Each year the fishing community of Fremantle has two ceremonies to ensure the fishermen and their boats are safe and the catches are good throughout the season.
The smaller of the two festivals, held in honour of The Black Madonna, is on the second Sunday of September and celebrated by the small Portugese community who live in the city. The larger Blessing of the Fleet is held in late October and conducted by the entire fishing community, mostly from Mediterranean communities, principally Italian.
Several Masses are held in St Patrick’s Basilica and a procession leaves there to parade the Black Madonna around the city’s street during the afternoon. It is a time for the younger members of the community to play a part in their industry. Many of these kids would be descended from migrants who established the fishing industry in the 1920s and will mostly become fishers themselves.
Well, not exactly on the road. Up in the air would be a better description and that probably describes my state of mind better than the mode of transport. In the past six or seven days I crossed Australia three times in the space of 20 hours, largely as a result of bad weather forcing the return of a flight from Melbourne to Perth with the added problem of waiting about ten hours for another flight. This resulted in a door to door trip of 36 hours and no sleep in that time. But I satisfy myself with the thought that if that should be the worst thing to happen to happen to me when I fly I’ll be a very happy wombat. Now, to add insult to injury, I’m stuck in Changi Airport, Singapore, after an overnight flight and waiting fourteen hours for a connection to Saigon. How do airlines manage these schedules – or mismanage them? Small wonder my favourite means of transport is foot power. Nevertheless this is not a bad place to be stuck. The shopping area in the transit lounge is bigger than my home town and there’s a strong temptation to top up with watches costing about fifty thousand bucks each as well getting a designer wardrobe. As it transpires the only thing I really wanted wasn’t available anywhere – a case to hold SD cards. I did manage to get one decent shot in Melbourne, or a least a shot I liked, whilst wandering around with an old photo mate, Michael Coyne. A group of artists were sitting around the steps of a grand building so I snapped them. Then, a few days later, I went for a wander to a local football ground where kids practice and parents watch and jagged another shot. I particularly liked this and it once again reminded me of the influences great photographers have on us. This time Lisette Model.
New Project Right now I’m en route to start work on a larger project which, for starters, will take me up the coast of Vietnam from Saigon, or HCMC as the official name of Ho Chi Min city has been short formed, up to Hanoi. I’m keeping the principle story under wraps as I expect it to take several trips through SE Asia over about three years but, along the way, I hope to pick up many smaller stories. Ultimately I think there will be a book in it. I think I’ll leave this post for the moment. I’m working on my iPad and this is the first time I’ve worked in WordPress with it. I’ll see what mistakes I make first and then carry on with a summary of what I was doing at the Ballarat Photography Festival. Briefly it was a workshop on combining writing with photography to create feature stories and finding ways to make photojournalism viable in the digital age. Total Bogan Apart from that I don’t feel like doing a lot more writing. I had no sleep on the plane last night and was crammed in next to a total bogan, complete with baseball cap worn back to front and using a neck rest decorated in the style of an Australian flag. I don’t know why he bothered with it as he had no neck – it would have been impossible to hang him!
There comes a time when some treasured things have to go …
It was my son Ben’s birthday last Friday 21st June. He happened to be born on the day of the winter solstice and, as a small birthday present I took him and one of my grandsons, Sam, out to breakfast at a local restaurant.
As it happens Ben is a successful young bloke on a career path which most people dream about. Heaven knows where he got his brains from but it wasn’t me. He certainly had the brains not to go into photojournalism or any sort of media. Needless to say I’m exceedingly proud of him and the family of Garwoodies – Bek, my daughter-in-law and two grandsons, Josh and Sam.
All that stuff aside I am always left with the problem of what to give a bloke who has everything he needs in life. Well, I think he has anyway. I have, over the past few years, been passing a few of my own ‘treasures’ over to him. Little things I’ve lived with and enjoyed. They don’t amount to a lot but are the sort of things we become attached to.
I have been staring at my two oldest cameras, a couple of Leica M2s, the very first cameras I bought. That was back in April and May 1963, 50 years ago. They have been sitting on the mantlepiece over the fireplace, staring back at me and reminding me of my career in a very pleasant fashion. Now and again something flashes through my mind and I’ll look at them and say: “Remember that?”. They stare at me with blank eyes.
