We have a neighbour in our cul-de-sac who is our special friend. She makes me fruitcakes and gives them to us – well, me. I like fruitcakes and I particularly like those clever people who can make them in their kitchen rather than grabbing one from the very ordinary alternative sources such as the local supermarket – not much that is ‘super’ about the our current crop of fruitcake outlets.

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Mrs Fruitcake is a widow. She lives by herself and has done so for a long time. Well, that is when she is at home which is not very often.  She would join a brick wall if it came marching by. Her life is a busy one with regular visits to friends, to her leatherwork and craft group(s), to her children and the gaggle of grandchildren that have grown up in the shadow of her awesome care and commitment to their well being. She goes weekly into town with her sister to visit galleries, museums and other artistic shows that come to Sydney. She is an enthusiastic supporter of Bell Shakespeare. She has been to all of my exhibitions and is never short of a comment or two. This month she turns 80.

Mrs Fruitcake can do more than make fruitcake. She is awesome with apple pies and quite spectacular with her special brand of sausage rolls. I am her quality control officer. She brings down the hill, on a daily basis, samples of her latest kitchen triumph. They are always carefully wrapped and often still warm from the baking.  Many times I have gone outside between 5:00 am and 6:00 am for a walk in the garden or park and almost tripped over her midnight offerings of cakes, scones and cookies left on the doorstep. Her Anzac biscuits are to die for which I am afraid is an awful metaphor. But, they are truly heroic. As quality control officer I am often not sure if her latest offerings are as good as the batch made last week or twelve months ago. So, I frequently request additional samples. They are offered with a wonderful laugh that comes from the pleasure of doing something well and having it acknowledged.

Mrs Fruitcake is widely appreciated. She is wise. She is clever. One of her many skills is to make clothes. An even greater skill is to get someone to help her make clothes. This is where my wife gets involved. The sewing involves mandatory shopping, searching for patterns, cottons and sometimes even a special button or accessory item. The birthday dress is evolving as I type.

I some times observe all this activity, the laughter and the related planning and never cease to be amazed by the resilience, the initiative and the capacity to make do that goes with the generation that saw the Depression, a world war, the struggles of the decades establishing her family with her beloved Arthur.IMG_0725IMG_0771

Tonight I was asked to make a photograph suitable for the birthday invitation. This was a labour of love. At last I was in a position where I could do something useful by way of acknowledging Mrs Fruitcake’s many generous gifts of cooking delights. Did I mention her vegetable soup?  It matters little that some of the ingredients were borrowed from my veggie patch in the wee small hours before dawn. Mrs Fruitcake has her own vegetable patch near our front door dedicated to her culinary genius and her capacity to confiscate idle vegetables.

The birthday photograph is here. miss_fruitcake-large It is accompanied by others that document a tale of making a dress, drinking weak cups of tea and laughing a lot about the folly, foible and frailty of people she has met along the way.

This photograph of Mrs Fruitcake as an infant was behind glass and would not tolerate disassembly. I placed the original on my worktable in the studio and positioned two soft boxes at ninety degrees to the lens axis and pitched at an angle to avoid reflection. I used a macro lens and lit to ensure I could use an aperture of f8 so as to ensure sharpness from edge to edge. The camera was mounted on a stand and fired by way of pocket wizard and cable release. I wore a furrowed brow and glasses! The latter is crucial just in case someone comes into the studio and sees me working.  I can at least look the part.

Mrs Fruitcake is depicted here as a young girl. It seems incredible that she was young once. I have only known her as a wise, gentle, frail and gracious person of pensioner persuasion. She has known tough times, the exhilaration of family, the hard work and intermix of happiness that comes with bringing up children and converting a house into a home.  This is all evident in the studio image made for the birthday too. Mrs Fruitcake this week kindly agreed to give me ten minutes of her busy day and just after she had her hair done and just before the ‘kids’ were going to roll up for a pre birthday feast to come over and ‘be took.’ She enjoyed this experience and tolerated me with grace and a quiet dignity.

Mrs Fruitcake is, like many of her generation, politically astute, money wise and gifted with a rich blend of common sense and gracious humour tinged with the earthiness that comes with the confidence and wisdom of age. Just looking at little Miss Fruitcake it is just grand to see the before and the after as it were.  Here we have child on the cusp of a long life and then adjacent the studio image of her as a senior citizen and matriarch.

Photography is a wonderful medium. It sharpens memory, celebrates our humanity and empowers us to express.  Just a tad like Mrs Fruitcake herself.

