Category Archives: Photography

Not So Baschful Barbara

Imagine it! The names! Anita Ekberg, Jane Fonda, Grace Kelly, Anouk Aimee, Brigitte Bardot, Candice Bergen, Eva Marie Saint, Jody Foster, Kim Novak, Sharon Tate, Sophia Loren and Barbara Nichols. ‘Barbara Nichols?’ you might ask. ‘Who in the hell is she?’ Well, we’ll come to her later. But the known ones were only the tip of the iceberg for the German American glamour photographer who captured for posterity the prominent stars of his period, many of them when they were mere starlets, during the 50s and 60s. If this wasn’t dazzling enough, Mr Hefner’s organisation often commissioned him to grace his famous publication with unclad beauty. So, if you also go checking him out in the ether, beware there is some NSFW material, as well as his fine Hollywood imagery.

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(Anouk Aimee)

Peter Basch was a Berliner, born in 1921, to parents heavily involved in the theatre and film scene of the anything-goes Weimer Republic period. With the rise of the Nazis they saw the writing on the wall and took their son to America in 1933. They opened a restaurant in NYC, which provided Peter’s first job as a member of its wait staff. His interest in photography was aroused when, during the war, he served in the US Army Air Force’s motion picture unit. After peace came, he studied at UCLA, but took a side job photographing – providing young hopefuls with the type of cheesy images they hoped would get them started on the road to stardom. He soon built up a reputation in the glamour industry, his ‘moments in time’ appearing in mags such as ‘Look’ and ‘Life’, as well as ‘Playboy’. His popularity rested on his penchant for taking his models out of the studio situation, which helped to make them seem more normal; more human. This worked particularly well for those who were already names. But he too became a victim to changing tastes, so, as the seventies dawned, his photographic star waned. His books, on the art of taking pictures of beautiful girls, kept him going. I suppose it was inevitable that he would marry an actress, as he did in 1951, producing two offspring. He passed away in 2004.

As for Barbara Nichols – it was his image of her that I came across in cyberspace that first led me to her story, followed by his. See – I have time to spare in this unfettered retirement of mine. His image of Barbara, up to her chest in water, was so fresh looking and attractive. When I investigated further, in other pin-ups of her, she appears hard of face and singularly, to our modern tastes, somewhat unappealing. There is a comely softness to Basch’s depiction of her. But who was she?

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As it turned out, Barbara Nichols, at least in her public persona, was more a creature of those other camerasmiths who lacked the finesse of PB. She was your stereotypical New York blonde bimbo; one who was never going to make it truly big on the screen. But if a producer needed someone to heat said screen up in the bland days of the Hayes Code, she was your gal. Getting her start in beauty contests, she garnered such titles as Miss Mink of 1953, Miss Dill Pickle and Miss Welder. Soon her glamour snaps were finding a wider audience with the male of the species and she started to gain stage gigs – usually as a gum-chewing, wise cracking platinum blonde of the Mae West variety. Her roles were small, usually playing a floosie, barfly or stripper – and this remained the case when she graduated to the movies. She possessed a natural comedic timing on the few occasions she was given some dialogue, but she was mainly employed for her cleavage. Once censorship restrictions were loosened there were soon found to be plenty of young things who were eager to reveal all their assets on stage or screen, so the days of just giving a hint of what lay beneath were over. Barbara’s career in the industry hit the skids. Guesting on television became her mainstay, with appearances on such fare as ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Twilight Zone’. For a short time she even had a regular role, on an outing titled ‘Love That Jill’, which ran for a couple of seasons in the late fifties.

By this time she had been involved in two quite severe car accidents that, as time wore on, gave her long term health challenges. She was forced to retire from acting completely and it eventually shortened her life. She died at age 47.

Sadly she was definitely a second leaguer, following in the tail wind of Jane Mansfield, Mamie Van Doren and Diana Dors. Way out in front, of course, was you know who. But for a moment in time, with the camerawizardry of Peter Basch, she was lifted momentarily above the pack of wannabes in an image that made her truly beautiful for all eternity.