And so it was I decided this year, after 50 years media use, they should go to Ben for safe keeping, a part of family history. One of them is buggered – too much salt water inhalation – the other is working perfectly. They actually got pensioned off about 15-18 years ago as I have a handful of M6s and an old M4-2 which fill their shoes these days.
When I give Ben ‘stuff’ I write a little of the history, A few pages which help him to know a little about my life. I do this because I know virtually nothing about my own family background and don’t want him left in the same position.
I Saved the World
In short I explained that I was studying engineering and hated it. In fact I pride myself in the fact I may have saved the world. By quitting engineering I didn’t design planes which fell out of the sky, bridges which collapsed or ships which sank faster than a stone. The world owes me!
I happened to be sitting in a physics lecture next to a friend, Alan Draper, and can remember leaning over to him and whispering: “You know something? I’ve got a feeling I want to be a photographer”.
Until that moment I had never given it much thought. I was an avid newspaper and magazine reader. Many years later I realised that my mother, in teaching me to read before I went to school – we only had newspapers and magazines – The DailyMirror, DailyExpress, Illustrated and PicturePost in the house – had hot wired me and conditioned me for a career in the media. Thus, no sooner had I made the decision, in April 1963, than I also decided I had to work in Fleet Street. Not only that but I had a clear insight as to whom I wanted to work for – Paris Match – which was a regular publication stocked in the college library and had a reputation for being a hard hitter.
How come Leicas? Well, I was rushing for a train and picked up a magazine – Photography – from a news stand at the railway station. In it was an advert for the Leica M3. The punch line, after the general advertising guff was: “It still expects you to find the picture” or something like that. Check it out … I still have it after 50 years.
In retrospect I like the opening line too – “The Leica does not set out to do your thinking for you”.
It’s a short story as to how I got going and I may tell that later. All in all I can say it was pure arse – fortune shone on me very quickly. I sit here writing this and wishing fortune would recharge its batteries!
So last Thursday the old Leicas were gift wrapped and handed over with very little ceremony but stirring many, many, memories.
Aside from covering news and shooting a lot of features I used one or the other of these to stroll around the streets, mainly in London, and do a bit of street shooting.
In the past few days I’ve been travelling down memory lane and scanning some of those early images. I don’t know that these are the best as I’m still sifting through boxes of negs. Here are a few. Non of them have been worked on in LightRoom. They’re straight scans from the Nikon Coolscan V. I’ll work on them another time so please forgive the scratches and drying marks.
Big Gap Here
I ran out of time after starting this entry. I’m going to add a few scans and then catch my breath a bit.
I had been covering the coalminers’ strike in England. I can’t really remember if it was 1973 or ’74. I’d spent the morning down one of the pits, wading waste deep through water, crawling along filthy passages and getting totally filthy. I’d gone down at the invitation of union members who were striking for a wage of 5000 pounds a year. When I got to the surface, showered and cleaned up and joined the miners in their social club I was asked what I felt about the situation. With great honesty I said I wouldn’t do their work for 5000 quid a week, let alone a year. As I left, I saw this miner munching at a pie and asked if he’d mind me taking a picture. Shot with a Leica M2 and 35mm Summilux on Tri X.
This shot amused me. I was wandering around and looking at the sign, a theatre poster, thinking somehow it had to make a picture when this old fellow wandered along, stopped, and looked into the magnifying glass.
I’m not that interested in ballroom dancing. People gliding around a dance floor, stately as galleons, don’t do much for me. I can only say I must have registered an interest in off floor pictures. I may have been attracted to the dancers legs but can’t be sure of that. Leica M4, Noctilux, Tri X
I’ll post a few more of these old shots later. In the meantime there are still a few places in my workshop at the Ballarat Photo Festival (BIFFO) in August. Check out the details at
I spent a few days nursing one of those damned head colds which cause victims to reach out for a bit of loving care and attention and, when they don’t get it, to reach for the ‘medicinal uses only’ whisky bottle. This was a half bottle cold.
Being one of those characters who always seems to find his bread falling buttered side up I had a friend bring around some beautiful home made soup and another who arrived with a bottle of whisky. Both of them made me wish I could have more colds to use as bait and attract these people more often.
