Monthly Archives: February 2010

Who’d be a wedding photographer?

A lifetime ago, when I had just landed my first professional photography job, I was best man at a friend’s wedding. During the reception he said, “You know you ought to give up this photojournalism lark and take up wedding photographer. That’s where the money is. Come out and have a look at the cars these guys are driving.” The photographers had an Aston Martin and a very new Jaguar.

I knew he was right, but the idea of shooting saccharine, sentimental pictures weekend after weekend and then laughing all the way to the bank, held no attraction for me. I couldn’t think of a faster way to get to hate photography than turning it into a repetitive task. Despite my friend’s gratuitous get-rich advice, I stubbornly maintained my course and have no regrets, even though along the way photojournalism has delivered some pretty lean times amongst the good.

It would be hypocritical of me, as a professional photographer, to say that photography has never been about money. After all money is still a pretty good measure of success. But the reality is that the camera, and an ability to use it with reasonable skill, has been for me, the key to life-experience and I value that far more. Where photojournalism fell short on the cash front, it more than made up for it in adventure.

This is just a preamble to say, I don’t do weddings…except as a favour for family and a few close friends. Still the few weddings I’ve photographed have provided me with some very satisfying photographs. Sure I’ll do the expected pictures to keep everyone happy; the traditional exchange of vows; register signing; cake cutting cliches and so on, but I always try to find at least one picture that goes beneath the surface of the event. Most of the time there is something there that will lift a wedding coverage out of the ordinary. Here are a three of my favourites…two from two weddings I shot within a couple of weeks last December, which just about fills my quota for the next twenty years. (Family and friends, please note!)

The wedding of my sister-in-law, Maylyn Lam to James Button in Melbourne.

This is one of my favourite wedding photos. I shot this about twenty years ago when I was invited by an orthodox Jewish rabbi I knew to photograph his wedding. With a nod to the author of Four Weddings and a Funeral, I call it Four Rabbis and a Wedding.

This is from the wedding of my old friend, Bruce Best’s (see In the eye of the beholder and The eye of the beholder part 2) daughter Kate, in Sydney last December.

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

In the eye of the beholder (part 2)

In an earlier blog article (In the eye of the beholder), I wrote about how the viewer of a photograph is often unaware of nuances within a picture which are privy only to the photographer and those with him at the time the picture was made. This photo is such a picture:

A French cowboy dozing in the saddle with a herd of white Camargue horses

I must have been just 12 years old when I first saw the Albert Lamorisse’s hauntingly beautiful film Crin Blanc (White Mane). Set in the salt marshes of the Camargue on the Bouche du Rhône, it is about a young boy who captures and tames a wild white stallion. Fifteen years later, on my way back from a pilgrimage to Barcelona to photograph the architecture of Antonio Gaudi, I convinced my travelling companions, Tony Hewett and Bruce Best, to make a detour through this intriguing region of southern Provence. I have to admit, they did not do this willingly. It took hours of argument, but eventually my incessant nagging, over a long lunch in Arles with much wine, wore them down.

Stopping only briefly to offer a lift to an Australian hitch-hiker we met by the fountain in Arles’ Place de Republique, we set off into the wild and beautiful wetlands of the Rhône delta. My winning card in the argument to divert our homeward journey through the Camargue, had been the promise that there would be picturesque French cowboys and wild white horses to photograph. I have to admit I was gambling that things had not changed much in the decade and a half since Crin Blanc captured my adolescent imagination.

I was in the front passenger seat navigating and had chosen a tiny back road through the marshes that I thought might provide some good picture opportunities. The road was rough, even by Australian standards. Although Bruce complained constantly about what this was doing to his suspension of his little Austin A40 estate wagon, he let Tony do the driving. It is probable that this may have been because Tony was the most sober of the three of us, but he too was no less strident in his complaints at the state of the road. Between the bickering, the hitch-hiker tried to earn his ride by making conversation. Despite his best efforts to be sociable he generally failed in his efforts to penetrate the acrimony being shovelled in my direction as the initiator of this expedition.