A Gallery of Peter Basch Photography = http://www.faheykleingallery.com/photographers/basch/personal/basch_pp_frames.htm

Wonderful Then, Wonderful Now

In the sunset years of my teaching career Fridays were always music days. I’d regale my sixes and sevens with tales of pop music folklore. These were perhaps well known to my generation, but not so to most of them. I’d relate sagas of the greats and not so greats. I’d tell them of the rock ‘n’ roller who started off our local industry and taught us how to shout with the best of ’em. I’d tell of the four Liverpudlian lads who conquered the world and had my students scream in the introduction to ‘Revolution’ in time with John Lennon – no easy feat, but they loved having a go. There were always lyrics provided so they could sing along to the tunes. They’d belt out ‘Friday on My Mind’, for instance, to celebrate the fact the weekend was almost on them. Another annual regular was teaching them to stomp in time with ‘Surfin’ USA’ and sing along to the California Sound’s paeans to sun and surf. They were already adept at ‘twistin’ the night’ away to Sam Cooke. I’d tell the tale of that man always dressed in black having his life turned around by the love of a woman and I would introduce them to the greats of our indigenous performers – Archie, Kev and Uncle Jimmy. Another Jimmy would also get a look in each year as well. I’d have them examining the lyrics of his Bobness’ ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and an old Canadian’s ‘Hallelujah’ to see if they could figure what made the two tunes, so often credited as being the best ever written, tick – they couldn’t. Can the rest of us?

And the other regular story was of a beautiful young model who inspired three of the greatest love songs ever written, scribed by two firm friends who were besotted by her. ‘Imagine if you can’, I’d say, ‘having these two guys fighting for your affections – and doing it through the allure of their poetry put to music. Imagine you being the reason ‘Something’, ‘Layla’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’ came into being.’ They’d have the words, I’d play the songs and they’d vote on which was the most appealing to them. Usually it was ‘Layla’.

Many of us will know that that youthful woman was Pattie Boyd who married first George Harrison, the pensmith who gave us ‘Something’, only to to be wooed away by Eric Clapton, who gifted us the other two classics. She was a stunner, was Pattie. If you watch carefully ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the Beatles 1964 movie, she’s in it playing a schoolgirl, chasing the Fab Four all over town. She later went on to have a career as a model – then a long way down the track wrote a best-selling memoir, aptly titled ‘Wonderful Tonight’.

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But these days there’s another claim to fame for her. She’s touring the world in another guise. For, you see, she recorded for posterity, with her camera, her brush with fame by being married to two rock gods. All through her time with Clapton and Harrison she snapped intimate photos of them during their down time, as well as in performance.

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Of course, the fiftieth anniversary of so much of what went on during those heady days is on us and she’s in high demand to show her work around here, there and everywhere. Her product was included in Scorsese’s 2011 biopic ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’ and she is making guest appearances all over – a business she frankly admits she struggles to pull off due to her inherent shyness. These days she’d much rather be behind a camera than doing any sort of posing or Q and As.

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Back in the sixties, though, she was in high demand to appear in shoots for the greatest camera-smiths of the era, eventually using her fees to purchase a range of photographic equipment to try, to some degree, to emulate them. It became a consuming passion. The great David Bailey taught her some of the finer points of the art with what she describes as sweet helpfulness. Later. her association with the quiet Beatle, as well as the man carrying the appellation ‘Slowhand’, gave her a head start as she could catch these men in their more private moments – although her product didn’t see the light of day, in the public sense, for some time. After the breakdown of her marriage to Clapton in 1989, Boyd decided to try and take her hobby one step further by enrolling to study photography and dark room printing, erecting a purpose built studio in her garden. These days she’s getting on, but still works as an occasional freelancer for magazines and is happily adapting her expertise to the challenges of the digital age.

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Now her illuminating oeuvre is in the ether for all to see – and there’s some marvellous stuff. It is hard to go pass the image of hers, from 1968, of George after meditating in the Himalayas; or of Eric in ‘Yet Another Hotel Room’. There’s more up to date work, too, including Keith R and his daughter from 2004 and a delightful portrait of the sadly departed George Martin from ’03. Of course, if you’re in the money, copies are available for purchase – the Martin will set you back 1250 (pounds, that is).

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What I didn’t know, back in those classroom days, is that one year after her official parting with the greatest living guitarist, he wrote to her. He informed Patttie that his new album, the terrific ‘Journeyman’, featured yet another song relating to her, ‘Old Love’. It dealt with the aftermath of their years together. He asked her not to be offended by it:-
‘To know that the flame will always burn
I’ll never get over
I know that I’ll never learn.’
Boyd was mildly miffed, but there is much irony in the fact that Clapton’s collaborator on this new set of songs was none other than Harrison. Further on down the track, Clapton put together the tribute concert for George after his passing. So we now have some sublime visual reminders of this Beatle and his times – the ‘Concert for George’, ‘Living in the Material World’ and Boyd’s photography of their time together.

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Of all her images, the one that this scribe is most taken by is that of Eric C, in late afternoon silhouette, his back to us, playing to the adoring masses at the Blackbush Festival, Surrey, in 1974.

In the 1980’s Pattie met Rod Weston, a property developer. In 1994 they officially became an item. In 2015, at the age of 71, she finally married for the third time, to Rod. This fellow hung around.

