Tag Archives: memory

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


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

Photos within photos…

Discarded memory © Rob Walls 2010

Photos within photos: a fascination. They are like a slice of time contained within a slice of time; a mirror reflected within a mirror. Like looking at a scene through a door framed within an open window. I came across  this discarded portrait of an Australian soldier. It had been rescued from the city dump. I wonder where he ended up?


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

Anzac Day…before the flag was hijacked

Standard bearer for the Light Horse Regiment at the Cenotaph, Sydney, 1980 © Rob Walls

Back in the days before the Australian flag was hijacked by psuedo-patriots and hypocritical xenophobes, I, along with several other photographers, took part in a black and white documentation of Anzac Day. I came to it with the standard biased left-wing, anti-war views of the day…and came away with a profound respect for the shared experience and quiet cameraderie that was demonstrated. Would I feel the same about today’s jingoistic displays at Gallipoli and elsewhere attended by flag-wrapped youth using the event to display false pride and a misplaced sense of history? I doubt it. Back then it was a commemoration, today it has become a celebration. Few take the time to think about the difference…

Veterans watching the march, Anzac Day, 1980 © Rob Walls

No sense of irony? A Naval Bass drummer wearing the skin of Australia's national icon. Anzac Day, Sydney, 1980 © Rob Walls

Colonel Bogey March sheet music, Sydney 1981 © Rob Walls

Boy wearing father;s medals at the dawn service in Martin Place, Sydney, 1981 © Rob Walls

Naval cadets from HMAS Huskisson, Anzac Day, 1981

Ghost of the Light Horse Regiment at the Dawn Service, Martin PLace, Sydney 1980 © Rob Walls

Naval bandsmen waiting for the start of the march in George Street, Sydney1980 © Rob Walls

And soon after sunrise the politicians were already at work co-opting the day with Liberal Senator Patrick Baume handing out portraits of the Queen at the dawn service breakfast, Callala Bay RSL, NSW, 1981 © Rob Walls

Writer, Bob Ellis encapsulates my feelings about Anzac Day here, Battles Lost, Minds Won.

No matter what your sentiments may be about this, “the one day of the year”, in the end it’s still all just about this…

Art deco lettering on the memorial hall at New Norfolk, Tasmania, © Rob Walls 2007


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

In the eye of the beholder…

I’ve recently been thinking about how a photograph can contain many levels of meaning. At the most basic level a photograph conveys its message from the objects within the frame and their relationship to each other. One of the hardest things a photographer must learn if their photographs are to be meaningful to others, is to separate themselves from the peripheral experience, the memory of the events and experiences surrounding a picture. Too often the photographer makes the mistake of thinking that the emotions that accompanied the making of a photograph are somehow automatically imbued within the picture.  Only when you learn to be objective about your work can you begin to make good photographs.

Some months ago, the wife of a friend asked me if I had a photograph that might make a good gift for her husband’s 64th birthday. In the late 1960s, as young and irresponsible men, we had travelled together in Europe.

Early morning, French Pyrenees, 1969

I went back through my negatives and found this photograph I had taken 40 years ago; it prompted me to think about the layers of meaning a simple photograph can contain. To the ordinary viewer this is just a picture of two men talking on a street corner in the early morning sunlight. Evocative enough in it’s own way, the astute viewer might guess that it is is somewhere in Europe; perhaps even deduce that it is somewhere in France. The picture is evocative enough in it’s own way; but to three people, it has layers of experience and memory that the ordinary viewer cannot possible access. This was the picture I decided would make the perfect birthday gift and I wrote this, a festschrift, as the Germans call it, to go on the back of the frame:

In the early spring of 1969, journalist, Tony Hewett and I persuaded Bruce Best that his soul would be spiritually enhanced by exposure to the sublimely soaring architecture of Antonio Gaudi. To be perfectly honest, his inclusion in this pilgrimage had a lot to do with the fact that he was the only one of our friends who owned a car. Tempting him with the suggestion that this would be a Tour de France Gastronomique, he took little convincing and soon we were ambling in his old Austin A 40 Estate, through the last of the spring snows of the French Hautes-Pyrénées. Barcelona bound.

With night coming on, we stopped at a plain but comfortable little hotel, in a tiny mountain village. The proprietor apologised that he was not prepared for guests so early in the season and all he could manage by way of food was some trout. The memory of that meal lingers as though it were yesterday. The freshest trout, grilled with almonds and served with a butter sauce, potatoes, salad, crusty bread and a flinty, dry, white wine. The stream, in which the trout had so recently resided, roared past just below where we ate.

After dinner we decided to walk off our meal with a promenade down the single street of the village. The night air was chill and hearing the rumble of conversation from a small, dimly-lit bar we went in to warm ourselves by the fire. Bruce suggested a Chartreuse as “un digestif” and soon we were deep into a comparative tasting of both the green and yellow liqueurs of those good Carthusian monks. Our indecisiveness over which was the better required several repeat rounds. At closing time, we tumbled back into the street and under a freezing, clear, starry sky stumbled back to the hotel.

We were woken the next morning by the sound of animated discussion beneath our window. Badly hungover, the hard light made us flinch. Below us, two men, one with the inevitable smouldering Gauloise glued to his bottom lip, the other in a classic beret, were chatting amiably in the slanting early-morning sunlight. I dived for my Nikon to capture this quintessentially French scene.

That my dear friend was looking over my shoulder when I made this photograph, means a lot to me. At a high point in our lives, this is where we were exactly 40 years ago. I hope it awakens many memories of that crazy, youthful expedition…to Barcelona and back…

Happy 64th birthday, Bruce…with love…

Rob, Hobart, Tasmania 2009.

As you can see this picture carries with it special memories for Tony, Bruce and me. They are inaccessible to anyone else…except perhaps in some small way, when the picture is accompanied by the text. It brings to mind photo editor Wilson Hicks’ dictum: “The basic unit of photojournalism, is one picture, with words“.


Filed under art, Australian, Autobiography, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, travel

The pin board above my keyboard

A pot-pourri of old photos, postcards, press passes, souvenirs, nostalgia, ideas, and inspiration. Pictures, within, pictures, within pictures…filtered through the looking glass of memory.


Leave a comment

Filed under Australian, Photographer, Photography, Rob Walls