Monday, June 29, 2015

There is a Storm Coming


Terrigal Australia June 2015 This photograph is dedicated to all the people with disabilities who are now being targeted by both the media and a nasty government. Attacked because those who receive welfare and have a disability have the cheek to live in a nice coastal town. This is disgusting on a number of levels. We all deserve a place in the sun and none of us need small minded, mean spirited and ignorant people attacking us because of who we are, where we live, or whether we have a disability or not. Have a heart. Learn some empathy and compassion. We all deserve a place in the sun. It's not a lot to ask. Is it? http://flic.kr/p/vioGyo

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Photograph Me Please


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Meeting Over Coffee


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C'mon Everybody Let's Swing


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Waiting at the End of Union Lane


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Three Alone at the Wall


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The Rock Runner


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Sea Waves Swamp the Sea Baths


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Not a Lot of Shade


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Lone Rider


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Kalgoolie Man


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Heads Held High


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At the Feet of the Master


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And the Flames Went Higher


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At the Feet of the Master


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Two Alone and Divided


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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

James & Stacee: Forever Young

Josh & Stacee Forever Young (Terrigal June 2015)

Who is Josh? Who is Stacee? Who carved their names in the rock? Josh? Stacee? We will never know (unless the gods of art smile kindly and lead them to this blog). But here are their names, carved lovingly (yes, I think lovingly: look at the detail and the stylish nature of the carving.) on a rock shelf at a beach called Terrigal on the east coast of Australia.

Now, this rock shelf is made up of sandstone and other materials and was laid down as many as three hundred million years ago. Which means that for as long as people have lived on that shore, these rocks have looked much as they do now, but once they were high cliffs that have been eroded by time and the power of the sea.

We can wonder about Josh and Stacee sitting on this spot enjoying the spectacular views, to the north up the coast and out to sea.

In the Harsh Light of a Coming Storm (Terrigal Australia June 2015)

We can wonder at the patience and skill of the carver as she or he spent what must have been hours working on this beautiful declaration of presence and love.

And then we can wonder, whatever happened to Josh and Stacee? Are they now happily married and raising kids in the mortgage belt? Are they young and travelling the world and leaving their names wherever they go? Was it merely an adolescent passion that burned out with age, time, changing tastes and perhaps distance? Or, and this is also possible, are they middle aged (whether together, alone, or with other people) or even older? Perhaps they have even departed this life? Again, as with their identities, we may never know. But, still, we can wonder.

But whoever they are and wherever they are, their presence on that day when this carving was made is there for all to see, and to ponder on. In some way they will remain forever young as people come and go to and from "their" spot and wonder about them for years to come. But for how long? Who knows really?

Only the sea will know this. For one day, their names will be erased from this rock (just as others have been before them). Then, one day long after, this rock itself will crumble and fall into the sea. But, Josh and Stacee will be here and be together until:

"Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble"


 PS This last line is from a mesmerizing poem called Forsaken Garden by Algernon Charles Swinburne and written in 1895. You can find the complete poem here


Monday, June 15, 2015

Lest We Forget: A Beach Memory

Lest We Forget at the Beach (Terrigal Australia June 2015)


Quite a few years ago in a poetry class the teacher asked us to write about our strongest beach memory. Not as a poem, just a short piece of prose describing the memory.
This is what I wrote. Well it’s been slightly edited, but not in any way that changes the original meaning and content. I came across it today as I sorted through some files. As we are actually staying across the road from a beach on the same coast right now, I thought it was a good time to resurrect this still powerful memory and to share it with you all.