Pattie Boyd’s Photography web-site = http://www.pattieboyd.co.uk/

Young Migratory Mother

It was surely just a coincidence that I discovered it so close to the place where we first met, wasn’t it? I mean, I don’t believe in karma and all that nonsense – so it was just a little coincidence then, okay? Maybe, but as I remembered the many hours spent with her, it was a significant small coincidence. The discovery that bought it flooding back happened not so long ago – just a few weekends past when I’d returned to where it had all began, Chicago. I must admit it has stayed on my mind since – the coincidence. Played on my mind so much that, when I returned, I did something about it. But finding out more didn’t make it go away. I had wondered, off and on, over the years what became of her – but now, it has reached obsession status – and I can’t be fixated on her. It’s not right; it’s pointless. Not now, so many decades down the track. The past is the past. You’d agree, if somehow you’re out there reading this, wouldn’t you? I know, when she first disappeared I felt bereft for a while. But back then there was Sharon, so I moved on pretty quickly. It wasn’t as if there was anything between us, just a quickly formed casual friendship that obviously meant little to her – or maybe it just seemed that way. The reason she left my orbit so abruptly I’ll never know. She told me so much of her story and now I have more to add to it, but do I want the full version? We’ll see. So, I’m thinking, if I write it all down, I may get the woman out of my system. Right?

I had flown to Chicago to catch up with my son, Jim, his wife Livvy and my two grand-kids. I don’t make the effort to see them as often as I would like. Jim’s always busy running the company and Liv has her hands full with the imps, as I call them, although they’re far too old for that moniker these days – as they tell me often. About ten years ago I retired and moved from there to NYC to be with the new lady in my life. Jim took over the operations of Meatpackers at that stage. It’s a restaurant chain – a very successful one, if I do say so myself. Under Jim it continues to thrive. He’s moved it into Europe – by the time I left I had expanded into most major US locations. We keep it simple – the best steaks to be sourced locally, matched with the best reds to be had on the planet. Simple – but effective.

My marriage to Jim’s mother, Sharon, broke up soon after I met Shelly. She, Shel, was a manager of one of my Big Apple outlets and we hooked up initially at a franchise heads’ conference back in ’89. She was unattached at that point in time – I was soon to be. My kids had grown, but Sharon and I? Well, we had not grown in our relationship along with them. It was a cold and chilly affair by the end, but Shel soon warmed me up. It’s fair to say there was instant mutual attraction. We were lovers by conference end. I threw in the towel to my vows at the altar pretty quickly. It’s never as simple as that, of course, really – but it was the right decision for me. I followed Shel to New York soon after. We’ve been lucky – happiness second time around for both of us. And she’s given me another set of grandchildren. Shel, in some ways, reminded me of her back then – a tall willowy blonde for whom time had been relatively kind. There was a presence about both women that made you sit up and take notice when they walked into a room – with Shel, as with her almost doppelganger from back in 1963. I had never previously had an affair whilst with Sharon, despite the occasional temptation that had come my way – I knew that with Shel it would never happen again.

Jim and Liv picked me up from O’Hare and drove me to their lakeside condo, about an hour away if the traffic was steady. I intended five days with them, dividing my time between going out and about with Liv and the kids while Jim worked, or otherwise I expected to be catching up with the latest on our business in the down-town office with my son. I had nothing to worry about on that score – it seemed we were flying. And that’s how the visit turned out, almost.

As is perhaps to be expected, life had changed markedly since I started work at a Chicago bar/come diner back in the early Sixties. The Union Stock Yards have now long gone, but they were  in operation then, past their peak, but still employing plenty – enough to give Dwight’s Place healthy custom. Dwight himself was a crusty old fellow – about my age now. He wasn’t going to be around much longer I could tell. He was rumbling on more and more about retirement. He’d been in the restaurant trade all his life. I’d been working in such for a while too by then – ever since I was old enough to serve alcohol. Now, approaching thirty, I was effectively the boss of the place and was figuring it was time to settle down. Sharon did a little waitressing in the joint and we had become a number. I had in mind to propose that we made our relationship more official. By then I’d been putting a bit aside for a while and was sure I could interest a bank in my business prospects when it came time for Dwight to call it quits.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Yep, it was ’63 when she came into Dwight’s on the first occasion. I know that because my mind was on the tele as Kennedy was being reported on the news as having given his famous speech about being a Berliner. Little did we realise the terrible event that was about to befall the nation only a few months away. She was up to the bar before my attention fixed on her. It was unusual for a woman to come into Dwight’s at any time. It was a male sort of place – just the basics – beer, whisky and stomach lining fried tucker. We were open twenty-four seven to cater for the shifts starting and finishing around the clock at the cattle yards, slaughter houses and freezing plants that operated in the immediate vicinity. These days Meatpackers operates more upmarket, but it was a different time back then and women in our place were an exception, especially ones who ordered beer with bourbon chasers, as she did that first time.

