He was imperiously intimidating. “What’s your brief son? What were you told to shoot? Who are you working for? This is just not good enough! I want to be photographed here; in front of the portrait of the old man!”. I didn’t argue. This portrait of Sir Warwick Fairfax is from a shoot for a John Fairfax Limited annual report sometime around 1980. I got the distinct impression he was disappointed that he couldn’t fire me, because I wasn’t a Fairfax staffer…
Category Archives: Rob Walls
I’ve always thought it a little odd how some photographers have these intense love affairs with a specific camera. They become fixated on the Leica, or Canon or cheap Diana plastic toys. A sort of photo-erotic romance. For them no other camera will ever match their one true love which they elevate on a pedestal, often with the kind of hyperbole that if examined closely, should make them blush. For me, cameras and computers are simply tools of my trade. They do the job and are discarded without sentimentality if and when they fail to measure up.
In reality though, I’m not so different. I must confess that I once had a passionate affair with one particular camera. It was the Nikon SP. Manufactured in the late 1950s, it was a machine that took the best ideas from Contax and Leica and melded them into a camera that I think, was the absolute pinnacle of rangefinder camera development. I bought mine second-hand in 1971. It came with two 50mm lenses, and a 25mm wide-angle. The 50mm lenses were the superb little Nikkor 1.4 and the incredibly fast and bulky Nikkor 1.1.
So large was the front element of the 1.1 that its barrel filled most of the viewfinder area. Without a supplementary viewfinder you were practically guessing at what was in the frame. For this reason I rarely used it, but what triggered this reminiscence was seeing that there was one of these lenses on eBay the other day. It’s price tag: $40,000! I sold mine about 20 years ago for $600 (groan).
The Nikon SP was my walkabout camera. It accompanied me everywhere. Compared with my SLRs it was compact (when without the f1.1 at least) and with its Contax style focussing wheel next to the shutter release, was fast in use. I developed a deep affection for this machine, and still Nikon still hold this fore-runner of the Nikon F in high regard. So much so that about 10 years ago they ran a limited commemorative edition that was immediately snapped up by collectors.
When I lost my SP in a burglary in the 1980s, I went into deep mourning. For years, I gazed into pawn shop windows, hoping to glimpse my camera again, but eventually, I came to accept that it was gone forever. You can still pick up good examples of the SP on eBay for a couple of thousand dollars and I must admit that looking at them today, I was tempted. But then reality set in. I can’t bring myself to go back to film even for the love of my life. Now if only Nikon would produce the SP as a full-frame mirrorless digital with that superb 35mm F1.8 Nikkor, I could fall in love all over again.
If you want to know more about the history and qualities of this handsome camera, go here:
Here’s a couple of pictures from my Nikon SP.
Both of these pictures are spontaneous grab shots; the picture of the boy in the audience at the circus was shot under extreme low-light conditions. With the 1.4 wide open, I remember that the shutter speed for this was 1/4 second, hand-held, with my shoulder hard braced up against a tent-pole. I got off three frames, this was the only sharp one.
Publishing that 1960s photo of street children in Woolloomooloo a couple of days ago, led me to look through other pictures of mine from that period. In 1966 I travelled to London looking for experience on Fleet Street. I stayed five years, returning to Australia in 1971. Here are three pictures from that time. Never without a camera, pictures 2 and 3 were shot almost from exactly the same spot, within metres of the door of the basement studio I rented in Soho. Both were made in the moment I emerged into the street, on my way home.
I wonder, was the street life richer and more varied then? In hindsight, it seems so.
For many years, my son has sported long hair, just as I did in the 70s. For him, it was probably not so much youthful rebellion, but a reaction to a lack of thatch in his early years. He didn’t have enough hair to comb until he was about three years old. When he was finally allowed autonomy over his hair, he grew it down to his shoulder-blades. Being somewhat handsome featured (taking after his mother), it became a bit of a joke that he was continually being mistaken for my daughter. This was before he had developed facial hair. I used to tell him that if we were to travel together in future it was either grow a beard or get a haircut.
Well he finally followed my advice. Listens to his old dad, does my boy:-)
I shot this late last year. Kim has since grown his hair back…for those of a technical bent, I lit this using two banks of fluorescent lights that I used to use as light-boxes for editing transparencies. Stood on end, they give a beautiful soft light and great highlights in the eyes.
I made this picture 51 years ago, when Woolloomooloo was an inner-city slum of dubious reputation. Only a few metres away was the infamous red light area of illegal brothels, Chapel Lane. The poster for Vincent’s APC on the wall above the children, is of somewhat curious historic interest. Vincent’s along with Bex powders,were highly addictive analgesics containing aspirin, phenacetin and caffeine, When it was found that they caused serious kidney damage they were taken off the market in 1970.
“Time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art.”
― Susan Sontag
The first in-print publication of pictures from my project This Working Life has just been published over 8 pages in the portfolio section of the highly respected Tasmanian magazine 40° South. If you are interested in Tasmania and all things Tasmanian, subscribe now.
To coincide with this I’ve posted some more of the pictures here. If you want to know more about this project please visit my This Working Life blog.
“Looking at pictures of work can provoke thoughts and feelings about work and life…it leads each to ponder in our own personal terms, not just the subject at hand but the universal nature of human existence.” Ferdinand Protzmann The World of Work.
“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Theodore Roosevelt
“Finding the right work is like discovering your own soul in the world.” Sir Thomas Moore (1779-1852)
“The strongest bond of human sympathy outside the family relation should be one uniting working people of all nations and tongues and kindreds.” Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it. - Buddha
“I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work. Work organizes life. It gives structure and discipline to life.” Bill Clinton
This year is my 50th year as a professional photographer. But more importantly, today is also the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones first gig at the Marquee Club in London. To celebrate our mutual longevity, I thought it might be appropriate to again post my picture of Mick Jagger, taken at the Hyde Park free concert on July 5, 1969.
Brian Jones had died only two days previously and this was the first concert for replacement guitarist, Mick Taylor. And so here we are both still rocking on 50 years down the track…long may we continue…
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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:-)
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.
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.)