 

 

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There have been many wonderful characters in my photographic life. The most important to me are the 40 or so models I have worked with. Many of these folk I worked with for sustained periods of time enjoying collaborative forays into creative image making. They remain special people, special memories.

I have also had the privilege of meeting and working within conference and workshop settings some iconic figures like Bruce Barnbaum, Jay Dusard, John Sexton, Robert Faber, Joyce Tenneson, David Moore, Arnold Newman and Steve McCurry.

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Models and icons alike they all offered me insights into the making of images. What they brought to my camera was a passion for their work, a generosity of spirit and a profound sense of the link between idea and the expressive power of the image.

In all of these years one character always comes to mind when I think about influences on my work. When he reads this blog he might well be surprised. Why? Simply because he would not see himself as all that important, all that clever. However, he is.  He is a delightful human being rich with wisdom and sense of being.   I know him as a humble man who migrated – perhaps fled to this country – after WW2 having lost his family, home, village and country as a consequence of the invasion of his homeland by Soviet Russia.  These were deep and tragic losses all in the space of about 10 or so days.   They are losses that are difficult for me to comprehend having been quarantined by this lovely land from the evils of political, economic, social and cultural cruelty that prompts migration. Those childhood experiences toughened him, taught him to value the simple pleasures of the family he established in this country and the power and satisfaction of hard work in the metal fabrication business where he rose to a senior position. Through to retirement he was a factory worker, a hard worker, and a tradesman. He was and remains a tough character; he was resilient, resourceful and resolute in pursuing the things that mattered. The care of his wife and family, the modest home, the pets, the garden and his love of good wine, chillies and his photography. With the latter he brings his life experiences and his rich personal qualities to bear on his way of seeing.

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I met this man at my camera club. We hit it off because he was welcoming, generous in his comments on my work and significantly introduced me to a form of photography – infrared- that I only knew from a scientific perspective whereas he knew all that needed to be known about the application of this radiation to the creation of the fine art monochrome image. He shared his unique blend of knowledge, in-camera control, and his darkroom prowess with me. I was privileged.

His infrared landscapes were exceptional. Essentially they were a celebration of the beauty of the new land he now called home. He travelled the length and breadth of Australia seeking out places that he could reveal via his unique command of the expressive power of infrared film and the combination of that film with his aesthetic prowess as a monochrome printer.aust_land-179

On one of those travels he invited me to accompany him. He said, he was going to go down to Tasmania and do some bushwalking. I could go with him if I wished. We went. It was during this 7-10 days that I obtained fresh insights into this unique character. Firstly, he did not so much bush walk as stride out at high speed – it was a land to conquer, a new space to negotiate and this he did at high speed leaving me gasping in his wake. Nothing daunted him as he sped across marsh, danced across sedge, bounded over rock and waded through tall grass. For him a rain forest was a magical mystery tour he negotiated with consummate ease. I just blundered along. It took me three steps to his one.  At one stage he moved swiftly ahead of me disappearing into the mist. His shambling gait complete with back pack converted him into a human form but one distorted by the fog and my eyes and brain wracked with the pain of trying to keep up. This was not so much a bush walk as a trial by heavy mud caked boots!  Through gasping and choking sounds I said out aloud to this rapidly disappearing human form, “from now on you are to be known as Bigfoot.”  I will get my revenge, I thought, for his tramp, his amble, his stroll across Tasmania that was in stark contrast to my stumbling, slipping, sliding, swearing and bumbling fitful attempts to keep up with him.

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He said we were going for a walk in Tasmania. What he ought to have said was that we are going for a walk across Tasmania. Moreover, we would do this in fog, mist, rain, wind, frost, and flurries of ice and accompanied at night by the friendly sounds of Tasmanian Tigers deciding amongst themselves whose boots they would eat. The only problem with their plan was that I was still wearing mine whilst my friend had his hanging from a low branch of a tree. Tassie Tigers, if given the option would go for those on the ground, on my feet!  None of this seemed to worry my Bigfoot companion. He was fortified by special food he brought with him. It was officially called beef jerky. Unofficially I called it camel’s bum. Just awful but there was method in Bigfoot’s daily consumption of beef jerky because no self-respecting wild forest animal would come near him.

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I roughed it – big time – with Bigfoot. I was pleased to see the end of the 80 km walk and made the journey back home delighting in the experience of making a new friend who I know felt really comfortable calling mate but declined to do so having resolved to use his new name – Bigfoot.  I know knew him to be a giant of a man whose reputation had soared in my view by virtue of his conquest of Tasmania.

