Monthly Archives: June 2009

What a sick society…

Parents banned from taking photos at annual sports day. Story in UK Daily Telegraph here.

As a parent of young children who has photographed them at many school events and as a stock photographer who has generated income from children’s sport, I find this attitude of ersatz puritanism an indictment of a sex-obsessed society living in hysterical fear of what might be lurking in the dark corners of our minds. What next? A prohibition on photography of pensioners because there are probably people out there who are stimulated by the sight of the elderly? A ban on pencils and pens at sports events in case people might be drawing or writing erotic imagery?

My daughter competing in school athletics

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Filed under Australian, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography

All in one week!

Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, and most significantly the passing of Kodachrome, the 75 year old film immortalised in song by Paul Simon.

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the worlds a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don’t take my kodachrome away

While there have been periods of my career when Kodachrome was my film of first choice, for me, it had fallen out of favour long ago. Though I like(d) the Paul Simon song, I refuse to participate in the orgy of sentimentality about this quirky film. In fact, I can’t even get worked up about any of the supposed qualities of film. I haven’t shot a roll in 8 years.

For this old photographer, digital photography is the best thing since sliced bread, as the cliche goes. Mind you, I also happen to think that unsliced wood-fired sourdough is better than sliced bread.

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Those were the days…weren’t they?

Dr Geoffrey and Leanne Edelsten posing with their transport fleet

Dr Geoffrey and Leanne Edelsten with their transport fleet, Sydney, 1986

The 1980s; an era of wild excess.  In 1986, when I was assigned to photograph “medical entrepreneur”, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, of the chandeliered, white grand piano chain of health clinics, I immediately got off on the wrong foot.

I asked the young blonde who came tripping down the grand staircase of his home, whether her father was in. Not ungraciously, she let me know that she was “Mrs Leanne Edelsten”. Oooops! So with foot still firmly clamped between my gritted teeth I was somewhat surprised when the doctor agreed to wheel out his cars and his helicopter for this portrait.

If you’d like to know more about the life and times of Dr Geoff, his collection of degrees and qualifications, his cars, his opinions and even his taste in music, you should visit his unbelievably modest website here.

While Leanne is now the ex-Mrs E, Dr Geoff is soon to add to his collection of blondes by marrying  25 year-old, Californian fitness instructor, Brynn Gordon (or maybe it’s Brynne Groden…the media can’t seem to make up it’s mind). Word is he is looking for a publisher to pick up the tab for the festivities in exchange for picture rights. No takers so far. Story and picture here.

If you’d like details of Dr Edelsten’s tailor, don’t email me, contact him.

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Filed under Australian, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, portraits, Rob Walls

A happy (and gay) New Year

In the very first hour of 1983, I was heading home from a party along Sydney’s Oxford Street in Darlinghurst. It had been pretty boring party and I hate the forced and false bonhomie of such occasions.

As soon as the New Year chimed in the party crowd were either heading home or mostly on to the next party. Walking home along the main thoroughfare (Oxford Street) between Paddington and Surry Hills, I decided to shoot some pictures of the revellers on the street. This stretch of Oxford Street is colloquially known as The Gay Mile. The mood was bouyant and friendly and for gay males 1982-83 must have been the International Year of the Mustache. When these three men in drag, with half a case of beer under arm, mugged for my camera I just had to respond.

Whenever anyone invites me to take a picture, I never refuse and these uninhibited men with their mad hair and their laddered fishnet tights were much too good a subject to pass up. A few months later this picture ran in the weekly news magazine, The Bulletin, under the headline “Gay plague hits Sydney”. In my mind it symbolised the deathknell of carefree sex in the gay community.

Oxford Street, Sydney, New Year, 1983

Oxford Street, Sydney, New Year, 1983

1 am, January 1st 1983, Oxford Street, Sydney

1 am, January 1st 1983, Oxford Street, Sydney

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A little street colour

I’ve always found the genre of photography known as “street photography’ immensely rewarding and ultimately compelling. The thing I like most about it is that the simple act of carrying a camera, endows the photographer with a  heightened awareness, an alertness to the relationships of everything and everyone within their line of sight.

I often wonder whether non-photographers can experience this same sensitivity to their surroundings. They probably do; but even the most accomplished of writers would find great difficulty in conveying their observations in such detail.

I’m particularly drawn to strong colours and when it comes to street photography, the relationship of people within the viewfinder to those dominant colours. Here are three scenes from my travels that I particularly like:

Street scene, Malacca

Jonkers Street, Malacca

Fire Station, New York City

Fire Station No 2, New York City

Peanut vendor, Malaysia

Peanut vendor, Malaysia

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The salvage of flight 1549 by Stephen Mallon

An absolutely fascinating series of pictures by Stephen Mallon of the salvage of Flight 1549 from the Hudson River. The kind of industrial shoot that many photographers would give their eye-teeth to do. 

I find there’s something strangely archeological about the pictures, even though the plane went down only a few months ago. Stephen’s documentation is wonderfully comprehensive, from portraits of the workers through to the fuselage being transported through the city. The juxtaposition of a a large, relatively intact, passenger aircraft body in an urban setting is unreal. To see Stephen’s pictures go here.


