He is not only a cinematographer, but an inventor, artist, environmentalist and author.
Jim might have been looking through the macro and micro lenses of cameras for much of his life, but his vision is gigantic.
He has traversed the planet as a wildlife cinematographer, most notably for David Attenborough, National Geographic and the BBC. And more locally, for the Australian cult classic ‘Cane Toads: an unnatural history’.
He is the worldrenowned inventor of the Infinity LensTM, lenses that revolutionised movie making for both wildlife films and Hollywood, with early use in blockbusters like Titanic and Jurassic Park.
He has won over 40 national and international awards, including an Oscar, an Emmy, three Golden Tripods, a US Industrial Film and Video Gold Camera Award, a Golden Panda, an honorary doctorate and a lifetime achievement award from the Cinematographers’ Society. In October 1998, because of the invention and design of the Panavision/Frazier lens system, Jim was presented with the John Grierson international gold medal for pioneering work in micro/macro cinematography of invertebrate animals.
Most recently Jim was nominated for the Senior Australian of the Year award for 2016 and was selected as one of four state finalists for NSW. Jim and his partner Helen attended a gala function on November 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in The Rocks, Sydney for the announcement of state and territory award winners. Jim was “pipped at the post,” as he said, by St Vincent’s Hospital’s Professor Gordian Fulde.
His innovative approach to art and photography has led to the creation of crystal art, a format where Jim paints using manipulation of the growth of minute crystals, backlit with colour lighting and photographed with a macro lens. Pieces of his artwork are owned by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton, and are featured in a range of silk scarves produced by Singapore designer Ondina M for her 2013 MAH collection.
Yet at an age when most people are enjoying retirement, Dr Frazier is embarking on what he considers his life’s purpose – a massive musical environmental film project titled ‘Symphony of the Earth’ (SOE).
“My whole life’s path has led to this,” said Jim.
“Having travelled the world filming for Attenborough and other people I received an of what’s happening on this earth that most people are never exposed to. Being very in tune with things natural I saw the writing on the wall for the whole of humanity if we don’t create change, and therein lies the aim and purpose of SOE. It’s designed to bypass politics and politicians because they’re the ones that are stuffing up the earth big time. It’s all undermined by the almighty dollar and greed that goes on on this planet that isn’t in our best interests.
“The whole world is being controlled by mega corporations. They don’t give a stuff about the environment and the consequences, all they’re interested in is the almighty dollar. And it’s a serious situation that permeates itself right through most big corporate businesses. It’s the same with the big pharmaceutical companies – they are one of the biggest blights on this planet.
“The whole world is driven by ego. I want to turn ego into eco.”- Jim Frazier OAM ASC
Twelve years in the designing, SOE is a huge undertaking, at the centre of which is a feature film of the same title. The mission of SOE is “to bring about a global shift in consciousness and awareness through the music and voices of the creatures of the Earth”.
An impassioned advocate for the environment, Jim’s concept is to bring together musicians, singers and composers to produce music that will be coupled with sounds from wildlife to communicate the message that Earth is in need of urgent help, in a work that Jim calls “a Woodstock of the cinema.”
“If you want to change the world in any way, shape or form you use the heroes of the people,” explained Jim.
“And who are they? The musicians, singers, composers, entertainers. And they have the biggest sway and the biggest followings on the earth. When they say something people really take notice. I’m doing something extremely unique. I want to introduce to the world a whole new genre of music, and that is animal music. I will be sending 25 of the best wildlife guys I know all over the world to film animals making sounds. It has to be visual – you have to see on the screen the animals making the sounds. The composers will build that into the music with the singers.”
The film will be made in 16 languages so it reaches a truly global audience.
“This is no whim. This is something I know that needs to be accomplished. I’ve designed it to have 16 languages. The replacing of the heroes in some of those countries with their present day language heroes will be replacing the western version. The environment is a global problem and it has to be dealt with on a global scale. It really is a matter of building an enormous groundswell among people,” said Jim.
Jim’s vision for SOE does not stop at film. He has plans beyond the scope of the camera, with the profits of the film and documentaries going back into the organisation to fund the foundation of multiple environmental projects, wildlife havens, and research centres.
SOE is a notforprofit charity, and work has started on raising the money needed to fund the film project.
To help raise funds for the organisation, Jim as authored a book titled Butterflies on My Mind. The book is a stunning compilation of butterfly photographs taken by Jim. The first print run has sold out, and a second revised and enlarged edition is underway.
“I had very good feedback from scientists as well as general feedback, and that means a lot to me. There are a lot of experiences that I had filming for David Attenborough in there that I’ve written about. I wanted to present a book that wasn’t like every other butterfly book. It’s not an identification book – they’re all the same after a while. So I wanted to present more the arty side of the photography with a lot of the techniques I developed for David Attenborough.
I thought if I wrote this book it would be nice to put all these techniques that I’ve developed over the years into a book. And so I did just that, and I think it is unique in the world,” Jim said. Jim said he is thrilled with the results and credits Taree printers Sunne Printing with doing a magnificent job. He also says he had “supreme help” in Christine Calabria from Artisans on the Hill in Mondrook with the editing and compilation of the book.
Butterflies on My Mind can be ordered on the SOE website, www.symphonyoftheearth.org, where you can also become a member of the charitable organisation, or leave a donation.
And while you are waiting for the Symphony of the Earth film to be launched, a film that will rival and perhaps overtake Baraka and Koyaanisqatsi in the nonverbal film category, keep your eyes out for The Man Who Knew Infinity – a major film starring Jeremy Irons, Dev Patel, Stephen Fry and Jeremy Northam that has been receiving rave reviews at film festivals worldwide. One of the companies involved in the production of the film is Xeitgeist Entertainment Group, of which Jim is Chairman Emeritus. Just another of his many hats.
This story first appeared in the January edition of Mid North Coast Now magazine. Copies of the magazine are available at the Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Times offices, Tourist Information Centre Taree and Harrington Information Centre at Harrington Waters Shopping Village or to view online follow this link