Snapshot of life with Waugh's Australia
A rare insight into life on the road with Steve Waugh, Shane Warne and the great Australian team of the mid 1990s
Andrew Ramsey Senior Journalist
2 March 2019, 04:55 PM AEST
In his mind's eye, Trent Parke clearly visualises that one evocative frame that eluded him during the years he travelled the globe as a professional cricket photographer.
It's a moment that still haunts him.
Not so much because of the circumstances that prevented him capturing it for eternity, but rather because of the unique constituent parts that rendered it both mesmeric but impossible to re-create.
During the 1996 World Cup played in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Parke accompanied Australia's Steve Waugh on a private visit to Mother Teresa's (now Saint Teresa) Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata.
Having left the team's hotel before dawn, the pair arrived by taxi at the congregation's spiritual home as the sun broke softly into a large hall through windows hung with heavy wooden-shutters.
In that spectral glow, the order's sisters gathered for morning communion.
Clad uniformly in their white cotton saris embroidered with distinctive blue borders, the women sat in reverent silence, seemingly illuminated by shafts of solid gold as the rays caught dust stirred from the unadorned room's dark, creaking floorboards.
When Mother Teresa, her already diminutive stature hunched further by the ravages of arthritis, appeared to the tears and adulation of her flock, Parke reached instinctively for his equally compact Leica camera before recalling the sign he had passed upon entering the sanctuary.
'No photography or video cameras allowed' it warned, and while Waugh's visit had been formally arranged and permission granted for one 'official' photo, that did not extend to creative license, regardless of the stunning aesthetics the poignant meeting provided.
"I carry the image of that moment in my head, knowing it will only ever exist there," Parke told cricket.com.au today.
"It was one of the most amazing scenes - just to be in that setting, with the sun streaming in early in the morning, and the dust suspended in the air.
"The whole moment was surreal, but I wasn't allowed to take a picture.
"I think that's the image that sticks with me the most, probably because I wasn't able to capture it."
Instead, the fragile 75-year-old Mother Teresa handed both the cricketer and the cameraman a business card that read: 'The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service'.
That card is now framed and displayed at Parke's Adelaide home that he shares with wife Narelle Autio (a two-time Walkley Award winning photographer and acclaimed visual artist) and their teenage sons, Jem and Dash.
It is the only item of cricket-related memorabilia Parke has overtly retained from five years spent living and working on the road with Australia's star-laden men's team in the 1990s
But cricket remains an integral element of his, and his family's sporting and professional life.
Parke and his family are the subjects of a new documentary that explores their remarkable, two-year project that yielded an eight-channel video installation entitled 'The Summation of Force' which, in itself, spawned a virtual reality (VR) artwork.
So successful has the VR experience proved, the project has been nominated for multiple awards and was included in the program for Robert Redford's celebrated Sundance Film Festival last year.
The stunning images – many of them captured in the family's backyard - that Parke and Autio crafted almost frame-by-frame into a 58-minute feature film remain in storyboard-form on the wall of their Adelaide beachside studio.
What began as an examination of the link between genetics and aesthetics in the development of cricketers gradually evolved into a study of sport as art, and a celebration of their collective immersion in the summer game.
For Parke, that journey began on the cusp of teenage-hood at his family home in Newcastle where he helplessly bore witness as his mother died from an asthma attack and, in his grief, immersed himself in his dual passions – photography and cricket.
The latter became his stronger focus, as his talent for leg-spin bowling saw him earn selection in a New South Wales Colts team that included future Australia representatives Adam Gilchrist and Shane Lee, as well as Cricket Australia's incumbent boss Kevin Roberts.
So highly rated was the tall, wiry young spinner, he was invited to attend the Australian Institute of Sport Cricket Academy (then based in Adelaide) alongside other prodigies such as Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Glenn McGrath.
But having also spent time in the UK as a club professional on the league cricket circuit, Parke returned home to find his other love had caught the eye of a Sydney newspaper, and his need to earn a reliable living meant he chose photography over days in the field.
That was at age 20, and the 47-year-old has not played competitive cricket since.
He did, however, reunite with a number of his former academy squad mates when he was appointed cricket photographer for News Corp publications in the 1990s.
During a tenure that coincided with the beginning of Australia's rise to world cricket domination, his innate cricket knowledge gained him accolades as the sport's most intuitive shooter while his historic bond with so many players allowed him inner-sanctum access like few before, or since.
Many of the pictures he took during that time remain part of his private collection, and a selection of them are being publicly revealed for the first time here.
"When I first went into cricket photography, the reason why the paper sent me on tour was because I had played cricket for so long that I knew how particular bowlers were trying to get guys out, or how they were trying to set someone up," Parke recalls.
"So I knew to focus on the slips when the ball was swinging around, or I recognised there were certain batsmen who were clearly susceptible to a particular sort of dismissal.
"Then, all of a sudden, you've got Mark Waugh hanging in mid-air for a split second as he's diving to take a catch rather than having your lens trained simply on the batsman.
