Tag Archives: Photographers

Arts Freedom Australia protest rally, Sunday, August 29th

I live in Tasmania, and am grateful that the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service takes the liberal approach that it does in recognising the symbiotic relationship between photographers and landscape, by giving professional photographers the freedom to photograph in our national parks. This state was blessed with two of the best wilderness photographers in Olegas Truchanas who in turn was a mentor to Peter Dombrovskis. Coincidentally, both died pursuing their craft in the wilderness they loved.

On Sunday, 29th August at Campbells Cove in Sydney there will be a demonstration against Parks Australia’s  iniquitous laws that restrict professional photography at sites such as Uluru and Kakadu. The demonstration is organised by Arts Freedom Australia.

More information here: http://www.artsfreedomaustralia.com/blog/?p=194

More coverage on Google News: http://tinyurl.com/37x9cf8

Coverage of the protest in the Sydney Morning Herald: http://tinyurl.com/23mxcno

8 Comments

Filed under art, Australian, documentary photography, News, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, Stock photography, travel

Australian government publishes up-skirt photos…

Through regulation, restriction, misguided legislation and baseless fear, the documentary photographer’s world is shrinking apace. Corporations and government instrumentalities have commodified our landscape in ways that make spontaneous photography in many precincts illegal.

National parks, beaches, shopping centres, rock concerts, railway stations, airports and schools are all off-limits for a variety of reasons, some of which I have touched on elsewhere (Uluru and photography restrictions…). Throw in an ill-informed public, uneducated security guards and police misquoting half understood laws and no photographer today raises his or her camera without a sense of unease.

Which makes the publication of these photos in 1991 by Australia Post, as part of an issue of five stamps, to celebrate 150 years of photography, all the more ironic.

Bondi Beach, 1939 photo by Max Dupain

Bondi Beach, 1939 photo by Max Dupain

The beach photograph by Max Dupain epitomises the Australian beach lifestyle. It rightly occupies a place of honour in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. But can you imagine shooting something like this today without being pounced on by over-zealous beach inspectors or the police being called?

In 2006 Max’s son Rex was detained and threatened with arrest for shooting pictures on Bondi Beach. http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,20895457-2,00.html

The Wheel of Youth, 1929 by Harold Cazneaux

The Wheel of Youth, 1929 by Harold Cazneaux

Crouching down low to capture the curving energetic sweep of The Wheel of Youth, as he did in 1929 at Dee Why, would almost guarantee Harold Cazneaux’s arrest if he was making that picture today. After all there are children in the frame. The pedophile alarm bells would be ringing loudly.

The reality is, that no photographer in 2009 could expect to make pictures like this and not be challenged. But were times so very different? I’d be interested in your thoughts…

3 Comments

Filed under art, Australian, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

Through the prism of an over-active imagination…

London, 1967. I was hanging around a film location with a bunch of other press photographers. The film was being directed by Roman Polanski and we were waiting to photograph his wife, the actress, Sharon Tate. Suddenly a black kid, no more than 11 years of age, in short pants, with a runny nose, detached himself from a small crowd of spectators and came up to me. In a Cockney-tinged accent he asked, “Hey mister! You a photographer?” The two or three Nikons around my neck would have made this pretty obvious, but as soon as I confirmed it, the kid said, “My name is Dennis Morris. Wait there. I’ll be right back.” and scooted off through the crowd.

He was back a few minutes later with a fistful of black and white prints which he offered, stating it was his ambition to become a pro photographer. The pictures were much what you would have expected from an 11-year-old, but there was something about the boy; something about his spirit that moved me to offer encouragement. At the time, I was sharing a studio in the West End so I gave him my card and told him to drop in to have a look around and to pick up a pile of photo magazines that we no longer needed.

Over the next few years, Dennis became a regular visitor to the studio and each school holiday he would join us for work experience. As the cliche goes, he was as keen as mustard, and he began to show real talent. I took him with me on assignments when I could and also to the occasional parties that were part of the “swinging London” scene of the 60’s. His mother, a single parent, raised him and his brother in a single room in one of the poorer parts of London. I was a little anxious that introducing him to the vibrant social scene of late 60’s London might turn his head.

By 1971, I had been away from Australia for five years and decided it was time to go home. By this time Dennis had become a very cool and stylish sixteen year old. The last conversation we had was in a pub near my studio. Though under-age, he had no trouble passing as someone older. I remember, He was wearing a black Borsalino hat and a long black overcoat. He looked like he was auditioning for a part in Shaft. Over a couple of pints, he told me he was dropping out of high school and going on tour with a musician he had met while taking photos at a club in Oxford Street. The musician was some dreadlocked Jamaican unknown by the name of Bob Marley.

Bob Marley by Dennis Morris

Bob Marley © Dennis Morris

Back in Australia, I  went through a marriage break-up. The future didn’t look too bright. Freelancing in Australia as a photojournalist was unheard of. I quickly reinvented myself as a fashion photographer and this earned me a good living for a while, until eventually the marketplace caught up. As the newspapers began to establish colour supplements they also began to look around for photographers with illustrative experience. The sort of work I did was suddenly in demand. I was able to re-establish myself as an editorial and corporate shooter.

As the years went by, I shared, built and established several studios. From time-to-time I used to wonder what had become of Dennis. Underlying this wondering was an tinge of guilt. I felt somewhat responsible for him becoming a high school dropout. I assuaged this guilt by telling myself that there was a good chance he had done alright. Bob Marley had become a superstar and a many of his record covers carried Dennis’ picture credit. Maybe Dennis was OK.

