Category Archives: Australian

A piece of technology not yet past use-by date…

In 1964 I worked on construction progress shots on a space tracking station for NASA at Tidbinbilla near Canberra. A year later, as a young staffer on The Australian I photographed its commissioning by the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. These are a couple of my pictures from the March 20, 1965 edition of the paper.

Sir Robert Menzies opens the NASA Tidbinbilla space tracking station. March 20, 1965 (tearsheet from The Australian) Photos by Rob Walls

If you are wondering about the significance of the thistle in the left of frame, its symbolism is now lost in the mists of time. However, the explanation is this: aware that Menzies had recently been made a Knight of the Royal Order of the Thistle, I thought the visual reference appropriate. Actually, flies being somewhat of a pest around rural Canberra, NASA had the prescience to put an aerosol can of newly invented product on every VIP seat. Aerogard. My overly literate caption was a tad too much for the subs at the paper. It began, “Knight of the Thistle and Lord of the Flies…”. They stepped on the William Golding reference.

Last month I was visiting a vineyard at Cambridge in Tasmania and saw that it was overlooked by the University of Tasmania’s radio telescope, one of a network of four across Australia. On visiting it to take some closer shots, I discovered that this was the very same dish I had photographed nearly 50 years ago, under construction and at the opening. NASA had donated it to the University in 1985 complete with a US built left hand drive truck with a cherry-picker for servicing it.

In shooting for the Day in the World project on the 15th May, I decided to include the telescope in my pictures, killing two birds with one stone, getting pictures for my Working Life project at the same time by photographing Brett Reid, the observatory manager against part of the machinery he looks after.

Brett Reid, the UTAS Observatory Manager with the ex-NASA radio telescope at Mount Pleasant, near Cambridge in Tasmania. © Rob Walls 2012

Brett, kindly took me up in the old cherry-picker to get a good angle on him, the dish and a glorious Tasmanian afternoon sky. It was great to see that something I had been involved with nearly 50 years ago, was, like me, still working.

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

Money for sh*t…

It’s been an unusual week for stock photo sales. A couple of years ago I wrote about wintering with wombats. One of the photographs I took on that field trip was of the curiously cubic crap of the wombat. The shape, it seems, serves the purpose of preventing the wombat’s droppings from rolling away as it marks out its territory.

Currently Alamy has over 30,000,000 pictures. Do a keyword search for wombat droppings and you’ll get just three pictures. All mine! All mine! My own little niche market. You might be surprised (as I was) to find that this week a publisher in the United States paid $500 to use this picture. OK, now don’t all rush out and start shooting wombat shit. For most of you, it’s going to be almost as hard to find as that proverbial rarity, rocking horse sh*t…and with this sale, I imagine I’ve probably filled all the requests there’s likely to be for this particular subject.

Money for sh*t. This picture of the curiously rhomboid shaped wombat droppings sold again this week.© Rob Walls 2011

The other unusual picture sale this week, was of this poignant memorial which was erected in the outback New South Wales town of Broken Hill almost 100 years ago.

Monument in Broken Hill, New South Wales, to the bandsmen of the RMS Titanic who went down with the ship off Newfoundland on 15th April, 1912 © Rob Walls 2011

A moving memorial to the musicians of the RMS Titanic in the Australian outback mining town of Broken Hill. This picture was licensed for use in an audio-visual in Ireland.

Now, just in case you can’t avoid the temptation, I’ll warn you in advance; comments that refer to me as a “sh*t photographer” are unlikely to be published:-)

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Music, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography, Tasmania, travel

Uluru – in three Polaroids

Uluru in three Polaroid prints, 1980 © Rob Walls 1980

Mining the old Polaroid print archive, I came across this series I shot of Uluru in Central Australia, 32 years ago….

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The new iPad as camera…

Having bought the new iPad for its dazzling display qualities, I finally got round to checking out what its improved camera could do. Now, with a brace of Nikon DSLRs and a Canon G11, I’m not especially in need of another camera, but driven by curiosity I decided to give it a run. Perhaps I should issue a warning here that this is not a serious review because the iPad camera is not a serious camera.

First up, its handling characteristics  make you look like an idiot, 50 years of working as a pro photographer has long ago inured me to what people think of me while I’m shooting pictures. The Ipad’s screen in bright conditions is practically unusable. This problem prompted me to drag out my old large format dark cloth. It was a great improvement, but stopping the cloth from falling over the lens was difficult. Now I look like a complete idiot, but at least I could now compose a picture effectively.

Using a dark cloth to view the new iPad screen. I call this my iBurka. © Rob Walls 2012

A quick candid shot. I guess one advantage with holding up an iPad is that most subjects, even those familiar with picture taking with a phone, are unaware that you are taking pictures. © Rob Walls 2012

The Cascade Brewery near my home. A picture I took while out for a walk a few hours ago. The iPad screen grid is useful for architectural shots. © Rob Walls 2012

As far as colour rendition is concerned, the new iPad suits my penchant for vivid colour.

To sum up: as a camera it will do in a pinch. The pictures are as sharp as one could expect from a device such as this. Great for taking pictures for a blog, but it’s handling is about as responsive as that big ship in the minutes before it collided with that chunk of ice 100 years ago (couldn’t resist working in a reference to the Titanic). No design changes I can foresee are ever likely to make the iPad into a decent camera, but then again, that’s not what I bought it for. I don’t think, I’ve ever owned a device that has given me more pleasure while contributing so much to my productivity.

