Photographing Michael Kirby…sober as a judge?

Supreme Court Judge, Justice MIchael Kirby

Supreme Court Judge, Justice Michael Kirby

In 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year, along with several other photographers, I was commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine to work on a series of black and white photographs of notable Australians. From the list offered I chose two subject: cartoonist, Bruce Petty, and a man I had long admired for his dedication to human rights and a just society, the High Court Judge, Justice Michael Kirby.

While arranging that portrait session, I still recall my shock when his honour blandly suggested that a good time to take pictures of him would be at 5 a m…on a Saturday! Yes, he would be in his chambers catching up on work in the quiet hours of the morning as was his custom.

I was reminded of this long ago portrait session by the fact that this week I have been photographing a conference for the organisation Jobs Australia and the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG was one of the guest speakers. Last night it suddenly occurred to me that I should get him to sign a print. I went through my files and not only did I locate a print, but I found the actual one I had submitted to the Good Weekend…and still on the back was my original, dot-matrix printed caption.

Of the experience of photographing him, I find I had written:

“Saturday morning hangovers in Sydney’s Supreme Court building; mine Tequila, his Sancerre…sober as a judge?

During the hour our conversation ranges from happiness to Mrs Thatcher; love; Rembrandt; photography; especially Karsh of Ottawa; wine; and his mother who can no longer hold her head up in Kogarah now that her son has been named in some journalist’s list of the “100 Most Appalling People”…his tongue only ever leaves his cheek to float ideas that carry in their wake deep thoughts and a touch of the philosophical…

“Judging” the Polaroids…he turns the session into a collaboration.

His Honour, a civilised man, is probably in grave danger of giving the judiciary a good name…”

Twenty years on, this is how His Honour looked this morning while  delivering an address titled “All you need is love…” to the Jobs Australia conference in Hobart.

Retired High Court Judge, Michael Kirby speaking at the Jobs Australia conference in Hobart, 23rd October, 2009.

Retired High Court Judge, Michael Kirby speaking at the Jobs Australia conference in Hobart, 23rd October, 2009.

He signed my print…and in recalling his passion for photography, unasked, he volunteered to launch an exhibition for me. “Life is a two-way street, Rob.” he said. I would be most honoured to have my work launched by a man of such warmth, wit and humanity. Expect to hear from me Michael, I have in mind just the project…

Michael Kirby 2lr

A second portrait of Michael Kirby from the shoot. I prefer the less sombre mood of this picture. © Rob Walls 1989

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3 Comments

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

3 responses to “Photographing Michael Kirby…sober as a judge?

  1. Theo. Bennett

    Genuine, Rob. Timeless too. Splendid, almost revealing, images both.

    You say he “volunteered”? But did you pose him atop the books, head on hands way back then?

    And you will, of course, be inviting Allan Jones to the exhibition?

    – Theo. Bennett
    Canberra

    .

  2. Awesome.

    That is so cool.

    What a hoot and a magnificent event to be!
    I’m smiling……thanks!X

    Dave

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