"Having an insight into the game, and having played the game was a huge asset in being a sports photographer."But working as a sports photographer also gave me an incredible grounding to work as an artistic photographer, and as a street photographer, because with sport you've always got to be ahead of the moment.
'You've got to foresee what's likely to happen before it does.
"So often, people just see a great picture without realising the photographer's had to place themselves in that position by – most of the time – knowing or anticipating what's going to happen in advance."
There were, of course, moments that couldn't be predicted.
Like the instant during presentation of the 1996 World Cup to victorious Sri Lanka when Parke was focused tight on the trophy itself, only for the crush of hangers-on who had flooded the presentation dais to collapse under their own weight of self-importance.
In the process, sending Sri Lanka skipper Arjuna Ranatunga – still clasping the ornate trophy – to the turf, before Parke could recalibrate his focus to capture the undignified sprawl in pin sharpness.
By the late 1990s, Parke's energy for life on the road and the relentless churn of daily journalism had fallen similarly flat, as he and Narelle began exploring ways to capture everyday moments in arresting photographic form.
However, his love of cricket never diminished and it found new expression when his sons showed an interest and aptitude for the game.
Dash, with his shock of platinum blonde hair, is making his way as a left-arm fast bowler who became besotted by the deeds of Mitchell Johnson during the 2013-14 Ashes series, while Jem has inherited his dad's studied appreciation for the craft of leg-spin bowling.
Both boys play in Premier Cricket's under-age competition where their mum regularly handles the score book and their father coaches, and Parke was recently recognised by Cricket Australia as one of a group of diligent development coaches from around the nation.
The family's investment in 'The Summation of Force' was almost as all-consuming as their commitment to cricket.
From rolling out a turf pitch in their backyard, to filming into the wee hours of cold Adelaide nights, to spending hours – sometimes days – searching for that quintessential image, remembering all the while the one that had escaped in Kolkata.
A fleeting scene of a coin spinning in mid-air before landing on a cracked, desiccated surface that resembles many an over-cooked pitch required three agonising days of filming to yield the three or four seconds worth of vision they sought.
The film also pays subtle homage to some of the defining visual moments of recent cricket in Australia.
"Combining Narelle's and my shared histories, we tried to put all of those things that we'd experienced – from backyard cricket, to playing professional cricket, to then going to a World Cup and seeing the game on the big stage," Parke said.
"We took all of those things, and then tried to recreate them in certain ways into our film.
"There's actually a lot of history involved in the film – for example, the famous picture of Brett Lee running with a parachute attached (during the 2003 World Cup) means there's a scene in the film of Dash running with a parachute."There's the time that Jeff Thomson smashed a stump, a legendary bit of footage, and we've re-created that moment of a stump being broken.
"We found footage of Mitchell Johnson training, when he was undergoing testing after he suffered stress fractures in his back, and we re-created that scene.
"It's shot from above, and includes those biomechanical aids like glowing 'dots' on the body, and 'train tracks' to run within.
"We've taken these little moments in Australian cricket that are famous, and then re-instigated them in a way that's symbolic of the pathway from the innocence of children playing in the backyard cricket through to becoming a professional athlete."
Parke admits that his sons maintain but a passing interest in the subjects of his previous life as a cricket photographer.
Their understanding of that era is shaped by the former stars' current fame as commentators, and their true heroes are hewn from an altogether more modern time.
While Dash looks to emulate Johnson, Jem finds inspiration in the Test exploits of Pakistan's Yasir Shah and the international leg spinners who have wielded such influence on the KFC Big Bash League – West Indies' Samuel Badree, Afghanistan's Rashid Khan, Nepalese teenager Sandeep Lamichhane.
It's through that reverent appreciation for extraordinary skills, and the mental poise to deliver them under the scrutiny of elite level competition that Parke recognises in his own driving forces.
The ones that led him, as a teenager, to spend hour upon hour, day after day, bowling his wrist spin into an empty practice net; aiming for a 50-cent piece placed on the pitch, envisioning how each fizzing leg break or snapping wrong-un might wrong-foot a foe.
The reward that awaited after lugging back-breaking equipment to and from heaving cricket grounds, where he sat boundary-side in suffocating heat for entire days, before hand processing rolls of film in a hotel bathroom in the quest for a split-second moment, frozen forever.
And now to creating stunning works of art that show the forces shaping cricketers in a dazzling new light, while also quietly on-passing the learnings he's gleaned from a life in and around the sport to those who share his passion.
"I guess the theme that runs through all of this is that you're always striving," he said.
"It's what keeps you going – as a leg spinner looking for the next great delivery, as a photographer looking for the next great moment or scene that you can capture.
"It's never ending.
"That's why I think that, in photography and in cricket, there are such similarities and they extend to art as well.
"It's an everlasting process that you're always trying, searching, hoping to get to that final …"
The words trail off into the darkness of his small viewing room.
His eyes dart from photos on a screen, to those affixed to the walls; he searches for the words as his mind flips through a catalogue, of which the final leaf is perhaps that dawn epiphany in Kolkata.
"To find that final perfection," he concludes, smiling wistfully.
'The Art of the Game' screens Australia-wide on ABC-TV at 10pm this Sunday, March 3.