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As Dwight wound down I had given myself the evening shift. It was usually quiet between the six o’clock to seven meals and midnight, heating up at the late hour when many of the workers knocked off. So I had time for her, not that she was overly forthcoming that first evening. She reordered twice, sitting quietly on the end stool – and left after an hour or so. I thought little more of it until she reappeared the next night – and frequently after that. Always the same order, repeated twice. But as we came to know each other she started to linger longer, sometimes almost till the midnight rush.

As I said, she was a tall blonde, very purposeful in her movements and precise in speech. She never waffled, even as I came to know her better – but there was a warmth about her too. If I had to pin her age down I’d say late forties/early fifties – her face wasn’t heavily lined, giving evidence that she took good care of her skin. Apart from that, make-up didn’t feature. She wore blue-denim coveralls – I never saw her in anything else in all the evenings she graced Dwight’s with her presence.

Gradually she opened up to me. I liked a bit of a chat with the regulars and once I’d broken down her initial barrier to my charm, she was quite forthcoming. She didn’t live far away as it turned out, but had finally found a job closer to home cleaning some of the offices in the vicinity with a crew of three or four. She liked the hours – afternoons into the evenings, leaving her mornings free. There was no wedding ring on her finger – I spotted that early on as I was thinking of popping the question back then to Sharon. It took a while for my patron to bestow on me her first smile – but when it emerged it was worth the wait. And she did possess a sense of humour. Whenever Red Skelton or Lucy came on the tele she often convulsed in laughter. It was good to see her lose her inhibitions, in my presence, as time went on. She stared asking me questions about myself, as I did her. I talked of my plans for the years ahead – of taking over Dwight’s, of wedding Sharon and maybe having a family. And in my quizzing I soon had a fair amount of information on her life, to that point in time. And here’s what, over those months in her almost nightly company, I found out.

Although she’d lived in our windy city since the war, she still had the remnant of a southern drawl and sure enough, she’d been bought up in Texas. I cannot remember exactly where in that large state she spent her childhood, but I do recall her saying it wasn’t exactly an easy one. When the dust storms hit in her late teens, though, it became considerably worse for her. She’d married young – had to. Again her husband’s name has long gone from my memory, so let’s call him Dave. Her family took Dave in under their roof too, as well as a newborn. A second quickly increased the pressure on the now virtually untenable farm to support them all. In the end they had a decision to make. It was made easier by a neighbour who informed them he was heading to California where there was money to made on the Bakersfield oil fields. And there was room on his truck. She spoke, back then, of the many adventures to be had en route. There were humorous tales. There were tales of hardship. But my overriding memory was her telling of the constant gnawing of hunger as she and Dave always put the children first. On reaching the West Coast state they terminated their journey at Edison, just outside Bakersfield. It was just a camp-site, but with the truck and a little canvas two families had a sort of home together. While they waited for news about positions with the oil companies they turned their hands to seasonal fruit and vegie picking around the district. Their upbringing meant they were farm-hardened to the sort of work ethic required and soon a little cash was rolling in. Life was starting to look up for these battlers. Dave was successful in gaining a position so, after around six months in the camp, they moved into town and rented some rooms in a boarding house. Then, a year later, came Pearl Harbour. It wasn’t long before Dave joined up to do his bit and she lost him at Iwo Jima. For a while she persisted on his pension, but she soon found that, with two kids, the dollar simply wouldn’t stretch. And life without Dave was pretty bleak as well. When a call came from her sister, also widowed by the war, with an offer to share accommodation, she accepted. It was a long trip to Illinois on a Greyhound bus, especially for the kids. But once she arrived, she soon made a go of it, picking up any menial work she could lay her hands on to help out her sister with expenses and to provide all she could for her two offspring.

She was still living with her sister when she turned up at my workplace. I remember her referring to themselves as ‘…the two love-starved old spinsters’, although later in the piece she did tell me of some of the men she’d had dalliances with along the way. But none could match her Dave, so they didn’t last long in her affections. As for her kids – one married out in LA, the other still living in Chicago. They’d done all right for themselves after a rough start, she reckoned.

