Tag Archives: Photography

Words fail me…

When it comes to the subject of children and photography, the perverted views of those who would “protect” our children leaves me aghast. Yes, their stance towards the subject of children in art and photography is nothing more than perverse.

You can read Robert Nelson’s piece in the Sydney Morning Herald (Knee-jerk fear seems the rule in matters of children and art SMH Jan 6 2011) about the Sydney Childrens Hospital’s craven response to fear of criticism of this photo by artist, Del Kathryn Barton, by the new puritans here:

Nick O’Malley: Why this photo cost hospital a charity bonanza

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Filed under art, Australia, Australian, News, Opinion, Photographer, Photographers' rights, Photography

Tough times ahead for graphics professionals

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, James Rainey paints a gloomy picture for photographers and graphic artists. Perhaps he’s not saying anything we didn’t already know, but I’m kind of glad that I’m now at the back end of my career, rather than just starting out. This must be what it was like to be a portrait painter around the time of the invention of photography…as artist Paul Delaroche is (probably apocryphally) supposed to have said in 1839, on seeing a Daguerrotype, “From today painting is dead!” (a more balanced view of Delaroche’s opinion can be found here in Robert Leggat’s “History of Photography”.)


Filed under News, Opinion, Photography

An unashamed film heretic…

One for Guido Benschop: Tasmanian portable toilet No. 1. Taken yesterday while testing my new 80-200mm Nikkor 2.8 D lens. © Rob Walls

I am not ashamed to admit that I don’t mourn the passing of film. The hollow, pissing-in-the-wind wails of those who claim a resurgence of the medium, cut no ice with me. One of the complaints of the old-hand film devotees is that in days gone by you could buy a camera and it would be twenty or thirty years before it needed replacing. I fail to see the merit of the argument. When I used a Speed Graphic, I welcomed the move to a twin lens TLR, When I used a rangefinder camera, I embraced the arrival of the SLR, then in-camera exposure metering and motor-winds.

One of the greatest joys of the photographer is opening the box of a brand-new camera and lifting out a pristine machine, full of potential and possibility; breathing in the new camera smell, so sensual and full of promise. I delight in the upgrading of my digital cameras as now I can get that new camera hit every year. If they could package that smell as an after-shave, I’d buy it.

I don’t splurge on the top-of-the range, $5,000 models, preferring mid-range professional cameras. Cameras that will do the job without breaking either my back or my bank. Pragmatic and unsentimental, I look at it from the point-of-view that a new digital camera can pay for itself with a single day’s work or the licencing of a few good stock shots. After that it’s all profit.

This month, I’ll enjoy that new camera charge twice. Two weeks ago with Canon’s beautifully rugged point-and-shoot, the G11…and next week opening one of those beautiful golden boxes and inhaling that heady Nikon smell with the delivery of a new D90.

I still recall the pleasures the darkroom gave me…but like old loves, I don’t want to revisit them. I’m content with replacing the smell of developer, stop bath and hypo with the more subtle and sophisticated aroma of new digital hardware. The odors of the darkroom were always about the past, of pictures already made; the smell of a new digital camera is about the future, it is the promise of pictures yet to come.

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” Alexander Pope

As dead as film...another lens test. Can't wait for the new D90 to arrive. © Rob Walls


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

Industrial self-portrait

Industrial self-portrait with two Nikon FE2s and a personalised hard hat from Tom's Sliver in Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

Many years ago, on assignment in Java for Garuda Indonesian Airways, I went to photograph silversmiths at Tom’s Silver in Jogjakarta. I saw a craftsman applying his skills to an aluminum hard hat. It seems that oil-rig workers commissioned them and, amongst others, Tom”s Silver had made them for a couple of US Presidents and at least one Pope.

I just had to have one!

After paying my $US50, spelling out my name in pencil on the back of an envelope, specifying that the design should include a Nikon and some Australian elements, I left the silversmiths to do their work. A month later the hard-hat arrived in the mail. It was fantastic! An incredible photographic artefact.

There were Australian plants, a kangaroo and an emu, flowers and animals embossed all over the hat and a map of the continent on the back, in the most flamboyant array imagineable. Of course, I only ever gathered up the nerve to wear it to parties and then only when drunk. Too Village People!

But then one day looking at it on a shelf in the studio, I came up with this promotional still life with two Nikons, I called, Industrial Self-portrait….

For the amusement of my friends here’s a shot of me modelling my chapeau:


What every well-dressed industrial photographer should wear...