The upside of colds is that they offer an excuse to meander through the files and dredge for forgotten pictures.
Here’s a few to keep the ball rolling. I like pictures to be a little whimsical, something which may put a smile on peoples’ faces. At the very least I like pictures to have an obvious reason for being taken.
There’s something funny about photographers. They always take up a sort of crouch when shooting.Sometimes I’ve seen them stand on a chair, then they crouch a little which takes them down to their normal head height.
I was out shooting with my photo buddy Lidia D’Opera on what we termed a ‘pooch mooch’. Lidia was working on a book about dogs and I became a sort of deputy dog spotter. We both got this shot, how could you resist it? Check Lidia out at http://www.lidiadopera.com.au and look for her books.
An artist working at Fremantle Markets. He’s there every weekend come hell or high water. The picture at the top left is a self portrait I think
This was taken in Saigon. Somewhere under the plastic is a man selling newspapers. He’s sheltering from the rain.
And this is a nice closing shot for now. I get the impression they were good friends.
I promised part II of this odyssey some weeks ago, in fact about three months ago. However, time waits for no man (or person depending on how politically correct we feel we should be). Thus I found myself sidetracked by a trip to Bali, a lot of writing and, better still, a few weeks of good old fashioned darkroom printing. That has been followed up with preparing notes for a workshop I’m giving at the Ballarat International Foto Biennale in August. (http://ballaratfoto.org/garwood-workshop/). I will also be reviewing portfolios.
Also I freely admit that if anything looks as though it is going to interfere with my stroll to the cafe in the mornings it gets put off – forever.
The whole idea of travelling with the dragons is outlined in the original post (February). It was in fact a story which went off at another angle. I had intended to photograph the Mekong Delta in the wet season, the monsoon, but it didn’t rain. Thus I turned the idea into a time travel story. That idea morphed from the observation that travelling on the delta did seem like turning the clock back to days when travelling was a sedate pastime, when there was time to savour the atmosphere of a town, interact with the population, enjoy a journey without an itinerary and not worry about finding a cab to an airport.
It was with those things in mind that I cadged lifts, quite illegally, on cargo boats which ply goods through the lacy network of broad rivers and tiny creeks which make up the delta. To hop on an old cargo barge and negotiate a days travel with the skipper, with no notion of the final destination, is fun. Sauntering along at something above walking pace with a deep throated diesel engine powering you from village to village is a relaxing experience which no organised tour can match. Nudging into jetties as all manner of goods are loaded and unloaded – anything from eggs and bricks to chickens and rice sacks – is an insight into how the world used to be.
By the way, just click on pictures if you wish to enlarge them.
A small cabin, its ceiling low enough to make it impossible to stand upright, with rush bedding on the floor and simple wooden shutters which could be removed to allow a cooling breeze to slide though, was luxury. And cheap. A days travel would cost around five dollars and you are spared the ceremony of eating at the captain’s table. It was a good idea to take a few snacks along as well as bottled water. If you felt inclined you could go below into the crews’ quarters and steal a nap in a hammock. Crews invariably consisted of a husband and wife team and maybe a deck-hand. A real treat would be a pot of lotus tea and dive into a bag of coconut toffee sweets.
The Lightweight Photo Kit
I tend to specialise in travelling light – very light in fact. The photo gear on this trip amounted to nothing more than my Leica D Lux 5 and about 15 4gb cards.
I don’t backup images while travelling but do edit the obvious junk out ‘in camera’. I’ll also download a few shots onto an iPad each day to use when emailing friends. The intention of doing that is to make them feel green with envy while they work on their desk jobs in the big city, something I’ve never done. The notion of working at a desk in an air conditioned office is the greatest incentive of all to want to spend a life travelling and writing. Rather like feeling thirsty and hungry is an incentive to look for wine bars and restaurants.
There is a certain paranoia among photographers with regard to backing up images while travelling. I really never bother. I know one day I’ll lose something but I don’t really look on that as a matter of life and death. Obviously, If I have a really top shot, which is rarely, I’ll back it up – send it to the cloud or Dropbox. The reason I use 4gb cards is because (a) they are cheap (b) If I lose one I haven’t lost a truckload of pictures (c) the contents of a 4gb card fit perfectly onto a DVD which is how I back-up when I return home. So what happens if everything is stolen? Tough – I refuse to live in fear. It’s worth pointing out the advantage of travelling light – simply put you can keep all of your gear with you all of the time.