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I had really started to look forward to her company in Dwight’s. She rarely came at weekends, but was there most week nights. She never varied her order nor her outfit. I figured our chats did us both good and I was reluctant to see her give me that goodbye wave as she departed. Then, as suddenly as she had appeared she was gone. I never laid eyes on her again until this recent trip back to Chicago

This occurred on my last morning in the city by the lake. I’d had a great time with Jim and the grandchildren. And as my flight back home wasn’t till later in the afternoon, I decided to return one last time to that old stomping ground where the sale yards had been till their demise in ’71. It was there that she had briefly impinged on my life – but my thoughts were far from her till I entered that shop. I was due to meet Jim for one last lunch after I had wandered around on my own for a bit – I wasn’t to know, when I set out, that that lunch was going to be mainly about her. He listened with interest as I related most of her tale to him, along with what I had discovered that very morn. He was seemingly engaged and kept me talking on the subject – and in the blink of an eye it was time to leave the city for O’Hare.

Yes, I was feeling quite nostalgic that morning in any case. There had been a bit of that lately. I was getting on. I knew it would probably be another good while before I saw those kids again, although Jim had promised to bring them out to NYC for Christmas. I loved Shel’s lot, but there was nothing like your own flesh and blood. I knew back home they would expect something from me, so I had my eye out for a souvenir place during my meanderings. There were plenty of those around now the place was more gentrified and with it being popular with the tourists. With numerous to choose from, what compelled me to land in that one?

It was more a stall in a small indoor market than a shop as such. Above it was a sign, ‘Postcards Galore’. I thought – a few postcards of the city for friends and maybe something cute for the kiddies. The seemingly thousands of cards were arranged in sections under labelled headings. I found some pictures of dolls in national costume for the two girls, together with a couple of old-fashioned fire-engines for Shel’s grandson. He was fixated on trucks and boy stuff. I know, it was all very sexist of me. I was rifling through the section marked Art and Photography when, to my utter disbelief, I found her.

In my memory it was one of the last nights she visited the bar. We were chatting away when she suddenly asked something akin to, ‘Would you like to see a photo of me when I was younger?’ Of course I replied in the affirmative and from her bag – I always found it somewhat incongruous that she carried a handbag to go with her dungarees – a tattered envelope emerged from which she withdrew an equally tattered image. I was touched that her ease with me allowed her to gift me a viewing – it certainly wouldn’t have happened in her early days of drinking in my company. With its creases and smudges, the black and white depiction of a more youthful her looked much travelled and much cherished. Maybe the showing of it was her way of saying goodbye – she gave no other hint of vanishing from my night-shifts at Dwight’s at all.

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I guess, even in her coveralls, she had an air about her that was very sensual; very beguiling despite her age. There was a mild flirtatiousness between us and in all honesty, I think, if there had been no Sharon, I would have been tempted. And her younger self looked something too.

It took me a while to twig that morning. I examined it for sometime because, in the back of my mind, was the notion that, for some reason, it was terribly familiar to me. Then it clicked. I stepped back in amazement. I felt somewhat shaken. When I turned it over and read what was on the back I knew, without doubt, I was right. It simply read ‘Dorothea Lange. Young Migratory Woman. 1941.’ I repeated her name over and over in my mind for a while. Dorothea Lange. Well, that just didn’t seem right. And only then did I realise. She was the photographer. Then I recalled. She had told me about her that night. Told me about the photographer lady with a limp who came calling that day long ago and captured her for all time. Imagine, after all these years, there, in a small retail outlet, in amongst the Mona Lisas and Whistler’s Mothers, I found her again.

Back then I also took my time in looking her over. The younger version seemed to have none of the, well, I guess you could call it stateliness or something, even chutzpah maybe, of her older self. I asked her to tell me about the circumstances of its taking. She then told me the story of that particular morning in some detail. It was obviously a seminal event for her as she recounted it with clarity. The bar was quiet, as was usual for that hour of night. I was only interrupted a few times in its telling to pull a beer or pour whiskey shots.

She sipped on her tipples as she gave me her account of the photographer’s visit. She reckoned she came along when she and Dave were at their lowest. In the fruit and vegetable picking they were engaged in they were hampered by the responsibility of childcare. Most farmers forbade accompanying children as a distraction and there were few at the camp on the outskirts of Edison willing to take on a whole day of caring for the children of others. Many, like them, had to split their days – one went in the morning, the other for the afternoon. Even then sometimes the little tots were alone for the changeover, restricted to a playpen. A day’s work was worth $2.25 to them – I certainly remember her telling me that. It was peanuts, even back then, but they could scratch an existence from it when the work was regular. If not, they relied on the generosity of their camp mates. It was tough, but she tried to get through it as best as she could, firm in the belief it was only temporary. She was very particular about her skin, she informed me. Being pale, she burnt easily and so ensured that her head was well-covered. The only luxury she allowed herself, only rarely, was the cheapest skin lotion available at the general store up the road. She used it sparingly every day. The long hours pulling turnips, plucking cherries or whatever the task was, exhausted her, even if she was only at it half days. But it was her attention to her appearance, even in those bleak days of labouring in fields, that made her stand out and perhaps caught the photographer’s eye. I have now come to know Dorothea Lange’s work well, due to my history with our mutual friend. My lady didn’t possess that beaten down appearance as did so many of the haggard, desperate women Lange took her samples from during her time with the ‘Grapes of Wrath’ denizens of that testing era. With this subject there was hope in her demeanour, as well as perhaps a modicum of defiance. She would not let it beat her. That was what her face told that day back then, as well as when renewing my acquaintanceship with the photo in more recent times.

