Behind the mask…picturing politicians…

A triumphant Bob Hawke on the campaign trail in Sydney, 1983. I shot this on assignment for Newsweek. © Rob Walls

A triumphant Bob Hawke on the campaign trail in Sydney, 1983. This was shot on assignment for Newsweek. © Rob Walls

I’ve been photographing politicians in office and on the campaign trail since the time of Sir Robert Menzies. That was so long ago, I wore a suit and was still using a Speed Graphic. It would be three more years before I switched to more casual clothing and the ease and immediacy of the Nikon F.

While many photographers find political photography boring, I delight in the sport. And damned fine sport it is; working like a hunter, seeking that ephemeral split second, when the subject might inadvertently slip out from behind the polished public persona.

Photographing politicians needs the same finely tuned reflexes required for photographing sport. But I think it needs a much more highly developed recognition of “peak action” than is required in sports photography. The peak action of the political moment is far more subtle than the titanic, bone-crunching clash of footballers or the soaring leap of an athlete.  Blink and you miss it…and unlike sports photography, the players don’t repetitiously try to re-create that moment. The reality of politics for the photographer is that there are teams of minders running interference between you and the subject trying to ensure that the moment is not repeated.

If you need convincing that our quarry is aware of the power of the unguarded political moment, you need look no further than the attempt by politicians to rule that the only legitimate subject to be photographed within the Australian Parliament was the politician speaking at the despatch box. All those SMSing, snoring, yawning or otherwise diverting themselves were ruled out of bounds. Of course the photographers of the press gallery ignored this.

These are some of my pictures of Australian Prime Ministers of the last few decades…

John Howard in opposition circa 1984, before his advisers smoothed the rough sartorial edges © Rob Walls

John Howard in opposition circa 1984, before his advisers smoothed the rough sartorial edges © Rob Walls

Paul Keating wth that particular twinkle in his eye often displayed when taking delight in verbally skewering an opponent.

Paul Keating wth that particular twinkle in his eye, often displayed when taking delight in verbally skewering an opponent. © Rob Walls

Bob Hawke in vindictive mode. I always thought that underneath the smooth exterior lay one very good hater. I think I caught it here. © Rob Walls

Bob Hawke in vindictive mode. I always thought that underneath the smooth exterior lay one very good hater. © Rob Walls

Malcolm Fraser during the 1983 election campaign. Paul Keating described him as "Like an Easter Island statue...". Out of office, he revealed a much warmer personality.

Malcolm Fraser during the 1983 election campaign. When in power he was expert at maintaining the mask. Paul Keating once described him as "Like an Easter Island statue...with an arse full of razor blades". Out of office, he revealed a much warmer personality. Two weeks after this picture was taken, having lost the election, he actually wept on camera. ® Rob Walls

Advertisements

7 Comments

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

7 responses to “Behind the mask…picturing politicians…

  1. Theo. Bennett

    Nicely layered observation, Rob.

    But a tad off the mark with chameleon Malcolm F.

    He may have been singularly patriarchal as a born-again PC follower; and he may have been consistent in his devotion to Italian automobilia; but his moods, and the subsequent ‘warmth’ you describe were the result of something else.

    However, interpreting this would be a challenge beyond the conservative photomedia conventions observed by photojournalists in Australia.

    Abstracted political journalism is not yet acceptable here.

    Besides, it’s neither something that can be sanctioned by the MEAA-AJA, nor taught by rote in tertiary education.

    Much too “arty-farty” for Australia.

    – Theo. Bennett

    .

  2. Rob I admire the generation who relied on film for their craft.

    No second chances, lots of fiddling…and working with people….a hard gig…that split second when it all counts.

    Great stuff.

    Love, light and luck…that’s me.

    A lifelong exercise of learning…that’s the exciting thing…it’s never boring.

    To me, being able to take pictures is a privilege, a beautiful gift, making a living from it…well that is the perfect life.

    Well done and thanks for the images!

    Good things to you, Dave.

  3. Theo…I’ve always given Malcolm Fraser credit for his hidden life: losing his trousers in Memphis and for his love of photography. In a one-on-one portrait session at Kirribili house there was a real softness in his demeanour as he showed me his new Nikon.

    Thanks for the compliment Dave…photography has ever been the greatest gift of my life. It liberated me nearly fifty years ago from behind the teller’s counter of the ANZ bank and showed me the world. Even on the most boring assignments, I would tell myself, “You could still be working in a bank”. (I mean no disrespect to the profession, but it was only ever a waiting room for me while I discovered my vocation.)

    For me, the camera became the key to experience… but as Theo would confirm, I hold not the slightest sentimentality for film…and no respect whatsoever for those photographers who cling to it like drowning men, in the foolish belief that it bestows some special quality to their pictures.

    To me digital photography is a delight and I embraced it with a passion as soon as it was capable of delivering what I needed. In the words of Alexander Pope, “Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside”. Thankfully, there are still some photo editors and clients who live by this dictum and can still see some use for this ageing photographer.

    Much power to you both…and your cameras…

  4. George Harris

    This is the only decent comment I have ever seen Dave Groves post, and I am both grateful and amazed.
    All his comments and contributions on http://www.tasmaniantimes.com have been utter tosh, and not even worth their few grams of carbon.
    I live in hope…

    • I weighed up whether to allow a comment here that amounted to an attack on a commentator, George…but in the end decided that in the interests of a free, open and robust dialogue, Dave can probably defend himself. There are subscribers to Tasmanian Times that consider my contributions to be “utter tosh” too, so Dave is not alone.

  5. Thanks Rob. I only log onto this computer about once a week, hence the tardy reply.
    I thank George for taking an interest in what I write and for his comments.
    My work is for myself, not to please or displease anyone else, and personal attacks are water off this black duck’s back…..and there have been many.
    I have a lean to Green, although they have worn my ire at times none the less.
    I am not a member of anything except the human race (and some still doubt that), but my angst is primarily directed at those who are greed driven and seek self service at the expense of those they are employed to represent.
    Moods drift from anger, to pity and reflective sadness, but never happiness at the way this state remains deeply divided by government and vested interests.
    Satire is a way for me to help heal some of the deep wounds which are causing distress in those who don’t have the mechanisms to cope with the world they are facing.
    For those who remain “in the camp” of the vesteds, I have no answer, but feel sorry for the tragic situation they find themselves in.
    I too live in hope, but mine is for unity.
    As the day will come “when we meet our fate together”.
    Thanks for the indulgence.

    Dave

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s