One great advantage of using small cameras is they are inoffensive. Lugging a large DSLR around in order to shoot pictures of people can be deemed offensive – small cameras don’t seem aggressive or intrusive.
The D Lux 5 or its successor, the D Lux 6, each with a 24-90 (equivalent) zoom are perfect for candid pictures and deliver very high quality. I’ve had a number of magazine spreads used from DL5 files and the quality is such I could kid myself the work was taken with a larger format camera.
I’m not going to rabbit on too much about the travelling, that’s saved for magazines, but I’ll put a few more pictures and captions in. Interestingly, while on this trip, I have produced one major story and several small ones. That’s to say one of about 2500 words and a handful of ‘fillers’ each of around 500-800 words and a handful of pictures. From the original shoot, which was done in RAW and high quality jpg, I edited about 100 pictures for the delta story. From those around 40-50 are sent for editors to work from with a note saying more are available.
This is a short series from various floating markets on the Mekong Delta. On these occasions I hired a boat and local boatman to get me around.
The original files are RAW but of these shots have been worked on from the jpgs, straight from the camera, and put through Silver Efex Pro 2, a great program to work with.
It’s in tight situations like this that the flexible 24-90mm zoom on the DL5 comes into its own.
Every small town and village has at least one market and they’re like a magnet to me. I don’t generally take less than flattering pictures of people but I couldn’t resist this one.
To give editors a wide choice of pictures when presenting them with a feature story it’s important to give a broad selection which takes many aspects of the story into consideration as well as making sure there’s a variety of vertical and landscape pictures. People always add life to a feature, they give a story ‘pace’.
These two men were sitting in a riverside cafe playing a board game. They could see there were no seats or tables free and the guy on the left stood up, walked over the road to another cafe and came back with a small table and chair and indicated for me to sit down. That’s the sort of kindness experienced all over the country.And I got a couple of reasonable pictures.
This man is a sewing machine repairer. He works from a small workshop with his wife. Language was a difficult proposition but with a bit of hand waving and pointing the old gentleman happily obliged while his wife looked on.
As I said, markets are a magnet. I don’t think I’m an exception in that as most street shooters tend to look on them as happy hunting grounds.
Wandering around Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border, I came across wonderful lady who lived under a bridge. She insisted on showing me her kitchen.
Dried fish! It took me a long time to realise what these were. I had assumed they were a sort of grass or seaweed but the tiny heads gave the game away.
A noodle factory on the banks of the delta. I have to admit that I tend to use the D Lux on a simple automatic setting. Thus the lens seems to operate wide open most of the time. I use the slowest ISO of 80 which produces extraordinary quality from a small sensor. I don’t mind a little movement creeping into pictures and in this instance the steamy atmosphere added a great deal to the image.
Viewed from my hotel room at Chau Doc. This is where many of the homes are floating on large oil drums and are accessed by planks from adjoining streets.
Looking for ‘filler’ shots is essential to give stories some character. These spotless white ducks were in a little creek off a main delta tributary. I’m not sure if they were waiting for their dinner or about to become dinner.
I had an email the other day, a blast from the past.
A colleague, David Levenson, had contacted me to ask why I hadn’t continued with my blog. He had contacted me some months ago and reminded me that I used to write a column in a magazine, Photo Technique, and it had inspired him to become a photojournalist. I didn’t really know whether to feel flattered or guilty but I went for the former.
We subsequently exchanged a few emails and it transpires that during the decades which followed his inspired moment we have shared many mutual contacts from agents to picture editors. I have to say it was a pleasant feeling to know that he, like me, shared equally enjoyable careers. I think we’d both have to admit that times have changed but, with a bit of willpower and hard(ish) work it’s still possible to keep our heads above water.
I guess I’m one of the lucky ones in this world – my bread does have a habit of falling buttered side up.
So why didn’t I continue?
Well, it wasn’t really by design. I’d have to admit I got lazy. If I’ve mastered the art of anything it’s procrastination. I also lost direction but after a bit of thought decided to keep on the same track – keeping the blog loose but a touch anecdotal, a few pictures here and there and sometimes a bit of technique thrown in.