In this walk he showed me his way of seeing, his way of relating to the environment, his way of teasing out the unique quality of the landscape that the light of Tasmania revealed and he celebrated this with his beloved infrared film. His teaching was exemplary as it was modest and undemanding. He taught me the importance of the simple love of place as the basis for the expressive landscape. Each infrared image I have made since has a lot of Bigfoot embedded within it. Thanks, Roy.

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Today I use a Nikon D200 that has been modified to be a specialist infrared camera. I use it in the landscape as well as within the studio. My adventures with this medium remain challenging, satisfying and often surprising in the subtle and soft moody images that this medium generates. It is also true that even today more than twenty years after this walk rarely do I use this camera or view the resulting images without thinking of the man that made it possible.

I still follow the basic principles he shared. I rate at ISO 200, I bracket three stops centred on f8 when bright sunny circumstances exist and adjust this three bracket approach if it is dull or super bright light. I the adjust tonality to bring in the highlights and instead of the developer choices required with analogue approaches I use a series of sharpening techniques to restore or enhance acutance. Digital infrared is just as satisfying, just as rewarding. However, with wisdom that comes from experience these days I limit my walks with Bigfoot to the local café and, to my relief, none have beef jerky on the menu.

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Wave benches can be rewarding zones for photography. They can also be incredibly dangerous. The ocean has a habit of swelling up, crashing onto the rocky surface sweeping all and sundry to oblivion. Most cameras cannot float and I most certainly have never mastered the unnatural act of swimming. No image is worth risking one’s life. Yet wave benches are alluring. I visit them often.One of the safer wave benches I know is near Streaky Bay in South Australia. Here there is a vast field of torn, fractured, twisted and denuded granite rocks tossed and strewn by the force of the waves over many thousands of years._DES0769 Deep cuts and crevices exist offering shelter and safety from waves and wind. This is ideal for my type of location figure work. It is easy for the model to emulate thefigure and form of the rock field bringing a harmony between the feminine curves of the model and their echoes in the patterns of granite. I have made many wonderful figure studies within and on this granite field. I went there earlier this year with a model to celebrate this setting. I have done this for many years.df-306dgdf-306dg

 Occasionally, on this wave bench the light plays games with the rocks. I enjoy it when the light is softened and made to glow by the diffuse effect of cloud cover. It emulates what I can create in my studio at home. It makes the outdoor portraiture and the figure study easy. You can simply concentrate on the idea, the narrative you seek to convey.june22-008

Frequently the light is broken, fractured by a cloud cover that allows sunlight to break through forming shafts that tease and pluck at the textures, colours and patterns across this bench of granite boulders. Sometimes these shafts of light fall upon the rocks highlighting them against their neighbours. This effect is exaggerated by the rustic colour of the granite set back from the ocean’s edge. Here the brown, yellows, greys and blacks collide in a rich parade of shimmer and glow. This special light can last for just a few seconds and at other times it stays and plays with you, it teases and frustrates as it marches across the wave bench. I enjoy the granite pools. It is my idea of a wonderful setting for outdoor photography – for the figure in landscape genre but, as the image below, shows the rocks themselves set against the gritty sunny edge of the southern shoreline can offer up pure magic.

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When I saw this rock and its relationship to its surrounds I made a mental note to wait for that moment when the sun shafts some three hundred metres away arrived and lit it up, setting it ablaze, making it glow with implied heat.

This happened. I made my idea visible. To give emphasis to what the light on the rock surfaces offered I have adjusted levels, and used a layer to bring back the visual strength of the central rock. This figure-ground relationship is the aesthetic strength of this image along with the foil of colour and shadow, of the light, the bright and the dark.  When I look at this image I think I am at the edge of Hades.  Well, actually it was Hell simply because their were zillions of *&^%$ bush flies attracted to the seaweed in numbers that threatened to carry you away. My model was unimpressed and underwhelmed. But, she smiled a lot at my enthusiasm for the rocks.  The flies tasted awful.general12-april2-0061

 

 

I like being in deserts. I have photographed many desert landscapes. I like the peace, the tranquillity and the paradox of evident desolation. In reality, it is a space rich with life and a landscape evolving –  forming, shaping and changing in front of your eyes. This dynamic interests me as a former geographer. Importantly, deserts offer a chance to reflect on the nature of life. Once, camped near Old Andado, in the Northern Territory I watched the lights of jets trailing from the southeast to the northwest heading for Singapore. Their sound was accompanied by the shiver and shake of the truck parked nearby as it slowly cooled. About 3:00 am it is so quiet you can hear your heart beat. It is also freezing.  Deserts are a paradox.

