Monthly Archives: September 2011

ABC and Organic Gardener, trying it on…

This week I received a “deed of copyright” from the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Organic Gardener, a publication I have on a few occasions contributed to. I was at first puzzled as it is nearly two years since I’ve had anything published in that fine magazine. Now, I’m all for contracts when it comes to publishing, but this particular deed I was being asked to sign, wanted me to grant them a fixed re-use price for my photographs of $20 per use, plus the use of my work “on any website owned or controlled by the ABC…for an unlimited time gratis”.

The specific clauses in the ABC Copyright Licence Deed

Normally I would just ignore a rights grab like that, but in this case I felt compelled to respond. I wrote to the ABC as follows:

Thursday, 22 September 2011

 Dear Ms White,

 I am puzzled by the request to sign a deed of copyright related to my material previously published in Organic Gardener.

 While I respect the need for contracts within publishing, I will not sign overarching deeds of copyright related to material already published, that gives the ABC retrospective re-use rights at rates so low.

 Organic Gardener is entirely free to re-use my material whenever they choose, at a rate negotiated with me at the time. I am sure your experience is the same as mine, but I have yet to encounter any supplier of goods or services that will allow me to decide what I want to pay. As the author and licensee of my photographs, it is my prerogative to decide the rates they are offered at. If you disagree with what I ask, it is your right to say negotiate or say no.

 I have forwarded copies of your deed of copyright to the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Australian Commercial and Media Photographers.

 Yours sincerely,

I’ll let you know if there is any follow-up….


Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Rob Walls, Stock photography

Taking stock…

I’m excited about  conducting a two-day, stock photography workshop at SHOOT Photography Workshops in Perth at the end of next month. Apart from giving me yet another excuse to visit Western Australia, I’m looking forward to using the superb facilities at SHOOT. The workshop will be conducted over the weekend of Saturday 29th October and Sunday 30th October. If you are interested in learning how to make money from your photographs and want to spend an entire weekend immersed in the world of photography enrol now! To find out more, go here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, Photographer, Photography, Stock photography

C’est la guerre…or such is life…

The six-year internment of David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay still inspires heated argument here in Australia about justice and human rights. The publication of his memoir and the low act of bastardry of the Federal Government in seizing the profits from its publication brings into serious focus the issue of freedom of speech. In the main, those who condemn him, do so almost entirely on the evidence they believe is contained within this single photograph.

David Hicks posing with an RPG launcher in Bosnia

Here Hicks is posing with an unloaded rocket-propelled grenade launcher on his first day in Bosnia, where from misplaced idealism he had volunteered to help the Muslim forces resist the “ethnic cleansing” of the Serbians. That he later came to the attention of US forces after in Afghanistan and spent six years imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay is well documented, in the media and in his memoir.

Opinion on the justification of his actions is highly polarised, but characteristically young men often take risks and make foolish decisions. Sometimes, to test themselves, they will choose paths in the road that take them away from the commonplace. They occasionally make choices they think will allow them to experience life with an intensity above and beyond the ordinary. Some will take up extreme sports, some will place their lives on the leading edge of danger in more unconventional ways. It was ever thus.

Forty three years ago, at Umuahia in southern Nigeria, I handed one of my Nikons to a Biafran rebel soldier and asked him to take a picture of me. In the closing days of January 1968, I had landed in Port Harcourt, Nigeria after a 27 hour flight on a very old, 4-prop, Lockheed Constellation running arms and ammunition out of Lisbon. Simply put, my entry into the secessionist Republic of Biafra was illegal.

I was there as a freelance photojournalist for United Press International and was eager to test my mettle as a war correspondent. Because of the need for secrecy, I had not told my family what I was doing or where I was going. I was 26 years old, had been a photographer for barely six years and I confess there was a certain amount of swashbuckling ego involved. I wanted to discover how I might handle myself covering a war. I planned on sending the picture to my parents in Australia when I got back.

Umuahia, Biafra, January 1968 © Rob Walls

In the picture I’m wearing an African dashiki embroidered with the rising sun emblem of Biafra. This shirt had been a gift of the very efficient Biafran media office which was coordinating press coverage of the new nation. Earlier that day, travelling in the back of a Land Rover, an old Africa hand from one of the London broadsheets, in rather haughty upper-class tones said. “If I were you, I would not risk being be caught wearing that shirt at the front line, dear boy. The Nigerians will assume you are a mercenary or a spy and they’ll probably shoot you.” I ignored his advice. I was young, foolish, full of testosterone and adrenalin and wearing the shirt, I thought, was a simple courtesy to my hosts whose cause I had begun to sympathise with. Like the photo of Hicks with his RPG launcher, the photo would have been “conclusive” evidence of my collusion with the rebels.