Also, things did get busy. I made few trips and found I had a lot of editing, both words and pictures. I had a pile of stories to complete and get out. So, forgive the time gap.
It’s an idea driven industry
Photojournalism, any type of journalism, is an industry driven by ideas. If you don’t have ideas you don’t survive. I guess I’m fortunate in that I enjoy developing ideas and have a pretty good hit rate. I’m now at the stage in life where I don’t depend on commissioned work which is not so much a sign of financial success as a case of keeping my overheads low. Thus I can afford to work on the ideas I want to work on. And one of them has been tucked in my head for well over 40 years.
Back in the very early 60s I read a copy of Paris Match featuring a story of the Indian monsoon by a Kiwi photographer, Brian Brake. Strangely that magazine feature gave me a sense of direction – I wanted to be a photographer and, more particularly, I wanted to work on Match.
In subsequent years I met Brian. He was a quiet, self-effacing character with immense technical skills and a lot of experience. It was about 1976 that he projected his entire edit of Monsoon for me. The quality was stunning, all shot on an old Leica with 35 and 90m lenses using Kodachrome – probably the old 12 ASA stuff but it could have Kodachrome 25.
Thus Brain Brake inspired me in much the same way I inspired David Levenson. Brian felt flattered and so do I.
My family seems to be steeped in maritime history, or up to their necks in water, whichever way you want to look at it. So it’s no surprise that I decided to specialise in anything connected with water: ships, boats, oceans, rivers, fishing … anything. Thus the Indian monsoon stuck in my mind.
For many years I thought about reshooting the Indian monsoon. Several photographers, notably Steve McCurry, had been there, done that. All of them very well but none had quite captured the soulful, spiritual, essence which Brian Brake had so successfully recorded. I dropped the idea as I didn’t feel I could do better than the original and, if I had I’m not sure I would have been happy to chip away at a great photographer’s legacy. Very noble of me!
But I didn’t let the idea drift away altogether. Geographically speaking I live a stone’s throw away from the Mekong Delta. Put another way it’s a cheap airfare. Thus I revamped the idea and was happy with the notion of working on a feature about the monsoon season over the delta.
Thus I booked a ticket for August, statistically the wettest month of the year. I packed plastic poncho’s, an umbrella, a length of string and clothes pegs, anticipating spending a month soaked to the skin and wearing damp clothes, ripping leaches off my skin and smacking mosquitoes to a pulp.
I arrived in Saigon (I still call it Saigon as that’s still, in part, it’s name and I like the romance of it) and caught a local bus down to the delta. The first few days were spent in beautiful sunshine streaming from an azure sky. The humidity chewable. And that’s how the weather stayed – hot and humid without a skerrick of rain. Well, maybe about ten minutes in total but not enough to open the floodgates of a full-blown story. No mozzies or leaches either. My idea, through no fault on mine (which makes a pleasant change) had gone completely pear-shaped.
Thus a decades old idea came to a temporary standstill.
I was having a great time moving around from town to town on the delta, which is known as The Nine Dragons. There are nine huge rivers which make up the delta, starting at Chau Doc, on the Cambodian border, and splitting into the nine dragons which then meander their way to the South China Sea.
My preferred method of travel was on old wooden cargo boats, cadging a lift for a few bucks and not having a clue as to where I would be at the end of a day. In fact it was often difficult to find out where I was – the language is pretty much impossible to learn and it took a week to master the art of ordering a coffee. But that’s the fun of escaping the bubble of the comfort zone.
So, the idea, figuratively speaking, was dead in the water. No monsoon. A minor mishap for me but for the coffee growers a little to the north it had the makings of a disaster.
Nevertheless, I had to make some sort of story from the trip and it came to me one evening. I was sitting beside one of the dragons’ tributaries, in a small waterside cafe, enjoying fresh fish, salad and ice-cold beer, the total cost of which was less than three bucks. After a couple of beers my mind started to drift. I watched rickshaws, locals people in the market, the general timeless socialising which happens in the tropics and the idea hit me. “I’ve travelled back in time”
Thus the story line was in place: “Time Travel With The Dragons”
For the record, I know Brian took a few trips to complete his monsoon feature. I’ve booked again in September – the second wettest month.