usa89-017aOne of the photographic goals of a trip to the US Southwest was to visit White Sands National Monument, A vast parade of white sand wedged against a mountain range to the west and a fertile agricultural zone centred on Alamogordo. It is a region not that farfrom the research centre that developed the first atomic bombs – Los Alamos. So, it is a space where there is sublime peace within a landscape, but also a place that holds some deadly and dreadful secrets of man’s ingenious capacity to wrought destruction.

 I looked forward with keen anticipation to my visit to White Sands and, having camped overnight near the Monument and armed with an unspeakably unhealthy take away breakfast, drove up to the visitor’s centre to gain entry by completing registration for the park.  I was aware that for many years the Monument was adjacent to the White Sands Missile Testing facility but this facility had been shut down as US Government priorities went east to Cape Canaveral. All was cool.

Imaging my surprise therefore when rolling up to the mock Spanish-Mexican Park building that was the Information Centre to see a very large sign saying the Monument was closed because of missile testing and would be closed for a week. I was devastated to read, that having set aside this week to photograph the fabulous dunes of this place, I was now being denied the chance to experience this Monument.

I went into the Information Centre to seek clarification. A cheery woman greeted me in her late 50’s wearing a US Park Ranger uniform and an, “I am at your service smile”.

The Centre had some 20 – 25 folk milling round staring at books, trinkeUSA95-101ts, souvenirs, maps and static displays of sundry fauna and fauna – mostly rather long and deadly looking scorpions and killer snakes.

“G’day,” I said, greeting the Park Ranger, with my broadest Australian accent mindful that Paul Hogan was a current big hit in her country.

“Good Morning,” was the reply from Cheery Face.

“I have come all the way from Australia to photograph the Monument only to find that in my special week you have it closed. Why is that?” I asked?

Cheery Face said, “Sir, there are missile tests all week. A private company has booked the testing range for the week and will be firing missiles over the Monument and down range all week,” She kindly explained this news with her face full of a cheerful, “ I will not take shit from anyone expression.”

“Will the missiles be actually landing in the Monument,” I asked somewhat incredulous that one of the finest nature reservations in the country could be subject to bombardment.

“Sir, the Monument is closed,” she repeated. Her cheery face now locked into what was the emergence of a grimace.  “You are welcome to visit this facility and view the display but we cannot let you go out onto the Monument in case a missile falls short and crashes into the area of the park”

“I see, now let me get this clear, you are concerned that I might get hit by a missile whilst wandering round the monument but I can visit this Centre in the Monument,” I said, testing I understood what she was saying.

Yes, sir. You can visit this Centre but not the dunes.”

USA95-324 “ How will I know if a missile is falling towards me if I am inside this building? I will not see it coming. One minute I can be looking at your scorpion display and next minute I am hit on the head by a falling missile coming through the roof.” I observed fixing her with my cheery face.

She looked nonplussed.  Across her face were the beginnings of the realisation that she had been asked to explain the inexplicable.

I went on. “If you do not mind, I would rather not be in this building if it is possible a missile could come through the roof. I would rather be out on the dunes of the Monument where, if I see a missile coming, I can at least try and hide or outrun it.”

At this point I heard loud laughter coming from an office adjacent to the counter where Ranger Cheery Face was trying to persuade me to stay inside.

Out of the office came this very large man wearing a Smoky the Bear type ranger uniform, he had a huge smile, across his beaming face, the chuckling face of an African American. His huge body and girth quivered and shook with good humour.

With more of a statement than a question he said, “You are Australian? You have come all this way to photograph the White Sands Monument?”

“Yes,” I confirmed, “but I am told that I could be hit on the head by a missile and must stay indoors, for the week!”

He laughed. His colleague did so too but nervously. I felt sorry for putting Cheery Face in this conflicted situation. She was only doing her job.

 USA95-011“Well, the Monument is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and this is the time frame the company testing missiles will be using for its work and it can be quite dangerous, Ranger Smoky the Bear said.

 He then went on, “ I am a keen photographer too.” Pause.

In a soft voice that could not be heard by the crowd looking at the scorpions he said, “Let us cut a deal. Can you get here at 4:30 am of a morning and again at 5:30 pm each afternoon?”