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The morning in question she was getting herself organised for her shift. They were due to pick peas thirty-five miles away and she was about to hop up into the truck when she spotted a lady, with a camera, making her way to her. The woman introduced herself and asked if she was agreeable to having her photo taken. Assent was given so the photographer’s assistant jotted down a few details about the subject – obviously my customer, sipping her ale opposite. It was all over in a flash back then, but she told me she did ask for a copy of the image to be sent to the nearest mail pick-up, the general store.

What I saw was the younger version of my friend, up against some sort of building, with washing in the background. Her face was shaded by that all-important hat and her hair seemed to be cropped short – far removed from the long blonde tresses she disported on her visits to me. Later on she remembered being told that the woman worked for some sort of government agency reporting on conditions in the transient camps that dotted the outskirts of most towns in that area of California. She told me she had no idea what use, if anything, was made of the photograph taken that morning. She soon forgot all about it. She had far weightier problems on her mind, such as day to day survival. It had completely flown from her mind when, shortly after that encounter, the news came through that Dave had scored a job maintaining the rigs on the oil fields. He’d be earning oil money – good money.

She felt it was a positive omen for the future and for a year or so it seemed that way. They soon had rented rooms in Edison and planned to take out a bank loan for a car. As they were leaving the ramshackle camp for the last time they called into the general store and found a letter waiting. The envelope, the one she still carried the photo around in after all those years, was marked with the words ‘Bureau of Agricultural Economics’.

Of course, as I recently found out, the person who took the image of her on my postcard was one of our country’s ground-breaking women, particularly in her field of bringing to the attention of anyone who would listen the plight of the poor in the US during those hard years. But I didn’t know that until I went and investigated Dorothea Lange at the New York Public Library shortly after I came back from Chicago. She is automatically associated with one of the nation’s iconic images, the similarly titled ‘Migrant Mother’. This one she took at the height of the Dust Bowl in 1935 – a photograph that seared the conscience and helped usher in the New Deal. But, for me, nothing compares to the one I have now framed and placed on the desk in my study. That one is personal.

Business-wise the seventies were great for me. Dwight duly retired with my worries about the demise of the sale-yards subsiding as first the demolishers and then the builders moved into the vacuum to transform the location. The bank looked favourably on my plan to take over Dwight’s Place and gradually it too was transformed, along with the area it served. Once I had it all in place I renamed it Meatpackers in memory of all those guys it had served over the years of the cattle yards. As the next decade approached the demographic of that part of Chicago started to change – less blue collar and more aspirational. We changed with it and revamped the whole joint. Meatpackers became lunch and dinner only. We went where the money was by only offering the best cuts of locally sourced beef and the best reds we could find. The combination worked and the original Meatpackers took off.

We expanded Lakeside, then into the surrounding states. By the time I retired we had fifty-two franchises spread around the country, all operating on the same formula. Admittedly, all this took a toll on my relationship with Sharon and I don’t blame her now for how she treated me in those last years before Shel. We were both ready to move on. It was harder with the kids, Jim and Carey, but I think, with my lovely lady’s help, I have rebuilt those bridges. My daughter is a nurse in Washington State, but she too has a stake in the business. I couldn’t be happier with my life where it stands at the moment – my life with Shel in the Big Apple.

As for my trip to that NY library to discover more about the photographer of my postcard and to perhaps find out something of what became of its subject, the following, in a nutshell, is what I came up with.

One book I examined said Dorothea Lange was the woman who ‘…humanised the Great Depression’. She was born in 1895 and had a difficult childhood. Her father abandoned the family when she was twelve and she contracted polio, leaving her with a life-long limp. In 1919 she opened a photographic portrait studio in San Francisco and was immediately successful. She married in 1920 to painter Maynard Dixon, the union producing two sons. By the time the Depression hit she was over portraiture and started taking her camera out of the studio to capture what was happening on the streets, particularly snapping the now many down-and-outs living rough. Government officials noticed what she produced. As a result they came calling. This led to her crusade as a chronicler of the forgotten Americans during the thirties and forties. Her work ensured they didn’t stay shoved under the carpet.