I’ll continue with Part II of posting in the next day or two. Watch this space
I first saw digital media photography in action about 14 years ago. I was covering the last of the Whitbread Round the World Yacht Races (It’s since become the Volvo Race).
I was contracted to the Toshiba Team and, for a change, being paid good money to travel around the world, stay in decent hotels and do all of the things which give people who don’t do these things a warm fuzzy feeling. Some people have a funny notion of news work, they don’t understand how bloody hard it is.
A colleague who was contracted to one of the other syndicates was working with an early professional digital cameras. It was a mongrel spawned by Nikon and Kodak, had the memory of a gnat and had cost him about $25,000. He was also using a state of the art Mac laptop. These days they’d be about as useful as a garden gnome but in those days they represented state of the art technology.
I don’t think many of us working at that time realised we were on the threshold of a revolution which would have massive repercussions in the media.
I was working with a few Leica R bodies and lenses which weighed a tonne. I was also working with film, C41 colour neg. which I processed in hotels, in the bathroom basin with a two bath kit of powdered chemicals. I then scanned the negs on a Nikon Coolscan and was able to caption and send pictures from my computer. In the time it had taken me to do that my friend had download his camera’s memory cards, edited them, captioned them and hit the send button. In fact he had pretty well finished his work before I had unloaded the film from my cameras.
It was in the first few days of the race that I realised the potential of the new technology. My colleague, I’ll call him Bert (that isn’t his name because I’m going to talk about his financials here).
In addition to the contract he had with his team he made deals with about 200 newspapers and magazines around the world, offering them a simple service from the race. He would photograph the end and beginning of each leg of the race (when they arrived and left each destination). He would also supply a story for each of 10 days during each stopover. The stopovers were generally for a couple of weeks and there were about ten of them. So, on each of those days he sent half a dozen pictures with captions and a short story. Now here’s the stroke of genius. He didn’t mind how the pictures or stories were used. They could be covers, spreads, postage stamp size, whatever. The customer had no rights to sell them on to others nor did Bert lose copyright.
I know a heap of photographers who, with some justification, bleat and moan about the small amounts we can be paid, particularly now. But Bert was offering a service and for what he offered he was asking US$40! I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t open the filing cabinet drawer for that amount. Now look at 200 x $40. When I went to school (I did go to school!) that was $8000. Now look at that for ten days – $80,000. Now look at ten stopovers. $800,000 for ten months work plus the syndicate’s contract. I was impressed.
And so, very slowly, I was dragged, kicking and screaming and probably biting, into the digital age. I don’t like the cameras much. I do like the convenience. I still use my old Leicas and film for what I deem serious work – which doesn’t make money. But digital is convenient, it’s fast to process and pump out material.
I have, for the best part of my career, worked as a freelance for some excellent magazines. I would be commissioned to work on a story, deliver the goods and, hey presto, get a cheque in return. I retained copyright and put pictures into stock libraries which gave a tidy turnover. I also received syndication fees from the magazines – generally 50% of ongoing sales.
It was a gravy train. These days there’s no train and no gravy to speak of. We all know times are tough.
I asked myself, in light of the rapidly changing market, what I felt I should do. The answer was simple. Carry on as you are – writing and illustrating stories. But instead of looking at the megabucks hit five or six times a year offer publications shorter stories with fewer pictures. Then sell them many times for small amounts. A few years ago it was possible to get good four to five figure payments from magazines. I decided to make a new business plan and spreadsheet based on average sales of $200. It showed that by doing about six stories a year and syndicating each of them methodically I could make a reasonable quid without actually stressing too much and with radically reduced overheads.
Is it working? Well, it is. The early signs are good. Sales are going up, not down and it’s a difficult market with magazines and newspapers closing and the competition increasing. Basing my business plan on $200 sales was a bit low as sales average above that.
Would this be possible without digital technology? Well yes but it wouldn’t be as simple. While the big change has been in equipment the bigger shift has been the effect the web and electronic media are having on traditional markets.
Digital images make it possible to cut overheads dramatically. About 15 years ago it was necessary to supply magazines with either original transparencies or duplicates. That meant high film overheads and high duplicating costs. Many magazines would expect to see anywhere from a hundred to well over a thousand images. That made it necessary to get high publication fees.