“Yes,” I said. “They are the golden hours for landscape photographers and much more suitable than 9:00 thru 5:00, your normal hours.

“Ok,” said Smoky. “Be here at 5:30 pm this afternoon and we shall go out onto the Monument in my jeep. I will show you some of my favourite places.”

That afternoon I was on time and so was Mike as I was to come to know him. True to his word he met me each morning at 4:00 am and we worked the dunes to 8:30 am and again from 5:30 to afterglow of an evening.

 We became friends; we shared coffee from his thermos and he insisted he carry my 4 x 5 Sinar. We shared a mutual love of deserts and the making of images.

Photography can be a powerful game changer!

Never saw a missile.

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wisemans-007I started teaching at the age of eighteen. In fact, I was in charge of a school at that age. Fresh out of college I was sent to a one-teacher school back in the hills between Bathurst and Oberon.

 

The school had thirteen children enrolled distributed across Kindergarten to Year 9. Prior to my arrival the school had been closed for the best part of eight months and so I was a welcome addition to the valley as parents were keen to have a school for their children. My sense of it is that the kids were less keen.

 

I stayed on a farm. I shared it with the two local “boys’. They were 55 and 65 and between them – had never married – had about a dozen dogs which shared the fireplace hearth with us each evening. They were share farmers and worked really hard. We had no electricity, no running water and I faced some eight kilometres walk or cycle to the school each day. The communication with the outside world was by a radio operated by a car battery and it was only used to listen to the ABC News each evening and then only for the weather report. I got to know James Dibble’s voice well.

 

School was a relief. The pupils were wonderful. Friendly, energetic, stoic, resigned to a life of farming in a valley made famous for its gold deposits and rush of Chinese fossickers eighty years earlier. What they lacked in urban sophistication was balanced by a strong sense of the simple joys of the farm, their pets and the expectation they would, from a young age and in all seasons, work. Their work ethic was so strong by the time they arrived at school each morning after a few hours pea picking, tomato harvesting, milking and feeding the chooks, they were ready for a sleep.

 

Most days I would gather all thirteen pupils in a circle out at the front of the room and we would have a chat. Sometimes I would select the topic, at other times one of the children would express an interest in something they had read, heard or hoped. The highlight of their week was to be driven into Bathurst for a ‘town’ day – a Saturday where they could go to the picture theatre, watch some sport or simply help with the weekly task of shopping for the supplies needed for the next week or so.

 

wisemans-006In my second year at this school I recall one particular discussion session centred on topic,  “What do you want to do when you grow up”. Young Kerrie had selected this topic, as she was to be the discussion leader.  She was only ten and had an awesome sight vocabulary but alas limited comprehension of what she read. Her face, her eyes shone with the responsibility of leading the discussion. For Kerrie that meant going round the circle asking each of her schoolmates, “what would you like to be when you grow up?” Each pupil would answer fully, in complete sentences signalling what their hopes were. One wanted to be a farmer, another a truck driver a third wanted to go to USA and meet Elvis. A small and serious young lady wanted to go work in a big town. Most of the boys saw their future doing what their dads did and for the three fifteen-year-old girls it was to get married and have children.

 

wisemans-002So, the discussion circle worked with the sublime confidence and the innocence of the young.  They were open, trusting and generous in what they had to say. Kerrie led the discussion really well for a ten year old. Inevitably, the circle of 12 was exhausted. Everything was said that needed to be said.  With the discussion near finished my task was to comment on the quality of what was expressed.  Just as I had done for a number of weeks I moved to bring the discussion to a close by offering some verbal evaluation of the children’s spoken word. Just as I was about to do so, young Kerrie chimed in and said,

“Excuse me, Sir.”

“Yes, Kerrie, what is it?” I asked.

“Sir, she replied. “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

 

It was hard to keep a straight face. I quickly looked at the group. They were very interested in my response. This was not a child being rude, nor a group testing boundaries. There was no guile. Kerrie was a sweet, delightful child just doing the task I had set for her. For her it was a reasonable question.

 

I was more than obligated to answer. It was my duty.

 

“Well, Kerrie. I want to be a good teacher…”

“But you are already that, she said…what else?”

 

Well, now I was stumped for an answer..…I had never wanted to be anything else but a teacher since I was in fact about her age.

 

“Well.” I continued. “My Dad has lent me his camera and I would really like to be a good photographer so that I can bring photographs to school and show them to you. But film is very expensive and I can only borrow my Dad’s camera when he does not need it.”