Filed under Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism

Photographs, I take photographs! – A short rant

I’m of an age when I can remember when photography was just a craft; when photographers took “photographs” or at worst “made pictures”. These days we “make images” or “create imagery”. It is as if by anointing their pictures with oil of spin, today’s photographers think they can get people to take their work more seriously. Actually, I don’t make images: I still take photographs and in any discussion, pedantically insist on this description. Painters make paintings; photographers make photographs.

Unfortunately, the assault on photographic language doesn’t end here. Those who want to appear “in” and in the know (mainly insecure semi-pro Brits) like to refer to themselves as “togs”.

I’ve also noticed that Canon owners/poseurs are notorious for not using lenses. How do they make their “images” then? Check out any discussion of Canon lenses and they’ll be yacking on about their “glass”. In most instances this will be “L glass”, and “expensive” as though dollars expended requires the abandonment of any word as simply descriptive as “lens”.

Can anyone think of other examples?


Filed under Australian, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, Rob Walls

Honky Tonk Photography

Mick Jagger, Hyde Park free concert, 7th May 1969

Mick Jagger, Hyde Park free concert, 5th July, 1969

Hyde Park, London,  5th July, 1969. From time-to-time to young photographers will show me pictures from rock concerts and with an apologetic tone try to excuse the minute size of the musicians on the stage, because they were so far back from the action.  How did I get so close? Long lens? Not particularly. This was shot with one of those very heavy old Nikkor 85mm-250mm f4.0  zoom lenses. The trick was to turn up six hours before the gig…and earlier than the 250,000 people in the crowd behind me.

If you’d like to know more about this concert (including a list of the other musicians who performed) there’s a good write-up here.

The publishers of this video of young Jumping Jack Flash performing “Honky Tonk Woman” claim the crowd was 500,000. Suffice to say, it was a whole bunch of people…and if you were at the back of that crowd, even the longest lens would not have helped.

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The tank man of Tiananmen Square

A fascinating account by four photojournalists of how they photographed the lone man who confronted the tanks on Tiananmen Square twenty years ago on the New York Times Lens blog.

And if you need reminding of that man’s courage, video of the event here at Youtube.


Filed under News, Photography, Photojournalism

A most deadly subject

About thirty years ago, I had the idea that doing a story on spiders thinking it might help exorcise of my fear of them.  No spider in Australia inspires more fear than the Sydney Funnel Web, Atrax Robustus.  Its  down-curved fangs, and percussive strike have been known to penetrate boot leather and pierce the human thumbnail. It has a reputation as the world’s deadliest spider. This then, made it an absolutely compelling subject for this confirmed arachnophobe.

With the writer, Robin Osborne, I spent several days seeking out their haunts. We worked alongside pest control experts in the northern suburbs of Sydney, who were collecting Funnel Web spiders for the anti-venene research that was being carried on at Macquarie University. In one garden alone we collected more than a dozen spiders, from an area of little more than two square metres. We photographed the spiders being “milked” of their venom in the lab and were told that it was  not unheard of for the spider being milked to run up the pipette used to draw the droplets of venom from its fangs and strike at the lab technician..

In 1980, brilliant scientist named Struan Sutherland, had developed an anti-venene. Since that time there have been no deaths from funnel-web bites, but the knowledge that there was an antidote to their venom did little to allay my fear, especially when photographing them at close range with a 55mm Micro Nikkor lens. Sutherland, who had been bitten several times during his research, told us that he could no longer even be in the room where venom milking was being done, as his reaction to microscopic air-borne particles made him severely ill.

Wanting to photograph the spider under controlled conditions I made a box from perspex with a front glass panel of optically flat glass from a Durst  5″x7″large format negative carrier. I asked the University researchers if they would settle a spider into the box which was then delivered to my studio.

Having already got a number of good shots of spiders in natural surroundings, I thought I wanted to make a picture that would make a dramatic picture that would show off the spider’s form. Inspired by a picture I had seen by Pete Turner in Esquire magazine of a striking Tiger Snake (curiously another exceedingly venemous Australian), I decided to light the creature with studio flash: a soft box to the front and a background light on some red seamless paper behind. Given the dangerous nature of the subject, the idea of red being the dominant colour against the black glossy form of the spider, seemed particularly appropriate.

I photographed the spider every few days over a period of some weeks, getting it to rear into a striking position by disturbing it with a drinking straw through the top of my improvised tank while watching through the viewfinder. Sometimes its response would be so threatening that I would jump back from the camera in alarm, even though I knew there was a panel of glass between us.

Sydney funnel-web spider, Atrax Robustus

Sydney funnel-web spider, Atrax Robustus

All the time the spider was in the studio, whenever it was not being photographed, we had to ensure that there were large and obvious warning signs on the box and that it was out of reach of curious hands. What my insurance company might have thought about me giving a home to such a dangerous “pet”, I hate to think. Naturally, I didn’t ask.

Pictures from this shoot still sell regularly. Did the experience help with my arachnophobia? While undertaking the story gave me a deeper understanding of arachnids, particularly Atrax Robustus, the experience didn’t help. On several occasions, I woke up in the night thrashing around and in a cold sweat, imagining that there were funnel web spiders in my bed. Eventually, I’m happy to say, after about a year these nightmares went away. But I’ll still jump a mile, whenever I encounter spiders up close and personal, even if I know they are a harmless species.

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