Tag Archives: history

Documenting disaster and distress…

The argument whether photographers should photograph people’s suffering in disasters or war ebbs and flows. The subject raises its head each time there is a major event. Inevitably there will those who argue that the photographic coverage is an invasion of privacy, or an exploitation of people’s misery. But, to my mind they arguments is never just black and white. I believe that at the very least, photographs of human misery have the ability to stir empathy and at best, move the viewer to take action in some way to try to relievc that misery.

This subject is covered in a very thoughtful article by Suzy Freeman-Green (Drawing a line in the morality of watching disasters unfold) in the Melbourne, Age today (March 26). I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this issue…

 

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Filed under Australia, Australian, Digital photography, documentary photography, Photographers' rights, Photography, Photojournalism

This Working Life book

Today, using Blurb.com, I completed and ordered a promotional book I put together to gain additional sponsorship for the This Working Life project. (This Working Life is an ongoing documentation of work in photographs sponsored by Jobs Australia). This is it:

In the introduction, I wrote:

The digital data embedded with the photograph on the opposite page shows (photo of painters painting historic building in Hobart) that I released the shutter on this subject at exactly 8:35:12 a.m. on Tuesday 5th of January 2010.

Studying that picture later in the day, it occurred to me that apart from the chemistry of their paint, little had changed in this craft since the subject of their meticulous attention was built almost 200 years ago. The basic elements of skill and co-ordination of hand and eye were exactly the same as when this Georgian shop-front was first built. For the near future at least, these were two craftsmen whose job was unlikely to be overtaken by the digital revolution.

This set me on a train of thought about the changing nature of work and as I pondered this, I decided to direct my energies towards a long-term photographic documentation of modern work in all its aspects.

My working life has now spanned a period of fifty-one years. For forty-eight of those, I’ve pursued the vocation of photographer. When I started out, flash bulbs were about to be replaced by electronic flash. A photographer’s burn calluses on forefinger and thumb from changing hot flash bulbs were still a matter of professional pride.

It’s been nearly ten years since I last loaded a roll of film into a camera. Until around twenty years ago the technology for making photographs had barely changed in the 175 years since it was invented. But then came digital photography and I delighted in the spontaneity and flexibility it brought to my craft. Sentimental nostalgia for the darkroom, or “the good old days” of film is something that still eludes me.

Photographing work for almost half a century, I can recall when ships were unloaded with cargo nets; then came containers, an innovation fiercely resisted by waterside workers who saw their opportunities for a little cargo pilfering evaporating.

My first job was in a bank, at a time when a customer’s account information was still kept on ledger cards. One of the most loathed jobs was updating the interest earned on savings accounts. Here, the highest level of technology employed was the ball-point pen and a mechanical hand-cranked adding machine.

There was a time in the early 1950s when the jobs of parking inspector and lift driver appeared to be the prerogative of disabled war veterans. It was not unusual to see a parking inspector bracing his ticket pad on a peculiarly shiny, tightly leather-gloved, prosthetic hand, while he scribbled. Parking inspectors were invariably male.

Lift operators used to be seated on low stools tucked in the corner of the lift next to the controls. All day, as they rode up and down they would repetitiously announce the products or businesses located on each floor. Some did this work with memorable good cheer. Others did it grudgingly, often failing to hide their resentment at their lot. The lift driver’s affliction was more commonly injury to or amputation of the lower limbs.

Also in the 1950s, I remember milk still delivered by horse and cart and dippered from churns into billy-cans. As a nine-year-old, I vividly recall the huge molars of the milkman’s horse clamping onto my left bicep. You don’t quickly forget the excruciating pain of being chewed by a playful Clydesdale.

Later, when my father retired from the navy, as a second job and a small investment, he bought a milk round. The whole family was expected to turn out in the middle of the night to help. Running, crunching through the hard frost on those neat, unfenced, winter Canberra lawns, with a dozen glass bottles of milk in a steel basket hanging from each hand, was fitness training of the highest order. Oh, how we cheered the introduction of milk in cartons.

I once had an uncle who was a Sydney tram driver. His was just a short walk to work. He lived less than 100 metres from the now long gone, tram depot on Military Road in Neutral Bay. Sydney trams, cargo nets, ledger cards, lift drivers, milkmen, their horses and glass bottles, film and flash bulbs; all gone; or in the case of film, lingering but fitfully.

If it is possible to predict anything, it is that change to our working lives will become ever more rapid and dramatic. Predicting the future has always been difficult, but in attempting to anticipate change, it helps if we know where we have been. This is what this book is about.

Rob Walls
Cascades, Tasmania,
September 2010

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

A walk on the wild side…

On the 8th and 9th of August I was immensely privileged to be able to accompany a group of Aboriginal Australians on part of their walk of the historic Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea. The trek, backed by the Jobs Australia Foundation, was part of the Indigenous Leadership Youth Program.

The end of the journey for the participants in the Jobs Australia backed expedition at the Kokoda Memorial , 9th August 2010. © Rob Walls 2010

My part in this adventure was what the Papuans call in pidgin, “sumting, nutting” (something, nothing i.e. of little consequence). With blind trekker, Steve Widders, and trek guide, Dion Taylor, I walked from Kokoda to Daniki; a hard climb for two elderly men, let alone a blind one; and then back from Hoy Village after camping overnight, to Kokoda in the pre-dawn darkness. Steve, of course handled this with aplomb, even telling Dion when he sensed we had taken a wrong turn on the track.

In photographing them together, I couldn’t help remembering George Silk’s famous photograph from 1942.

Steve Widders is helped by Kokoda Spirit guide, Dion Taylor on the way to Daniki.

For me one of the highlights, apart from the knowledge that I had completed a demanding physical challenge, was the opportunity to wash off the sweat and mud of the trail in this cool, rushing, mountain stream.

Almost there. Participants in the Indigenous Youth Leadership Program trek across the Kokoda Track relax in a cool mountain stream at Hoy Village just a few short kilometres from the end of their gruelling march across the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea. © Rob Walls 2010

The Kokoda Track is said to be one of the most challenging treks in the world. I salute all of those who completed the entire journey. You have my ungrudging admiration and respect. You must be proud.

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

More “p” words…political correctness

What were they thinking? 

The museum The Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience has taken a PC stance on Winston Churchill’s penchant for good Havana cigars by turning the great man into a non-smoker. Full story in the Daily Telegraph As Sigmund Freud once said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Now I wonder what he would have thought of Winston’s Tommy gun?

But as R. Kipling saw it, “…a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.”

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Filed under News, Opinion

Thinking about work…

Painters at work, Melville Street, Hobart

Painters at work, Melville Street, Hobart

I’ve been thinking about the subject of work at lot lately. Some would say I prefer to think about it rather than perform it. But it occurred to me there are still many jobs that can’t be computerised. These two painters painting the window frames of this old Georgian store in Melville Street Hobart this morning,  can probably feel comfortable in the knowledge that their jobs are unlikely to be overtaken by the digital revolution, any time in the near future.

Camera: Canon Powershot G11

A POSTSCRIPT: driving past the day after, I see that the beautiful remnants of the words “Furnishing Warehouse” have now been sanded off the timber facade. Sad! But they still  live on in this photo.

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