 

wisemans-005The discussion finished at that point as it was just after school closing time and it was necessary to take the children down to the little post office agency to be collected by parents who drove in from various points in the valley each day morning and afternoon to chat, collect the kids and have a bit of a yarn.

 

This second year passed by. It was a great experience and the kids seem to enjoy each day except when there was a tiger snake in the toilet or sheep raided the school garden. As a bonded teacher I was obligated to serve anywhere in the state but by the end of my second year fully expected to serve my three years at this one teacher school. This was not to be.

 

At the end of the school year, on the last day, I received a telegram (delivered by the postman as part of the thrice weekly mail, bread and newspaper run).  It was from “the department” advising me I was to be transferred to a larger and quite problematic school near to Wallerawang. My time with these children was over. The two years had gone quickly.

 

I called the children together and wished them a great Christmas holiday and a lovely time the next year. They went home and I sat in the school building and quietly blinked back a tear or two before resolving to cycle home calling in on the P and C President to let him know a new teacher was coming next year. We chatted for a while and I said my farewells. The next day I was on a train to Sydney for the summer break. It was a wrenching experience. I should have told the pupils but it did not seem right somehow. On the train to Sydney I wrote a Christmas greeting to each of them. I explained, to each, what was to happen.

 

In mid-January, I received an invitation to return to the valley on the last weekend of the month. It coincided with Australia Day. There was to be a farewell. In fact I was looking forward to seeing the children for one last time.

 

It was a great day with games, cakes, drinks, lots of chats and inevitably lots of speeches.

 

Late in the proceedings Kerrie stood up, dressed in what appeared to be a hand me down floral dress and spoke clearly and firmly about her years at the school and “her” teacher. With the close of her speech there was not a dry eye and then the gift. She handed me this small gift-wrapped box. Silence entered the community hall. None of the hundred or so folk said a word.

 

retinette_1AI opened the box. It was a camera. A Kodak Retinette IA, complete with some rolls of Kodachrome and a lovely card signed by all of the children. Kerrie smiled at me and said, “ We remembered what you wanted to be.”

 

This small band of children set me off on a path in photography that has been extraordinarily rewarding.  In fact, my photography is almost as rewarding as that afternoon which I have always cherished.

 

Over fifty years later some of these students still keep in touch. I have been back a few times. Most became farmers, some became mothers and now grandmothers and all taught their teacher well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The urban landscape of Habana and the old quarter is familiar to any one with an interest in photography as it has been a rich source of material for many years. The area under UNESCO guardianship is particularly fascinating for the interplay of social, cultural, economic and political conflicts based on an old order overtaken by the Castro revolution. In January of this year we stayed in this old zone for about ten days residing in a casa particulare in the heart of the twenty or so urban blocks that comprise this unique section of the city. By day the area teemed with people. It would seem that the locals live on the streets with vendors, cyclists, pedi-cabs, ancient and new cars that mix and mingle with pedestrians, school children, cats, dogs and the occasional chicken. Habana is making a tentative excursion into market-based decision-making. Already the little children thronging the streets ask the gringo for a dollar as a present. Sound familiar?

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This urban throng is easy to document as a visitor because it is novel, it is full of colour and the drama of life lived under the seemingly stringent but slowly relaxing controls of a central government.  Novelty is a seductive feature of travel and it often swamps any serious capacity to make creative images where an original insight is offered about the setting visited.  Novelty is a poor substitute for expressive and creative responses based on attempts to interpret what is seen, and so offer a new viewpoint, opinion or visual package of information.

 

What is less familiar is Habana Viejo after dark. Most visitors retire to hotel or home and await the tropical dawn. I resolved to explore this area at night so as to better understand what it really means to live in an urban centre that is crumbling to a state of decay impossible to repair. Urban decay is easier to see and read at night because it is not diffused, weakened or subsumed by the vivacity of life on the streets in daylight hours.  You can see the rawness of the streets – their earthy edge, their grunge. Each night I would go for a walk. I did so from about 10pm through to 2:00am -  sometimes alone, sometimes accompanied by my daughter, who speaks fluent Spanish, and on one occasion, by a local lad who volunteered to help me as a gesture of his long-standing email friendship with our daughter.