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

This one perfect day…

Javanese dancer, Jogjakarta, Indonesia

Javanese dancer, Jogjakarta, Indonesia

Every once in a while an assignment comes along where all the pieces fall into place. I’m not talking about only the technical aspects, but also the amount of choice and control offered by a client so that you can really deliver. Almost all assignments fall short in one area or another. Either the deadline is too tight, or the client interferes, or the weather and light don’t give of their best. Of course the being professional is about delivering the goods despite the problems that arise.  But once in a while there comes along a job where everything is just perfect. This was such an assignment.

About 30 years ago, I did a six week tour for an airline, that took me practicallt the length and breadth of  Indonesia. The purpose of the assignment  was to gather pictures for a brochure and poster campaign. It was a gruelling, mind-numbing schedule, with just two half days off in 45 days. The fee was OK, but not great. The budget had been tight and the competition for an assignment that would show you most of Indonesia was fierce. Still with one or two minor meltdowns I survived the ordeal, and delivered my pictures to the agency. Out of it came a posters campaign that included this portrait of a traditional Javanese dancer at the Dance Academy in Jogjakarta.

The initial poster campaign was so successful that the agency came back and asked me if I would shoot two more posters. From their enthusiasm and the fact that the posters were prominently displayed on the agency wall when I went there to discuss the brief and the fee, I realised I was now in a relatively strong bargaining position. The result was I was able to negotiate a fee for two or three days work in Java that was almost as high as the fee for the original assignment.

Part of the brief was to shoot a fashion shot that would convey elegance in a uniquely Indonesian way. The ad agency gave me complete control; choice of garment, approval of model and choice of location.

On arriving in Jakarta I met with Indonesia’s top batik artist and designer, Iwan Tirta. From his range we selected an extravagantly dramatic, silk, batik evening dress and we decided to complement it with some traditional style gold jewellery. We interviewed models and I chose a very tall, elegant Javanese beauty, who set off the garment to perfection.

When it came to location, I wanted something recognisably Javanese but neutral in tone. Something monumental but something that would not overpower the subject. From my previous assignment, I remembered the 9th century Hindu temple at Prambanan just outside Jogjakarta. It was perfect.  The Indonesian tourism people organising my trip, protested that it might be easier to shoot in Jakarta, rather than flying all the way to Jogja. But by now I had got the star bit between my teeth and I insisted that no other location would do. This of course was not entirely true, there were monuments and temples all over the place… but photographers don’t often get to make power plays and I was determined to play this one to the hilt. With true Javanese courtesy, they acquiesced.

A very early flight to Jogjakarta;  a preliminary shoot at the temple to establish location, orientation and timing of the afternoon light; a leisurely lunch at one of my favourite Jogja restaurants and then back to the location around 4pm. I had calculated that by then the sun would be low, warm and in the direction I needed.

I set up my camera and tripod with the 300mm Nikkor 2.8, on top of a small temple nearby.  Earlier that morning I had visualised that I could set up, get my shots and get away with a minimum of fuss. What I hadn’t counted on was an afternoon influx of tourist coaches and next thing I knew, here I having to perform like a showman, directing a shoot in front of an audience of about 350 tourists and a platoon or two of young Indonesian military recruits, at my back. Most of the tourists were shooting away like made over my shoulder. My discreet little fashion shoot in the middle of Java had wandered into Cecil B. De Mille territory. Despite the distractions, the light did what I wanted, the pieces fell into place and an hour later, I was able to wrap the shoot, content that I had got at least as much as I had bargained for.

Back in Australia, both the ad agency and the airline were very happy with the results; but two little incidents from this assignment stick in my mind. While I was shooting, a bunch of French tourists asked what I was doing. It was such delicious fun to explain to them the copy line I was illustrating (see poster 2). Just as I was about to finish shooting, an English tourist walking hand-in-hand with her four year old daughter wandered into my shot. The little girl did a double take. She gasped aloud when she saw the model. “Look Mummy! A real princess!”  It’s nice to think that I had accidentally fulfilled the fantasies of a child. She probably has children of her own now. I wonder if she ever tells them of the day she saw a Javanese princess.

Fashion shoot, Prambanan, Java

Fashion shoot, Prambanan, Java


Filed under Australian, Fashion photography, Photographer, Photography, Rob Walls, travel

Maybe I can shoot landscape after all…

I’ve never been much good at landscape photography. Which kind of poses the question as to why I would live in such a geographically beautiful island as Tasmania. But I’m a city boy. Nature to me is too often untidy. There’s always something in the frame that grates on my neat-freak tendencies. However, after the wettest winter in more than half a century, I figured there might be a fair bit of water flowing over the falls in Tasmania’s Mount Field National Park. I wasn’t wrong.