Now it is possible to fill neat little markets with stories of a 800-1200 words and a selection of about 20-100 pictures. The production and freight costs of preparing and dispatching are, to all intents and purposes, zero.
What of the immediate future? Well, here’s a thought. Statistics from the USA show that the industry in the most rapid decline is print media. The industry showing the most rapid increase is electronic media. My conclusion is that the market is still there but it’s highly fragmented and, like shrapnel from a bomb blast, nobody knows exactly where it’s going land or who it’s going to hit. And we know there are plenty of casualties.
This is an area where photographers can be treading on thin ice. I was in a lengthy email conversation with a colleague. I’ll call him Andrew (because that’s his name).
Andrew and I happened to be discussing snaps. I made a case outlining the importance of the simple family snap and pointed out that whenever I’ve been to a news story which involved fire, flood or similar tragedy which had left property destroyed the response from the victims was nearly always along the lines: ” … and we’ve lost all of the family snaps … ” I’m sure I’d have no trouble finding other photographers who have experienced similar reactions.
My attitude is that great pictures exist in the eye of the beholder. That invariably puts the humble snap at the top of the heap for many people. But snaps are also an important recorder of history and that happens to be an area where photography scores very highly indeed. It gives us a pictorial record of moments in time. Often those pictures are ultimately treated as works of art, are bought by institutions and traded among collectors.
I’ve been trawling through old negs recently, mainly snaps from my earlier days in photography, and scanning them. I was working on one particular image, taken around 1963 when I was strolling around the back blocks of Paddington. I’d come across this negative while the exchange between Andrew and I continued –
I was a carrying the Leica M2 loaded with Tri-X and fitted with a 50mm Summilux. I decided that I’d use this as an example of what I like in a picture. I like it, you don’t have to.
Here’s the slightly edited extract of what I said:
” … re snap v great picture. It’s a discussion we could have interminably – and forever.
In many respects it doesn’t matter. I’m a great supporter of the snapshot and saying that reminds me of the number of people I’ve met [while covering news events]who have had their property burnt out and say: ” … we lost all of the family pictures”. In most case it’s a sure bet they were snaps. But to them they were the best pictures in the world and I wouldn’t dream of arguing with them.
In that regard I have no argument with your pictures of the family. They are, and you said so, family snaps. And it is not the right of anybody to pass some sort of etherial, aesthetic, judgement on them. When it comes to pictures which are designed to be published … for general consumption I believe we need to look at some basics which give pictures broader appeal.
So what are the basics? Well, in that respect, it’s every photographer for himself – that’s what defines style. It’s what makes Salgado, Strand, C-B etc stand out from the crowd.
Thank goodness we each have a set of rules as to what we like, what we define as good or bad, and it’s very hard to qualify what they are. I have a tendency to like media work which depicts day to day life. Some I don’t like. For example, try as I may, I find it difficult to appreciate the work of Robert Frank. Yet the work of, say, Eugene Smith, I deem as brilliant. I also acknowledge that I have tunnel vision as to what I feel is good. I’m happy to be dismissive of the work of say, *** ***, which has never been great but is sold on the back of bullshit [by third rate curators, particularly in Western Australia]
What do I look for in a picture? Well, attractive lighting is important. Light can make or break an image. Secondly, and broadly speaking, composition which is easy on the eye, where the elements of a picture seem cohesive and the eye can be lead from part of a picture to another. (I can feel a blog moment coming on) Look at this shot and see what you feel makes it work (if you feel it works at all).
I think you’ll find your eye will move over various elements of the picture, taking in detail, reading a poster, the phone number, the man in the chair, looking at the rubbish in some detail but always looking the girl in the door. It’s the sort of ‘snap’ I like and the reason I took it was because of its complexity, its variety of interesting points. All in all it works and had I been ‘working it’ as part of a story I would have spoken to the bloke, taken a portrait of him, detailed shots of the rubbish, posed a shot of him and the girl together, posed a shot of him beside the rubbish and so on. Try and imagine the shot without the girl. Or of him leaning against the ladder with the rubbish around him. It would have worked. As it is I settled for the one frame candid snap.