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Habana by night is a soulful place. From about 10 pm it is quiet, with fitful lighting of the streets, and buildings breaking the gloom and strengthening shadows, which in turn, hide the more excessive features of decay and decline of an area formerly owned by the pre-revolutionary elite. Sometimes you could hear the plaintive cry of a child, the sound of a clarinet and saxophone or a muted violin experimenting with Cuban blues. Or, the cough of someone standing in the shadows or the murmur of young lovers hiding from the passing parade leaving the bars and cafes.  Street noises included the squeak and pumping sound of pedi-cabs searching for a late fare,  the dogs competing for scraps and the distant sound of traffic beyond this enclave.  In early evening the elderly gather at doorsteps to take in the cool breeze before entering the stifling heat of their indoor one room flat. I walked, armed with a small camera – a Canon thingy whatsit. No flash was used. Just available light made photo friendly by ISO 5000 setting. I did not want technology to interfere with my seeing, my imagination nor did I want it to be the reason to fear possible harm. I hasten to add that this fear was totally unfounded as the locals I met, in the early part of my evening walks, were just a delight.

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The images here were made so as to form my link, my understanding of the relationship between the goals and the ideological zeal of the revolution and the sobering reality that in material or economic terms this revolution has yet to fulfil its promise.  Most of these images were found less than 200 metres from the national capital building in Habana Central.  For this series I elected to make monochrome images and then in post-production I  used colour balance to introduce the blue and thus moody character –or, for me, an aesthetic response to the Cuban blues I heard on most walks and, thanks to my camera I could now see.

 

For me, the night streets were sad and melancholy places to wander. This was in stark contrast to the joy, sense of life and shared humanity that characterised  the day and no doubt had given rise to the view, often expressed to us, that the people of Cuba and of Habana, in particular, are rich simply because they have each other.  We left Habana Viejo enriched by new friends, powerful visual treats and a better sense of why Cubans say, “Every man in Cuba is a poet, musician and a mechanic.” The nocturnal walks and the many images made reveal an urban world that will soon disappear. I hope whatever replaces it does not encourage the loss of a pervasive sense of the humanity and joy, of a special community that we found here both day and night, a place where history and culture intertwined, clashed and resonated with the demands of the ageing revolution. Habana Viejo by night is a unique social and political expression as it speaks to the urgent need for a revolution to move quickly to meet the needs of people or it too will wither. Habana Viejo is a metaphor for the decline of Castroism. The real issue is what the people will elect as the alternative.  Perhaps the answer is already to be seen. Most new infrastructure in Habana is of Chinese origin.

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People who are familiar with my work or have been to my workshops know that I specialise in the use of the female figure –the nude – as a genre to express a broad range of ideas about human behaviour.

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Most studio sessions are with models I have worked with for longish periods. At the moment the three key models have been part of my photographic life for a decade. We work each week.

 

The work is often incremental because once an idea is defined as the ultimate intention it is then tested with a variety of interpretations until by a process of refinement, editing, manipulation the ultimate series is established or resolved.  I know this has happened when the link between idea, my intention and its representation generates a powerful expression or statement. For the most part this approach works for me. I really do not care all that much whether anyone else enjoys the work. I photograph for my own personal enjoyment, my own personal goals of creativity and as long as the model(s) are happy and comfortable with what we do and the work communicates what was intended then I am satisfied. Until then I can be a tad frustrating!

 

In the last three months I have participated in two group shows with a new artists group called Nebulae Arts (www.nebulaearts.com.au). For one exhibition my contribution revolved round the use of a mask as a motif for a journey –the “Passus.” For the second, it centred on visual responses to the Ulysses text by James Joyce. Both exhibitions revealed my approach to photography, which I call by a variety of names but essentially ‘imagined vision’ sums it up.

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The images here are from a new series that is emerging. It is evolving from a starting point based on notions of anonymity. We all, from time to time, like the idea of not being noticed, of not having to offer an opinion, to not be engaged with others or to not be identified. Again, sometimes our introspection on who we are as an individual has us progressively defining and sharpening our insight into our core qualities moving us from an anonymous figure into one that has characteristics, qualities and ultimately an identity. This process, we all pursue, helps us answer, “Who we are”. It is a process that never ends. As a focus for photography I have found it to be a rich vein of ideas and options for their expression. I think it will take some months for this rich concept to be resolved.