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I discovered her marriage failed and in 1935 she remarried to a man who shared her passion for assisting the poor. During the war she turned her attention to the plight of American/Japanese in internment camps, putting her offside with the government. The post-war years saw her involved in many projects associated with the downtrodden, often on assignment for ‘Life’ magazine.

And now, it seems there is only one more door to open – to find out this particular subject of Lange’s name and try to uncover what became of her. I know that these days it’s getting easier and easier to do. But my inclination, at this point, is to let it lie where it is now situated. Maybe, given time, I’ll feel not so obsessive once the dust settles on committing it all to paper. Over and over I’ve tried to recall the name on the envelope – did I think to look back then? Presumably I would have already known her name so perhaps I didn’t need to. It has disappeared from my memory cells and that is all I know. It felt good, therapeutic, doing this. Maybe, just maybe there will be another instalment.
Paul Bentine 1999

Abbe

It’s the one of Valentino and his wife that catches the eye, I think, in any on-line gallery of his work. It’s so redolent of an era – that of the first of the golden ages of Hollywood. This was the period that was the harbinger of our own age of the celebrity. As now, back then photographers were to the fore in satisfying the cravings of the public to get closer to the celebrities they adored. Look at that particular photo – she (Natacha Rambova) is exquisite – but Rudy, well he was something else.

james abbe valentino and wife

And the snapper to the stars who caught that now everlasting moment? That was one James Abbe. Reading his story it seems he was a ground-breaker in the art of capturing the essence of those early icons of the silver screens.

Abbe was first and foremost a photojournalist. Later in his career he was one of the trickle of western reporters to be allowed into Stalinist Russia to capture life under a dictator. He even met and shot the communist leader – many would have preferred that to have been with a gun. But for a fleeting few years he set the pace as the movie making business started to morph into the mega-dollar industry it became our lifetimes. He was quick to realise that making and selling prints of the performers, those who tantalised the imagination of Joe Everyone, could be a nice little earner in itself.

Growing up in Newport News, Virginia the young James Abbe began his infatuation with photography early. His father owned a bookshop and the lad, born in 1883, earned some pocket money taking snaps of the ships that came into the town’s harbour and then selling them behind his dad’s counter. By 1916 he was competent enough to have his pictures placed in various periodicals as the publishing industry started to realise actual photographs could enhance a narrative. He soon found it worth his while to move to the big smoke, NYC. His major break came with a photograph of prominent stage actors the Barrymore Brothers, at the time the kings of Broadway and soon to be seen in moving pictures. Following their trajectory, Abbe discovered there was money to be made in photographing theatrical types. For a while he specialised in capturing them in costume, but later diversified into what we today would term publicity stills. But it soon became evident that the eastern seaboard city wasn’t where it was at – he would soon have to heed the call to ‘go west young man’ where LA was the happening place. In 1919 Abbe became only the third camerasmith to seek his fortune in Hollywood, making an impact with Mack Sennett and others. He commuted between there and New York on a regular basis fulfilling engagements – the first bi-coastal lensman.

james abbe mary pickford

By this time he was a family man, but the trappings of fame ensnared him. He became very involved with emerging superstar Lillian Gish. In 1922 he upended his marriage and followed Gish to Italy where she was filming. Thereafter followed eight years in Paris. Again he pointed his camera at the stars of the local stage and cinema, as well as visiting celebrities from all over. In 1927 he was off to Russia and from that point on photo-journalism became his chief priotity with his photographic apparatus..

But history will remember him for his renderings of the entertainment greats in those earlier years. He was, from the outset, a master of lighting. Initially photographers just used what was immediately available, usually that already present to light stage or screen performances. But Abbe was more innovative, placing banks of portable lamps adroitly to garner the texture he was after. His competitors, seeing his quality of product, were soon following suit.

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James Abbe passed away in 1973 after three marriages and an adventurous life. He was 91. Abbe was a recorder for an age that was a prelude to the present day’s contemporary media saturation – that dealing with the comings and goings of identities who are perceived to exude talent – and a few that seriously don’t. His images gave the fans back then a personal context to the thespians that they viewed on stage or screen. He allowed one to own a piece of the action. The masses could possess something linking them to those they fawned over from the cheap stalls of the early movie houses or worshipped from the posh private boxes of Broadway.