I happen to like pictures with a lot of detail in them and also with a touch of whimsy. The whimsical touch in this is the girl. She’s totally out of context but without her you’d be looking into a black hole. As it is, small though she is, she is very much an essential element, possibly the strongest part of the image. And, referring back to the last post on serendipity, she’s a touch serendipitous.
Anyway, I’m rambling (hence the blog’s subtitle title).
The point I was trying to make is that if we are to be professional we can’t be indulgent and take pictures which please us alone. There’s enough esoteric stuff out there without imposing it on the whole world.
That’s a difficult question. It’s not because I’m bored. I’m not. I’m happily earning a precarious living preparing features for magazines. That involves a bit of writing, a bit of photography and a bit of travelling. I also enjoying sitting around with colleagues enjoying sunshine, fresh air and sharing notes about what’s making the world go round. Sometimes that involves navigating our way around a few wine bars.
I like this industry. It’s commonly called photojournalism. I was lured into the media because my mother taught me to read before I went to school, thus print media is a large part of my conditioning. I didn’t see television until I was about 16. That’s a slight exaggeration as I did watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth on a television and can remember being told what a privilege it was for me. Let’s not go there but in later years I did spend a considerable time as a sort of proto-paparazzi, chasing the very person I had watched on the TV as she was crowned.
I started work in Fleet Street as a stringer for the Daily Sketch and the Daily Mail and then went onto the London staff of Paris Match. Now I simply freelance, work on my own ideas and syndicate the resulting stories. Then I spend a bit of time with colleagues, navigating a few more wine bars. Such is life and I have to admit that in terms of lifestyle things don’t get better.
But where next I ask?
It’s clear there are many changes happening in the media and I feel it’s essential to become accustomed to working within eMedia. There are many online magazines emerging; newspapers are collapsing and the new era of electronic media is expanding at roughly the same rate as the known universe. One of the eBenefits is that it’s possible to publish a blog without the constraints placed by conventional media, and I want to be part of it. A simple blog is a humble beginning. I feel blogging can be fun, I hope it will be anyway. I can be my own media boss and that is the real challenge. In their own sweet way every blogger can nibble away at media moguls’ empires, challenge their editorial control and offer those who do read blogs an alternative opinion to the mainstream manipulation of public opinion. And of course there is the added advantage that we can become mega bloggers, like the Huffington Post, sell out for squillions and spend the rest of our lives relaxing on large yachts.
So this is my first effort. Over time I’ll probably talk a bit about ideas, cameras and lenses, writing and travelling. I won’t give ideas away until I’ve finished working on them and sold subsequent material – I don’t want to give the competition too much of a head start and believe me this is a very competitive industry.
I have spend time lecturing in both journalism and photography and I may voice some of my opinions about teaching practices. In that respect I’m often at odds with mainstream thinking.
By and large my blog will be a random selection of past work and experiences. To kick start I’m posting a picture taken several years ago, several decades ago in fact. It’s utterly sexist but I like it. I’d be mad if I didn’t.
I slipped out of the office to buy a bottle of red before I went for a lunch with my erstwhile business partner, Trish Ainslie. The hotel over the road had a small bottle shop and as I waited at the counter I looked into the bar. This picture was taken after the then Premier of Western Australia, Charles Court (a real wowser) had banned strip shows in pubs. Fremantle is a port city and the pubs were patronised by wharfies, the dockworkers who enjoyed a bit of entertainment with their beer. So in a true Australian spirit the very next day, following the ban on strippers in pubs, we witnessed the advent of what became known as Skimpies. They were very welcome and the beer tasted pretty good to.
I am in the habit (or was, pre digital) of carrying an old Leica and 35mm lens around, loaded up with Tri X in those days. I could see no reason to ignore this picture. I didn’t realise at the time that it had started me on a distinct path, a change of direction, as to the type of stories I liked to work on. But more of that later.
Skimpy Barmaid, The Fremantle Hotel. circa 1987
The photograph was taken with a Leica M4-2 and 35mm Summilux lens. The exposure, on Tri-X, rated at 400asa was probably about 1/30 sec @ f2. I can’t remember what wine I bought but it would have cost about four bucks. Lunch would have been the Roma’s chicken, mushrooms and chips – that’s about all I ever had there. I have a cruel sense of humour, I give this picture to friends on significant birthdays, just to remind them how good life used to be before they hit a pensionable age.