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These studio – based images involve the use of a shroud to hide the real face/features of a beautiful young woman. She has been asked to interpret questions about herself – the “who am I” question, the “what am I” question and, via pose, prop, personal interpretation communicate this to the camera. Let me make it very clear, my work is a collaboration. The model is central to this process of creativity.  Any success I might have in working in this genre is derived from the loyalty, faith, trust, professionalism and energy of the model. I just have the ideas or the concepts and the tools to negotiate and identify when the concept is emerging. It is the model that makes the hard yards. I treasure them. There will be more about this working relationship in blogs planned for the future. In the interim the galleries on this site feature examples of this approach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were in Hong Kong in early April of this year. Our visit coincided with one of the heaviest periods of atmospheric pollution this former colony has experienced for many years. Locals claimed that the smog was created on the Mainland; others said it was of Hong Kong origin. It is difficult to know the real source as the wind system was turbulent and, in truth, it matters little what was the origin of the mass of pollution. It all seemed so futile to play the blame game. After a day or two of dense choking and acrid smog that turned the Hong Kong world into “brown out” authorities issued warnings for the young and the elderly to stay indoors.  Levels of pollution had reached a point where the smog was too dangerous to have these folk venture outdoors. The smog, on the third day of our visit, was swept up in a seasonal storm when a front moved in from the southwest. The storm began after a moodful day that had from dawn promised a tempest.

These images capture the dazzling, surreal interaction between smog, fog, wind and rain that descended on Hong Kong about 10pm and lasted for some four hours. Clearly it was a special event because as the evening advanced even locals came down to the harbour’s edge at Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade to view the display. I thought I was watching live the East Asian version of Blade Runner. It was not only surreal but signaled just what damage we are doing to this planet and how fragile is our natural world. That evening I think I saw the future. Whatever it was I did not like it and the accompanying images are my protest at the damage we have done and continue to do. Climate change lurked here in Hong Kong that week in early April. No sensible person would accept that progress demands that we give up the right to breathe fresh air.  However, this imagery is not about climate change per se. It is about just how seductive is the damage to the environment caused by human activity. On the one hand we know it is happening and much of it is intolerable, on the other, it gives displays such as this, which are simply awesome and, if you pardon the pun, breathtaking.

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All were long exposures –some 30 seconds on ISO 3200, tripod and cable release. The lens was an 18 -200mm Nikkor zoom at f8 on a Nikon D7000. Post -production included some adjustment to levels, noise reduction and use of layer masking to shape the aesthetic which I must admit was influenced by my love of Turner – the wonderful English landscape painter and his mastery of light.

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It is trite to state but my Hong Kong Storm images are a warning or reminder to us all not to take our environment for granted.

These photos were made on my birthday. As I walked back to the hotel in the early hours of the morning I thought I had a great set of images but a lousy birthday present.

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Recently I spent a week in South Australia working in the sand dunes along the coast between Streaky Bay and Fowler’s Bay. It is one of my favourite places because it is a vast empty space. It is quiet.  It is an escape from the complexity of urban life. Nature is always on show in the dunes as wind and water combine to slowly transform the landscape.   I have been visiting these dunes for thirty years or more. They are always different and never fail to offer a new and rich visual experience. There is something magical about the way wind and water interacts to carve anew and to shape and reform the old.  I particularly enjoy the dunes just after rain as most of the marks of human activity have been softened, if not erased, and the dunes regain their pristine beauty.

This morning I went out alone with the intention of scouting locations for a model shoot later in the week or, hopefully at the edge of the evening – the twilight of that afternoon.

The morning sun raked the dunes teasing out texture and pattern.  I walked up a low dune and spun round to see where I had been. The image was there waiting for me to see it. The outline of my body seemed to hover; growing out of the dune’s shadow and it was difficult to see where one shadow commenced and the other finished. I appeared to be growing out of the dunes.  My footprints offered a link between camera and my shadow. I had a self-portrait.

What appeals to me is the illusion of the shadowy figure, its distortion generated by the low light and the intermix of trope such as line, shape, texture and colour. These elements made for an image stripped of detail but rich with suggestion, implication if not sensation. The figure has been reduced and simplified and it is this abstraction that gives the image the strength I like. I wanted the image to be bold and dynamic and make the most of the available light playing across the dune face and its swale. For me the highly textured footprints offer a metaphor about journey and I like this because it is authentic as well as symbolic of where my photography has taken me in my life. Yes, the image was unplanned; I reacted to what I saw but also to what I felt at the time.  The walk across the dunes that morning was a lonely one. When I turned and saw the shadow I laughed out loud and claimed, “You silly old fart, you are not alone after all.” Sheepishly,  my eyes quickly explored the large dune complex I had entered to make sure no one heard me talking to myself. Relief. There was just my shadow.

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