Though the weather was still pretty marginal (overcast and showery), I decided to use the opportunity to shoot some HDR (High Dynamic Range) pictures. The first of these of Russell Falls, shot from under the deep shade of rainforest and giant Dicksonia Antractica ferns is made up of two exposures. The second of Horseshoe Falls is from a range of five exposures.

I’m so pleased with the results, I’m going to go back in a couple of days to shoot when there is sunshine, to see how that works. Maybe I can get a handle on this landscape lark after all.

Russel Falls from under the fern canopy.

Russell Falls from under the fern canopy, two exposures.


Horseshoe Falls, four exposures

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls, three exposures


Filed under art, Australian, Photographer, Photography, Rob Walls, Stock photography, travel

100 Eyes Magazine…Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers…

This is some of the most moving and powerful photojournalism I’ve seen in many a long year…any comment other than to direct you to this work is unnecessary…
100 Eyes Magazine

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Filed under art, Opinion, Photography, Photojournalism

Photography: is it really art?

Art photography?

Art photography?

There is little argument these days, that photography is an art…but now the slicers and dicers, the nigglers at defintions, like to make a distinction between “high” art, “fine” art, and just plain old ordinary, everyday art. I think these are the same bunch of nit-pickers, who like to make the subtle distinction between documentary photography and photojournalism.

Better writers (and better photographers) than me have wrestled with this for years and have failed to come up with any answers that I find satisfactory. I’ll warn you now, you’ll find no answers here, only more questions? So if you are seeking enlightenment, perhaps this might be the point to take up yoga, or Buddhism.

Whenever this subject comes up, I immediately dive for my adopted manifesto to quote this:

“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.”

For those of you with a literary pre-disposition, you might recognise this as the closing lines of the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Like many statements by “the Divine Oscar”, it was designed to provoke; which is exactly why I like it. I think it has a particular resonance in relation to the photograph, in that some would say that a commercial photograph would fall outside the realm of art. But is that always the case? I don’t think so.

Now a good example of this is the work of the artist/potter. If they make a set of coffee mugs, are they “art”. I’d say sometimes, but very often the utilitarian function gets in the way. Who wants to drink coffee from cups that continually require a heightened appreciation of their value? It should be enough to appreciate the coffee, though I won’t dispute the fact that a beautifully designed container can enhance the experience.

Now a perfect contradiction of Oscar’s statement is Marcel Duchamp’s exhibition of a urinal, which he exhibited in 1917, and titled “Fountain”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fountain_(Duchamp ). It was Duchamp’s recognition of this utilitarian object as art that made it art (art in the eye of the beholder), but it was the context that made it art.

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp

Fountain by Marcel Duchamp

“Fine” art seems to be a pure construct of the academic, a description designed to enhance their status in a similar way that cookery teachers describe their subject as “food technology”, or in former years “domestic science” or even “home economics”. Photographers also use the term to glorify their craft (I use the term deliberately). Not satisfied with being called merely photographer, they choose to describe themselves as “fine art photographers” as though this description was their to bestow on themselves. Insecurity? Probably.

“Fine” art also implies a succumbing to the pretentious limited edition/archival print/gallery circuit where the “artist” is purely reliant on the good will of critics and what the collector decides is fashionable. Being dead is a great career move for the artist…as no more emphatically evidenced by Michael Jackson’s recent departure. Good one, Michael!

I have always been under the impression that to describe yourself as an artist was somewhat presumptious. Maybe I’m wrong but surely this accolade should come from one’s peers and the appreciators of your work after a lengthy period of application to producing a significant body of work. It should not be a term to be self-adopted by the wearer.

If you think you have the answers I’d be delighted to debate them with you…

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Filed under art, Opinion, Photographer, Photography, 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


Filed under Photographer, Photography, portraits, Rob Walls

A little street colour

I’ve always found the genre of photography known as “street photography’ immensely rewarding and ultimately compelling. The thing I like most about it is that the simple act of carrying a camera, endows the photographer with a  heightened awareness, an alertness to the relationships of everything and everyone within their line of sight.

I often wonder whether non-photographers can experience this same sensitivity to their surroundings. They probably do; but even the most accomplished of writers would find great difficulty in conveying their observations in such detail.

I’m particularly drawn to strong colours and when it comes to street photography, the relationship of people within the viewfinder to those dominant colours. Here are three scenes from my travels that I particularly like:

Street scene, Malacca

Jonkers Street, Malacca

Fire Station, New York City

Fire Station No 2, New York City

Peanut vendor, Malaysia

Peanut vendor, Malaysia

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Filed under Australian, Photographer, Photography, Photojournalism, Rob Walls, Stock photography