An avid photographer, Tony drove with his Nikon F in his lap. In the middle of his stream of complaint, some white horses came out from behind a sand dune. Following them was the full-on, genuine article: a gardien, a French cowboy asleep in the saddle. Très pittoresque!

“Fuck!” said Tony, grabbing his Nikon. To this day, I still don’t understand what went through his mind at the time. I know he was pretty excited by the picture possibilities. So excited that he didn’t bother to stop the car!

We weren’t travelling fast, when the car crashed into the ditch and rolled onto the driver’s side. While the passenger side wheels were still spinning, I stood up, opened my door (now the roof).  Like a tank commander, I poked my head out of the door/now hatch and began shooting. Tony quickly untangled himself from under my feet and joined me.

Without exchanging a word, we both stood in the upturned vehicle and photographed the cowboy and his horses until they were out of range. Only then did I turn to him and roar, “What the fuck were you thinking? You’re supposed to stop the fucking car before you take your fucking hands off the wheel to take fucking pictures. You fucking idiot!”

Neither the car careering into the ditch or my following tirade woke the cowboy. He rode on oblivious to the mayhem his appearance had caused. Perhaps he thought it was all a dream.

The Aussie hitch-hiker tangled up with all our baggage in the back seat was still pale with fear as we helped him and Bruce climb up out of the car and onto the road. You could see him wondering what sort of maniacs he had fetched up with and whether he was going to get out of this alive. Quickly improvising some trauma therapy we soon had him at work helping lever the car upright with the limb of a dead tree we found nearby. Bruce’s car was only superficially damaged and we went on our way. We were already laughing about it even as we approached Arles again. (This was only the first of three roadside ditches Bruce’s car was to visit on this trip…but that’s another story).

I often wonder whether that hitch-hiker, now an old man, ever relates the tale of his crazy ride through the Camargue and how he tells the story…

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Filed under Australian, Autobiography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, travel

Melbourne…wear anything as long as its black…

This week The Economist voted Melbourne the world’s third most liveable city in the world, narrowly beaten by Vancouver and Vienna. The Melbourne newspapers have run hot with the news, mainly with the emphasis that the city beat Sydney, which  had to share ninth place with Zurich. As far as I can tell, the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry is only in the mind of Melbournites. Sydney, blessed with its magnificent harbour, draped with the arch of the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House,  doesn’t even have to try.

The blogs and newspaper commentaries have been running even hotter with commentary, for and against, mostly from Melbourne residents. Those against complain about the transport system; those for, seem to place a rather strange emphasis on the quality of Melbourne coffee. It’s as though they believe urban sophistication can be attributed to the quality of the bean roast and the skill of its baristas. Is this why Vienna beat them on the leader board?

One particular commentator, wrote this:

“I call Melbourne BLACK, BLAND MELBOURNE. Just walk into the city whether winter or summer and all you see is men and particularly women dressed in black. Go into a department store or any restaurant or any shop for that matter and every employee is wearing black. Boring and bland. Go to Paris and women wear all colours, hardly any funeral black. So Melbourne needs to brighten up.”

This prompted me to dive to my picture files. I was in Melbourne two weeks ago and took these picture. I love Melbourne, it’s a bright, colourful city, but that writer is right, there is a pre-occupation amongst its inhabitants to wear black. If only Melburnians would learn to relax…but it must be hard when you are continually being pumped with all that caffiene…

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Filed under Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography, travel

Magnum sells print collection

As Editorial Photographers UK group rather cleverly described it “Perennially broke photojournalism agency flogs family silver”; the renowned photo agency Magnum has sold off its collection of 185,000 vintage prints to an investment company. Estimates of how much was paid vary wildly, but one thing you can bet on, they were not sold at microstock prices. Story here.

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This working life

A craftsman carves a Huon Pine plaque at The Australian Wooden Boat Festival

I’ve started a new blog called This Working Life, devoted to the photographic documentation of work as it is in the opening years of the Third Millenium. This a long term project in which I hope to cover all aspects of the modern working life. It will be interesting to see where it leads me…

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Filed under art, Australian, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography