The weird and the wonderful

Funny how habit stops us from seeing.

For the last ten years or so I’ve been driving between Melbourne and Adelaide and made mental notes of points of interest along the way. Top of the list is Old Tailem Town, just outside Tailem Bend as you hit the final stretch toward Adelaide. On a recent trip I decided it was time to check it out.

I pulled in, paid my $25 and was struck immediately by the scale of the place. And the detail. Almost every building was decked out with appropriate stuff from the era. I was moved by a pug and pine cabin that was furnished as it would have been back in the day. It conveyed a strong, wistful sense of daily life in such conditions.

This historical accuracy is balanced, of course, by the weird stuff I love, and Old Tailem Town has plenty to discomfit visitors. Enjoy.






I’m getting excited. The Ballarat International Foto Biennale, a celebration of all things photographic, begins on August 22nd.

With its core artist program, fringe exhibitions, workshops, folio reviews and much more, BIFB 2015 is promising to be the best yet.

Once again, as part of the Fringe, I will be exhibiting at Gallery On Sturt. The theme for my show, Time Lapsed, will be memory and time.

Late one night, feeling bored, I watched the movie The Rover starring Guy Pearce (which I enjoyed – I’ll watch almost anything set in the Australian bush). There is a scene where Pearce’s character enters an old building and I found myself thinking, “I know that place”. After some head scratching I realised the building in question was the old pub at Hammond, a ghost town on the Willochra Plain in the Mid North of South Australia.


Hammond Pub

Hammond Pub 1992

Seeing this I was filled with the urge to visit the Mid North, an area I feel a real connection to. This stems from having spent a lot time travelling and photographing in the region, mostly during the 90s. Many of the resulting photographs were included in my exhibition Postcards from forgotten places held at the Flinders University Art Museum in 2006/7.


Terowie 1996 (from Postcards from forgotten places)

My wish to revisit a few of these sites (some of which I hadn’t seen for twenty years) was soon granted when, not long after that late night in front of the TV, my friend Mike and I headed up the Main North Road for a quick road trip around the Mid North.


Murray Town 2015

We had a great time and it occurred to me that it would be good to rephotograph some of the subjects I’d shot previously. This led to me contemplating the themes of time and memory and realising that I had an exhibition in the making.

I found it interesting to see sites visited in the past, contemplating my recollections of them and how they appear to me now. The weather, the light, one’s state of mind and even who you are with at the time can influence memories of a place. Revisiting that place one might find those memories challenged. Differences in the above factors along with changes in the place itself, however subtle, and even changes that may have occurred in one’s self, can help create a new perspective and, in turn, new memories.

Booloroo Centre 1995

Booleroo Centre 1995

Twenty years is a reasonably long time. In that period there have been many changes in the world including the emergence of digital technology. I couldn’t have imagined on my first visits that I would one day return with a digital camera.

Booloroo Centre 2015

Booleroo Centre 2015

Of course, the digital revolution is of only minor significance compared with all the political upheavals, financial crises, acts of terrorism and natural disasters that have occurred in the last two decades.

However, in parts of the Mid North, where things have barely changed at all, it’s as though time has stood still. All the madness and chaos of the outside world have barely registered. This all makes for a nice place to retreat to for a while.


Black Rock 1995


Black Rock 2015


Who said you can’t teach on old dog new tricks?

When I signed up for an elective with a visiting US academic on ‘Architecture After Dark-Night Photography & Architecture’, I had no idea it would take me somewhere completely unexpected.

Erieta Attali is an Adjunct Professor of Architectural Photography in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at New York’s Columbia University ,and she presented what was billed as an ‘intensive’ elective as a Visiting Research Fellow at RMIT. A highly respected photographer, her website is well worth a visit.

To call Erieta’s elective ‘intensive’ was an understatement. I don’t think we students who attended had been pushed quite so hard in our studies to date, and we benefited greatly as a result.

The briefs for the photography required were actually quite broad. Erieta was, above all, very keen for us to find our own ‘voices’ but did set strict criteria for how we went about it. Wide-angle lenses only, but strictly no low angles looking up! We were told that this seemed to be common practice with architectural photographers but was not, we were told, how architects themselves actually want their buildings represented. They also prefer to see their work in context and not as isolated objects.

Of course, I have been guilty of this many times myself . . . !

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If I had to identify in one word my most important learning from this course it would be ‘context’. I had been mildly aware, and had it mentioned to me by others, that I often frame my photographs a little too tightly. On reflection, I think that comes from trying too hard to draw the viewer’s attention to what I see as interesting.

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I know which of these I prefer.

As I already had an ongoing project photographing my neighbourhood of Richmond by night, it was interesting to go out and take images with the critiques, feedback and encouragement I received from Erieta in mind. I now approach landscape and architectural photography in a markedly different way. To find myself learning something new and profound, at this stage of my life and career as a photographer, is energising and very exciting.

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Hey Mum, I’m on the radio!

As a long-term fan of the ABC radio’s Coodabeen Champions, it was a real pleasure to chat on air with the guys last week.

The Coodabeens is one of the ABC’s longest running and most popular national programs with a quirky focus on sport and popular culture.

We talked about my photography in general and more specifically about the work I did photographing the Adelaide music scene in the 1970s and 80s.

This all stemmed from me posting some of these photographs on a Facebook group page called Great Adelaide Bands of the 70s and 80s.  It featured a number of bands of which Greg Champion (Champs), one of the Coodabeens, was a member.

What has been interesting while sourcing all the negatives of my band photos was finding out just how many I had taken, not just in the 70s and 80s but up until quite recently, of Adelaide acts. I have scanned many but still have many more to go and, once complete, I aim to produce a book.

Watch this space . . .

If interested, you can hear the interview here –

The date is December 14 and I come on at about 36 minutes into part two.

A lot of these photographs will also be appearing in an upcoming documentary called Rock in a Hard Place. You can view a trailer here


The Bank Of France, 1978 with Greg (Champs) Champion second from left.


Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel, 1980. One of Adelaide (and Elizabeth’s) favorite sons.


Ground breaking indigenous band No Fixed Address 1980.


One of my personal favorite pics from the era. July 14 playing in what looks like someones living room but is actually the Union Hotel. 1985.


The highly talented and unique(!) band Vitamin Z 1981.


Another of Adelaide’s favorite sons, Doc Neeson of The Angels, 1981.


The Exploding White Mice 1986, with the very popular venue The Tivoli Hotel in the background. These guys really understood what rock and Roll bands should be like.


Doug Thomas, right, seen here guesting with highly regarded guitarist Rod Ling and July 14, 1985. Doug was an important player in the Adelaide scene with his record label Greasy Pop.


Liz Dealey, one of a few (but not enough) talented women involved in the Adelaide rock scene, 1986.

Deja Vu

While recently revisiting and scanning some old black and white negatives, I remembered something I’d read years ago back in my darkroom days.

If I remember correctly it was Eddie Ephraums who wrote something to this effect, ‘producing a print in the darkroom should be more than just a technical exercise. To produce a print that has emotional impact it helps to be in the time and place, in your mind, that you were in when you took the photograph.’

I thought this very good advice and  tried to put it into practice while doing this recent scanning and post production. It took quite some effort though. Scanning black and white negs is certainly a different beast to working in the darkroom! I used to think I was meticulous with taking care of my negatives, but the amount of dust and scratches scanning shows up certainly put that myth to rest.

Still, the amount of time spent cloning out dust and scratch marks (and trying to minimise digital noise) was worth the effort.

I am glad to say that I was taken back to the time and place where the photographs were taken (listening to the right music certainly helps). Some very fond memories!

I hope to self publish a book of some of my favourite black and white (film) images in the near future.


The night time is the right time

I go through stages where I try to avoid looking at other photographer’s work, simply because there are times when I want to avoid being too influenced by what other people are doing.

Like most photographers, I like to think that my work is unique but of course there are going to be times when I can’t help but follow current trends, especially if it is something that I like.

Something I have been seeing a lot of  lately is very good photographs taken in the evening or at night.

So, here are a few of my recent efforts . . .

West Richmond Station

West Richmond Station

Smith Street Richmond

Smith Street Richmond

Mundi Mundi Plain

Mundi Mundi Plains

But is it Art?


Near Cardiff  2009

It is an often heard tenet that says “digital manipulation software cannot save what is a crappy photograph to start with”.

With some time on my hands, I thought I might explore Nik Software’s Silver Effects Pro further. I had mostly just used the presets, and due to spending a lot of time learning to work with Adobe Camera Raw and non destructive work flows as part of my studies, I had pretty much forgotten about it.

I decided I would revisit some photographs that I took a few years ago in Wales, some of which were a bit ordinary in their original form.


I had quite a lot of fun getting to know the various settings in Silver Effects Pro which are quite extensive and, to my eye, rather sophisticated. It really is a case where what can be achieved is only limited by one’s imagination.

I do occasionally like to emulate the look of black and white film (Tri-X was always a favourite) which is what I was aiming for here.

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Cardiff Castle 2009

So, I find myself asking myself ‘have I managed to save a crappy photo simply by applying some digital manipulation?’

I think the answer to this is something like, ‘well if I were shooting exactly the same scene on B&W film I would probably have ended up with something very similar.’

Of course retouching out the people in the scene would not have been anywhere near as simple.

Another question I think pertinent is, ‘what about the integrity of the image?’ (does it matter?!)

And, of course, there’s the age old dilemma (well, as old as photography anyway) “is it Art?”


Near Cardiff  2009


Near Cardiff  2009

(Some viewers may wonder why, as this is a post about Black and White, that the images within contain colour. It is because I create a B&W image in Silver Effects which becomes a layer in Photoshop which I then blend with the original colour layer.)

Oils ain’t Oils (no more)


Peter Garrett 1983

For a number of years I worked for Roadrunner, an Adelaide-based rock music paper. It was a great time for photographing all the major shows that came through town as there was not the ‘three songs and you’re out’ rule that applies today.

I was a big Midnight Oil fan – I believed them to be one of the greatest live bands anywhere. They rocked!

I have just read Oils drummer Rob Hirst’s highly entertaining book, Willie’s Bar & Grill: A rock ‘n’ roll tour of North America in the Age of Terror.

Midnight Oil had a tour of the US all ready to go when the horror of 9/11 occurred. They decided to go ahead with the schedule and Hirst’s observations of the US at that time are very insightful and quite poignant.

There is also a great deal of humour. Describing Las Vegas, Hirst says “it’s like the audience from the Jerry Springer Show let loose on the set of a James Bond movie”.

Midnight Oil are, sadly, no more. Peter Garrett found a new career in politics but the remaining band members, along with Brian Ritchie  (ex Violent Femmes) as replacement bass player, formed The Break, a surf instrumental band.

We saw them play at the Espy in Melbourne. They not only rocked, they were having an absolute ball, all of them smiling away with Rob Hirst grinning the most (as you’d expect a drummer in a surf band would!)…


Midnight Oil, Arkaba Hotel Adelaide 1980


Painting v Photography?


Oodnadatta Track 2005

We visited the TarraWarra Museum of Art  on Australia day to view Master of Stillness: Jeffrey Smart paintings 1940-2011. I’m trying to remember the last time I was so affected by an exhibition.

I left the gallery with two burning questions on my mind.

Firstly, how is it that I can be so moved, not just by the interesting subject matter, the beautiful capture of light and the superb compositions, but by the minute detail within the compositions? Why is it that the placement of one small element in relation to another within a small area of the canvas can almost bring me to tears?

The complete and total perfectness of just where a line might dissect another brings me incredible joy. I know that when I produce a photograph in which I feel the composition is pretty much as good as I could wish for, I get a feeling not just of great satisfaction, but something that is almost spiritual.

Putting on my amateur psychologist’s hat, I might speculate that having grown up in a world in which I felt there was no order at all, that I seek perfect order within art and feel a great deal of emotion and satisfaction when I find it.

The second question is an old one and one which one of my tutors at RMIT, photographer Emma Phillips, put very well when she asked students: “Since the camera has the ability to capture the ‘real’, why do we so enjoy paintings that enter this territory? What, if anything, does it say about our reverence for the painted work over the photographed work?”

At the time, I didn’t really have an answer for this. These are questions that have perplexed me for a long time. Often, after visiting an exhibition of paintings that I enjoyed, I would ask myself, why bother? Even though photography as art has made terrific inroads (more so overseas than here in Australia) I still can’t help but feel that, as a general rule, people don’t take photography as art  seriously enough.

The fact that I sometimes ask myself “why bother?” certainly says something about my own reverence for painting however much I believe photography to be a powerful and important medium.

Painters like Jeffrey Smart, through superb draftsmanship and amazing talent, produce work of a ‘real’ nature where they are able to construct their compositions as they wish from scratch. A photographer working with similar subjects as Smart, however, doesn’t have the luxury of having complete control over all the elements within the photograph (unless they wish to spend uncountable hours in Photoshop. No thanks!)

Even moving about and placing the camera in the best position for a ‘perfect’ composition can be fraught with difficulties. (Gee, if only the traffic on this freeway would go away so I can set up in the middle lane where the power poles will be perfectly aligned for my masterpiece…)

Anyway, having said all of that, I am reminded of the adage “comparisons are odious”. Comparing painting with photography is more than likely just going to cause one to go around and around in circles.

For me, I shall continue to believe in what I do as a photographer and look out for those occasional ‘perfect’ compositions that will give me goose bumps when I view them.