I’m not really a saltwater person. Never have been. Sure, it’s true I’ve spent time swimming in the sea: you can’t grow up in Australia and not spend a heap of time at the beach and in the water. I never liked it much though. And after the Boxing Day Tsunami in ’05, I just was not physically able to go anywhere near the sea for a long time—and I was sure I would never ever get in the water again.
But, time passes, and I did eventually get back to the saltwater. But, let’s just say that even now, it’s pretty rare for me to actually swim in the sea. In fact, I think the last time was on the Gold Coast, that soulless, heartless strip of concrete lining the coast up near the tropics. Lived there for a year.
Anyway, I did swim up there a few times. But I stopped after a few shark scares. The final straw when a shark took a Japanese tourist. Bitten in half he was. Still and all, there are some fine beaches on that stretch of coast, which have left me with some pretty nice memories of walking the dunes, picking up shells, sitting with my hood up on the sand listening to winter waves pound the shore.
 Funny thing though, none of these are among my strongest beach memories. That honor belongs to a memory that goes a long way further back in time that also involves a chopped human.
1967. Balmoral Beach in Sydney. It’s a lovely, sheltered beach with the usual assortment of palm trees, chip shops and coin operated BBQs. I was 13 and my father was in Vietnam. Not yet a pacifist, and not yet ready to be disloyal to him, I eagerly took part in the picnics put on for families of soldiers fighting ‘over there’. Fun really: a lot of other kids to muck around with, some cute girls and plenty of food. Even better, there were sometimes presents: one time I got a string tied bundle of over one hundred comics. Very cool. I had those comics for years. Wish I still had them: some would be worth good money.
Anyway, on that summer’s day in 1967, I was at the beach for one such picnic. As I recall it now, I was just wandering around early in the day, just checking out what was going on, who was there and whatever.
Then I saw him. A young man (though to my 13-year-old eyes he looked old. But he couldn’t have been more than 20) on the sand sitting bare chested and wearing board shorts. Well, was he sitting?  He had no legs you see. He’d been chopped in half, just like the Gold Coast Japanese tourist. I was stuck to the spot, just staring. Sure, it was very rude of me. But I was shocked, and the sight mesmerized me. I just could not get my head around the image that was burning itself into my brain. Still can’t really—and now I’m all grown up.
I wondered, as I stood staring, how did it happen? And I thought, with the simplistic perspective of a naive 13-year-old, how can he live like that? As if in answer to my stupid question to myself, his eyes met mine. He’d caught me staring. Before I could turn away in shame, he lowered his eyes and bowed his head. Deeply ashamed, I walked away, very confused by what I had seen, what I felt.
A bit later that day (the picnic went on all day of course), a mate told me about the bloke with no legs sitting on the sand.
‘Oh yeah, that’s ... ’, my mate said. I forget the name now. And my mate knew what had happened to him as well: Landmine. In Vietnam of course. Seems the legless guy had stepped on one. Also, my mate told me, the poor bastard was an especially invited guest at our picnic.
Now, if I’d asked the organizers why they’d invited him, why he was an ‘honored’ guest, I am sure they would have told me that he was a war hero; he’d paid plenty, sacrificed his legs, for his country. For me and everyone else.
But I never did ask them. And back then, in my immature 13-year-old mind, I thought it was bizarre. It was like he was some kind of prized exhibit, a freak to be shown off. But he wasn’t. He was just some poor kid whose number came up one night in a bloody lottery. They told him to go and fight, so he did. Then he stood on a landmine, got his legs blown off and had his whole life buggered.
I wouldn’t say I am a pacifist solely because of that chopped up boy on Balmoral Beach back in ’67. I’ve seen a lot, and learned a lot in the many long years since. Still, as I think of it now, it wasn’t long after that day when I’d turned my eyes from this bloke in shame, that my father came home and I saw what the war had done to him, and then I saw what it did to me and my family. Then later still, I saw that we weren’t alone: the war had really messed up a lot of people, destroyed a lot of lives, ruined families and left a legacy of pain and suffering that is still with us now. No, I guess you could say that the legless guy on that beach simply planted the seed. So he sure played his part.
I thank him for that. And I am sorry I stared; I am sorry that my childish and ignorant behavior forced to you bow your head in what I now know was a sign of your own shame (not that you had any reason for shame of course) and sadness. I see you now, in my mind, sitting on that beach so many years ago. Lest we forget? We always forget the things we ought to remember. But, don’t worry: I’ve never forgotten you.
            This is my strongest beach memory.
Lest We Forget




Friday, June 5, 2015

Documenting Daily Life with your Camera: Why is it Important?

A Special Love (Dubbo Australia December 2014)


Recently I came across the term concerned photography. Cornell Capa, the great photojournalist coined the phrase, which for him described “work committed to contributing to or understanding [of] humanity’s well being”.

What interested me at first was the idea that this very much coincided with one of the driving forces behind my own work. So, I dug a little deeper. Looking up the term in Wikipedia I discovered that, according to their writer:

Social documentary photography or concerned photography is the recording of humans in their natural condition with a camera, it is a form of documentary photography.