Less than 10 seconds after the shutter was released on that picture, two MIG 17s of the Nigerian Air Force were screaming high overhead and that heavy machine gun was banging away busily into the sky, its spent cartridge brass ringing and rattling into the body of the truck. Flown mostly by South African mercenary pilots, the MIGs were too high to be more than a barely discernible con-trail against the sky, but at a moment it wasn’t difficult to join the dots and surmise that these fighters may have released bombs, or be about to make a strafing run.

We were in the grounds of the home of General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the charismatic president of the breakaway republic, an obvious target for an air-raid. It was then I discovered at moments like this you tend to feel quite naked and looking for safe hiding places becomes a nervous pre-occupation. As it turned out the choices were so few, I ended up standing rather foolishly in the open under the ineffectual boughs of the large tree I had been photographed under a few moments before. About the only consolation was that I thought I could not be seen from the eir.

The MIG pilots, sensibly uninterested in coming down to an altitude where they could be shot at, made no attempt at accuracy. The bombs dropped in our general direction exploded harmlessly about 500 meters away..

A week or so later, I was told that I would be taken back to Lisbon on the next plane running the blockade into Port Harcourt. Feeling that I hadn’t got enough pictures, I wanted to stay on. I decided to ask the advice of some of the more experienced journalists I had travelled with. A journalist from Agence France Press I had befriended, told me that if I wanted to do that, there was only one option; before they come to collect us for the flight I could go hide in the jungle until the plane left. I asked him what he would do.  “Get the fuck out, this is too dangerous, you could die here!” I decided to take his advice. An Italian photojournalist, braver than I, Romano Cagnoni, did go and hide in the bush. His famous photograph of shaven-headed Biafran recruits published around the world with double-page spreads in both Life and Paris Match.(see here)

Back in Lisbon, I discovered the harshest reality of war photography: right time, wrong war! It was the beginning of the Tet offensive in Saigon and 19 Viet Cong had blasted their way into the US Embassy. Now that was news! Under those circumstances there was little interest in a civil war in West Africa. C’est la guerre. Or in the final words of Ned Kelly, “Such is life”. With this lesson, I decided that my embryonic career as a combat photographer should come to an end.

It was only this week, in thinking about the implications of the Hicks case, that I dug out that old photograph and thought of what might have happened if I had been captured. The result: probably somewhat similar to the consequences Hicks suffered…or worse. I note the words I scrawled, tongue-in-cheek, on the back of the picture: “I’m the one behind the machine gun”.


Filed under Australian, Autobiography, Biography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

Gay marriage in Australia?

OK, this is not about photography, but then I never promised this blog would be entirely about that subject. Just felt I had to share this news.

With man mountain, world champion, Tasmanian axeman coming out in support: gay marriage in Australia? A done deal!

David Foster, world champion, Tasmanian axeman comes out in support of gay marriage.  © The Age

Oh, how my late and sadly missed friend, Richard Beckett (aka Sam Orr), author of “Axemen, Stand By Your Logs”, a history of woodchopping in Australia, would have delighted in the delicious irony of this.

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, Australian, News, Tasmania

Deep mourning for a pair of shoes…

Sometime during a life you find a pair of shoes that become so much a part of you, that when they die you go through a phase of mourning. I’ve always liked good footwear. I’ve owned shoes that have cost hundreds of dollars. Back when I was something of an eighteen year old dandy (1960), I spent £36 on a pair of handmade Italian winkle pickers that mauled my feet in ways that I’m probably still paying for. Then my weekly wage as a junior teller in the ANZ Bank was £16 a week. That’s makes them an extravagance the equivalent of a $1000 in today’s money. Yeh, I like good shoes…

About five years ago, in Big W, I came across a sale of black Converse skate shoes. They had been knocked down from $75 to $20. Obviously not cool enough for the skating crowd, I kind of liked their style, so I bought two pair. They turned out to be the most comfortable shoes I’d ever owned. They took whatever I threw at them and when given a lick of Kiwi Parade Ground polish would come up slick enough to make a pair of Levis and a good jacket pass for formal wear in most of the situations in which I work.

They travelled with me through Malaysia, Borneo, New Guinea and the Australian outback. When travelling, I rotated them so that there was always a smart pair when the other had been marched through the mire. Last year, one pair passed away. Then this year after travelling nearly 20,000 kilometres through the Australian outback, the last pair turned up its heels, so to speak. I reverently placed them in the box in which their replacement had arrived as though it was a coffin and brought them home with a resolve to do a photographic homage to my faithful footwear. I miss them still…

RIP Converse skate shoes and the mark they left in the red dust of the Kimberley...© Rob Walls 2011


Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, Photography, Rob Walls