Shooting from beneath my iBurka it occurred to me that a fun iPad accessory would be a clip-on dummy set of bellows with a fake tilt shift lens panel and a tripod mount that would make the iPad look like a conventional 10×8 view camera. After all, there is already a cover that disguises the iPhone as a Leica. (please note I am stamping this idea with my ownership right here:-))

Now the truly great thing about photography with the new Ipad is that with picture sharing via Twitter, the iPad camera brings back to my photography much of the playfulness that I used to experience when shooting with the Polaroid SX70. This sense of play is enhanced by the fact that pictures on the iPad are costing me nothing. I used to get free film from Polaroid, so it was the same with the SX70. Being able to shoot oblivious to cost and unhampered by the limitations imposed by knowing that the pictures don’t need to meet a certain quality standard for publication, is a truly liberating experience.

(Now I’d like to explore it’s video possibilities. With the addition of a Movie Mount it actually might even have reasonable handling capabilities. The new iPad mount is expected to be available in a month or so.)

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

Playful Polaroid photography

While searching for a print today, I came across a little packet of Polaroids. In the fag end of the 80s I had occasional gigs as a consultant to Polaroid. I worked on product launches for several cameras as well as a range of their films. While Polaroid paid well for my involvement, they were also very generous with film and cameras. The copious supply of free film allowed me to indulge in a photographic playfulness that I only rediscovered with the arrival of digital photography. Here are a few of my favourites:

A roller door with graffiti in the Sydney suburb of Chippendale. Coincidentally Otis, the lift manufacturer had it UK headquarters in the town of Reading. © Rob Walls

A pre-Photoshop experimental promotional photograph for Polaroid. That's right a straight photo, no trickery other than the finest nylon filament I could find to suspend the camera against the sky. © Rob Walls

Chinese restaurant, Hobart, Tasmania 1990, displaying sign "MSG used only on request". © Rob Walls

Portrait of Jack Hewett in mask against a Javanese Batik © Rob Walls

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Filed under art, Australia, Australian, Photographer, Photography, portraits, Rob Walls

Sunrise on Salamanca Market, Hobart

It’s nearly three months since I last posted here. 2011 was probably the most intense year of picture taking in the 50 years that I’ve been a photographer. In the last year or so, I’ve driven almost 50,000 kilometres across Australia photographing work for my project, This Working Life. By the end of last year, I had reached a point where I could feel that burn-out was imminent. Left with the choice of taking pictures or blogging, I decided to neglect the blogging. But now I’m back.

On Saturday last, I went to Salamanca Market to photograph the stall holders setting up for the day. Held every Saturday in Salamanca Place (or just Salamanca) as the locals call it, the market has for nearly 30 years been a bustling and lively scene. Last Saturday, I had reason to be there early and decided to get there in time to see the stall holders setting up.The early morning light, the interaction of workers and early-bird market goers, the mounds of fresh produce and the promise of a hot, sunny, late summer’s day was well worth turning out of bed in the dark for.

Setting up for the day. Good coffee and fresh donuts. My breakfast at 6.30am, © Rob Walls 2012

A market worker hauling a stall cover into place as the sun begins to slant down Salamanca Place © Rob Walls 2012

Stall holders setting up © Rob Walls 2012

Oranges waiting to be juiced © Rob Walls 2012

Lentils, oats and rice © Rob Walls 2012

Display of pumpkins, Harvest Feast, Salamanca Market, Hobart © Rob Walls 2012

Vested interest. My wife grew the beets and a lot of the herbs in this fine display © Rob Walls 2012

 

Attention to detail. Every carrot meticulously displayed © Rob Walls 2012

 

Good friends of organic produce, Michelle Dyer and Jonathan Cooper of Harvest Feast © Rob Walls 2012

 

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography, Tasmania

MONA visited, revisited, revisited and revisited…

Despite the howls of protest and criticism from more conservative professional museum curators, they cannot put down the overwhelming success of David Walsh’s Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. Walsh himself, has described it as “a subversive adult Disneyland”.

It is not without controversy, attracting such negative comments in TheMercury  as “You sick bastards. That place better be shut down soon. What is the world coming to? What will the next generation of children turn out like after viewing such revolting, hellish ‘art’. They’ll be torturing mutilating murderers.”

“Mr Walsh has made a very big mistake in setting up this thing in Berridale. It’s going to become the biggest white elephant ever in Tasmania. I see it as an extension of the sewerage treatment plant that’s situated right next door to the “museaum”. Both facilities are full of excriment that should be flushed away. It’s a joke people. A joke.”

On the other hand, there are many who actually get David Walsh’s vision and are rewarded and stimulated by it: “WOW, regardless if you love it or hate it, you have to agree this will put Hobart on the map of Australia for the world to see. It is probably the biggest push the city has ever had to come into this century and compete with the bigger cities around the world. Its private, yet free. What a selfless visionary Walsh must be. I wish I still lived in Hobart to see this gem. This “museum” might go a long way to help Hobart lose its “redneck” image to the rest of Australia. Congrats Walsh.”

Since its opening last January, more than 350,000 visitors have passed through its dramatic reflective portals. Last week, I made my fourth visit and again drew deep satisfaction, enjoyment and visual stimulation from being challenged by MONA. Here are some pictures from my last two visits:

The Museum of Old and New Art as seen from the Derwent River © Rob Walls 2011

Visitors to MONA reflected in the mirrored wall of the main entrance © Rob Walls 2011

Bit.Fall by Julius Popp

White Library by Wilfredo Prieto, a library of blank books, blank pages

A visitor viewing Philip Brophy's interactive Body Malleable

China-China - Bust 82 2004 by Ah Xian

Sidney Nolan's massive and magnificent, Snake

Artifact by Gregory Barsamian

After three hours of visual stimulation even the tools and ladder of the exhibition installers begins to look like an installation © Rob Walls 2011

More visits planned in coming months…

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Filed under art, Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Opinion, Rob Walls, Tasmania, travel