Ah, I saw, the two terms are interchangeable. So, off I went to the entry on Documentary Photography:

Documentary photography usually refers to a popular form of photography used to chronicle both significant and historical events and everyday life. It is typically covered in professional photojournalism or real life reportage, but it may also be an amateur, artistic, or academic pursuit. The photographer attempts to produce truthful, objective, and usually candid photography of a particular subject, most often pictures of people.

And, without wanting to enter the endless and tedious debates on what is and what isn’t street photography, much of what I discovered in my little research resonated with my own thinking and more or less described how I define my street photography. In other words, and to again risk complete and permanent ostracism from the street photography community, for me my street photography is social documentary and vice versa. I know that many street photographers claim their work is not documentary, and while for many it may be true, for others I think they are mistaken. Oops, sorry. Not going down that road or street (get it? not going down that street? lol)

There are many extraordinary social documentary photographers today, and from the past, who have highlighted many important social issues, injustices, wars, poverty, famine. A lot of what we (or should I just speak for myself here?) know of the world and the history of the last century has come from seeing the work of these gifted and dedicated people. People like Capa himself, Mary Ellen Mark W.Eugene Smith, and a dozen others spring to mind.

You will have heard that currently fashionable idea that “these days everyone is a photographer”. Of course it is total and absolute nonsense. Have you watched the promotional videos put out by camera manufacturers? You know, the ones in which this or that camera turns the user into an intrepid high risk taking adventurer, smooth talking travel “shooter” in mystical and exotic lands far away, or legend in the making photojournalist documenting poverty in dusty war torn places (while still maintaining a pristine hairstyle, spotless safari type outfit and brand new dustless camera gear).  Like most advertising, it is sad, cynical and manipulative rubbish peddling “things” to people who they must think are too stupid to know better.

Despite this myth making (which it has to be said does sell heaps of cameras), most of us are either not able, are unwilling, or simply don’t have the skills, courage, opportunity or desire to pursue such lives. Most of us live what might be best described as ordinary lives.

But, of course, you know what I have to say about this already I think. There are no ordinary lives, nor are there any ordinary people. While I hope there will always be people willing to bear witness to and document the injustices and horrors in our world in the attempt to help correct them, or at least bring them to the attention of the rest of us so we can no longer say “but we didn’t know”), the reality is that for most of us it is the life around us at this very moment that is, well, reality. It is the people we witness in our daily lives, as we go about our business (whatever that may be) that are “humans in their natural condition”. And it is the photographing of those lives, moments in those lives, that constitutes social documentary photography, as noted in the definition above.

And it is by documenting the so-called ordinary that we may contribute to the work being done by those “big names” we love and admire and sometimes wish we could emulate. Well, we can emulate them. Look around you, see the people around you. Don’t look for the “pleasing composition” or the “interesting shadows”. Don’t become obsessed by the “tonal range” or whatever. Look at the people. Realize that at that very moment you have an opportunity to record the significant and the seemingly not so significant, moments that in reality are all important and worthy of our attention.

(DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying don’t learn and apply technical skills. I’ve written before that the documenting of the lives of people requires us to the best job we can with our camera equipment (and editing tools). It’s about intention, about priorities. It's about knowing the tech stuff but allowing it to work on its own accord while you focus on the real point of photography.

Because we see our own lives as pretty ordinary and often dull and full of what we think of as meaningless routine, we tend to see the lives of those around us in the same way. It’s only when we look further afield that we think that life "over there" is different, more exciting, more interesting. But, it’s not true. Every moment we witness with (or without come to think of it) our camera is unique. It’s never going to happen again. Ever or anywhere. Each photo we make has the potential to become a document that just might affect someone somewhere, elicit an emotional response, even lead to change. It might just be a small change in the life of that one viewer, but you’ve got to start somewhere


Right?

PS
I do know quite a few people personally who are fine social documentary photographers of the "everyday". Here are just two who I think meet the criteria for being concerned photographers. Follow the links and it might just set you on a wonderful journey of discovery. I hope to feature these special artists and others in posts to come

Judith Rodriguez is a compassionate photographer from Argentina whose work is full of humanity. Judith's photos just ooze truth and love. I'm proud to call her friend.

Doug Berryhill is an American photographer whose work in documenting his hometown is extraordinary and will be seen as a valuable (and an especially fine) historical archive. Doug knows his town, cares for and about its people. All round good guy in my not so humble opinion.