Anyway, in 1990 I remarried, moved to Tasmania, had a couple of children, and led a bucolic settled existence. One cold winter Sunday afternoon, I idly flicked the TV to the ABC arts program and there was Dennis Morris being interviewed. He was in Australia as a guest of the Perth Arts Festival exhibiting his iconic photographs of the Sex Pistols.
Sid Vicious © Dennis Morris
Sid Vicious © Dennis Morris

I promptly Googled his name and was delighted to find that Dennis had not only got on OK, he had done very well indeed. He had published several books and his photography was being exhibited internationally. In addition to his photography, Dennis had also been lead singer with a punk/reggae fusion band, the Basement 5 that had gathered a powerful cult following, especially in Germany.

Getting onto the internet it didn’t take me long to find his website and an email address. I sent him a message. Almost immediately there was a phone call and a deep London inflected West Indian accent told me, “Rob, there’s no way I’m coming to Australia and not visiting you!” A few days later I was greeting him at Hobart airport, with his beautiful French wife Isabel, and his lovely daughter Pearl, who was about the same age as my daughter, Cassie.

The next ten days were a blur as we filled in the thirty-five year gap in our friendship. Over dinner one night with our families at the home of a composer friend, Dennis told me that back in London the day we first met, he had looked along the line of photographers, to make up his mind who seemed to be the most approachable, and of all the photographers there had settled on me. I was flattered, but then he said, “You know back in the 60’s, you were so damned cool. I wanted to be you!”. At that, I couldn’t help turning to my teenage son to say, “You hear that, Kim? Once upon a time,  your dad was really cool”. To Dennis I said, “You know back in the 60s, all I wanted to be was black and West Indian…now that was cool.”

At one point during his visit, Dennis asked, “You remember that room, I lived in wiv’ my Mum in London? You know she still lives there.” I was amazed. I was even more surprised when he told me with a broad smile, “Yep! I bought her the house!”.

Today, old, grey-haired and overweight. I’d like to think that my children might detect a remnant of lingering cool about me…but I doubt it. Dennis, on the other hand, is still black, still West Indian and still very, very cool. For me, the payoff in reconnecting was that I no longer carried the baggage; the stupidly misplaced idea; that I might have been a bad influence on his life.

For anyone interested in knowing more about Dennis Morris, here is a recent interview with Mr Cool himself. Dennis Morris, is a man I am proud to have known and who long ago, I like to believe, I might have influenced in some small way. All power to you Dennis. I guess I can stop beating myself up, eh?
:

1 Comment

Filed under art, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls

J.H. Lartigue: what a blogger he would have made…

Woman with small dog walking in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris

Woman with small dog walking in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris

Sometime around 1970 I shared an elevator with an elderly silver-haired, dapper, twinkle-eyed, Frenchman. We exchanged greetings. We were both on our way to a lecture at the National Gallery in London. He was in fact the guest lecturer and his name was Jacques Henri Lartigue. He had come to prominence when a spread of his photographs had been published in Life magazine in 1963. At the age of 76, he was just reaching the peak of his career as a photographer. Richard Avedon had described him as “…the most deceptively simple and penetrating photographer in the history of photography”.

For the next hour or two this modest man charmed the audience, showed his pictures and talked about his life. Using a high quality Uher cassette recorder I taped his presentation and back in Australia used quotes from it when a photo magazine asked me to review his book, Diary of a Century. This was an edited selection of pictures from the astonishing 120 large format photo albums he had kept as a visual diary. Sadly the tape of that event no longer exists. I lent it to a director of the Australian Centre for Photography, where I lectured for many years, and it was stolen along with his car.

However, some of Lartigue’s comments from that lecture still survive in my review, which appeared in Camera Graphics Australia (Volume one-Number four, March 1972).

“In order to to have talent, one must be happy. In order to be happy, one must have earned happiness and it does not come without effort. By happiness I do not mean to be rich or spoilt, I mean, to possess a joy of living.”

“In order to be happy, I have my own formula. It is this: never, never be lazy. Eat well and that does not mean eat a lot. Sleep well, and in order to sleep well trake much exercise. Know how to breathe good air. Enjoy silence…this does not prevent one from listening to good music, but one must know the value of silence. Love God, and open one’s ears to his suggestions, which although they are often very quiet are there all the same.”

Questioned on technique he replied that he used neither rangefinder nor exposure meter. “I am able to estimate distance and exposure very accurately from experience”, adding with a grin, “But then you only see the successful pictures. there were very many that were unsuccessful”.

“Sometimes with the inadequate cameras and the very slow plates of the time, I would make my pictures and then pray very hard to God that He would make a miracle happen. I would go home and develop my plates and find that they were no good. In the end, the miracle took seventy years to happen; since it is these bad photographs that hardly came out that are regarded as the most beautiful of my collection”.

Asked whether he thought photography had advanced or progressed since he was a young boy, he replied: “It is not a matter of progressing, it is a question of the times changing and you reflect the time you live in. That is all.”

Whenever I revisit Lartigue’s pictures, I take away two very important reminders. The most important is the that the act of taking a photograph can be pleasurable and spontaneous. His pictures of family and friends also remind me that you don’t need exotic subjects or locations to make great pictures; good pictures can happen wherever you are and with whoever is close to you.

If you’ve never heard of Jacques Henri Lartigue, I recommend his work to you. Seek it out if you want to know the joy that can be found in taking photographs. If you know and love his pictures as I do, I suggest you revisit his pictures often. They will refresh your spirit and your eye…

As Richard Avedon wrote in the afterword to Diary of a Century, “…he did what no other photographer has done before or since. He photographed his own life. It was as if he knew instinctively and from the very beginning that the real secret lay in small things…There is almost no one in this book who isn’t a friend…no moment that wasn’t a private one.”

Lartigue and Richard Avedon. Photo by Florette Lartigue

Lartigue and Richard Avedon. Photo by Florette Lartigue

2 Comments

Filed under Photographer, Photography, portraits, Rob Walls