James Abbe on-line = http://vivandlarry.com/general-discussion/james-abbe-capturing-the-silent-screen/

by Howard Coster, half-plate film negative, 1933

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There's So Much More To Dinh

Rising from abject poverty to become a leading purveyor in the effort to perfectly capture the female form, Dinh, some might suggest is living the dream. But that would be to place a western sensibility on it. The man himself is so much more, just as his photography is so much more.

As with his nudes, all his photography is infused with the same contemporary orientalism as is the product of the great painters of the east and south-east Asian region. Look at his image of a tiger slinking through the night, or his goldfish, or indeed, perhaps this scribe’s favourite, some peasants of Myanmar hard at their labour and I would suggest this is easily surmised. There are his clothed female beauties to consider as well. I would think any reasonable lover of the art of photography would agree that the rave reviews he has received are justified. That being said, his nudes are stunning and have rightly been praised the world over, but investigating, I found the man himself to be mercurial. Not for the first time he is leaving a successful career behind to embark on a new direction. Initially the odds were certainly against him getting anywhere in life – I think his story is remarkable.

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Duong Quoc Dinh was raised in the poorest of circumstances in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. He walked five kilometres to school and back each day. It was there, thanks to one perceptive teacher spotting his talent for drawing, that he began to dream. His gift was nurtured and worked at until it was enough for him to be taken in by a local college for the decorative arts after he became dux of his school in his final year. But, sadly, he was too poor to further hone his artistic pursuits and was forced to try and earn a living from what he had garnered to that date. He took any job he could find in his field to earn enough to keep the wolf from the door – costume design, magazine ads, company logos. It became even more crucial when he fell in love with a gorgeous woman. He married Quach Thi Mong Ha and soon found himself himself with a young family to support.

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In the year the world entered a new millennium Dinh happened to be wandering in a park when he espied a professional photographer at work, taking snaps of families enjoying themselves in the sunshine. He would then encourage his subjects to buy the resulting images. It was his light-bulb moment. A sister working in Germany bought Dinh a camera adequate enough to get him started and because of his artistic training, he was soon gaining a reputation for freshness and originality. His family portraits far more resembled the popular and sophisticated painting style in vogue at the time, rather than the staid traditional groupings that were usually churned out by his competitors. The new camerasmith was soon pocketing good money and he stuck at it until his business was the most popular in his province. He worked incredibly long hours filling orders, often sleeping in the studio he was eventually able to purchase. He now knew he had made it and could have continued down that successful route till the end of his working life – but he felt unfulfilled. As he saw it, he was letting down those who had encouraged him to become an artist in his training days. He wanted more than just monetary comfort – he still had his dream. So, just when he’s at the top of his game, he changes course into uncharted territory. He wanted to be true to himself rather than a mere snapper of happy people.

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His wife demurred, thought he was mad abandoning a more than steady income. What was to become of herself and the kids? His retort went something akin to this – ‘If I don’t make it in three years, dear, feel free to leave me.’

Even more radical was his decision to make the canvas for his leap into the unknown the nude female body. He’d been exploring the internet you see – just for inspiration. He observed what contemporary Vietnamese painters were doing with the womanly form and figured he could do something similar wielding a camera, particularly if his artistic training could be further evoked. He thought he had a formula – would it work? Would it what!

His first model was none other than his wife – despite her doubts, she had faith in him and was prepared to do what was required for him to succeed. Her beauty lit up his first attempts to put his ideas into practice. The results were an instant hit. The money that started to come in as a result almost caused his wife to swoon with joy. She therefore resolved to remain by his side throughout the journey this would take them on – and she has been a great aid in assisting him to gather other models to pose. To the shock of his friends, he has also festooned the living areas of their home with his images of her. ‘Why not?’ is his response. ‘Surely you can see how beautiful she is. Why should she hide it?’ Quite something in a conservative communist country.

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But soon lovers of the art form world wide were festooning their own wall spaces with the beauteous images he produced of her and the other young women prepared trust him. None of them had any experience and his rota always numbered just nine. As it was their beauty that was essential to the demand for the work he bought them in on the business side as well, ensuring that they would never want for anything if he could help it. Of course, to ensure their comfort in posing, he was scrupulous in his treatment of them, his wife always present at such times. By now he was becoming stricter in his Buddhist beliefs and this has helped in a country where the boundary between life modelling and pornography is still somewhat clouded. Even the slightest whiff of impropriety would ruin him. In following his heart, his talent has attracted much acclaim and relative wealth – and now he is walking away from that as well to return to his first passion – the pencil and the brush.

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His remaining original photographs he plans to sell and distribute the earnings amongst his models. He intends to promote their role in his success as much as possible, wanting them to be remembered as much as himself for the achievements he’s had. He yearns to teach his skills to a younger generation of Vietnamese photographers so, in the past three years he has mentored over three hundred needy students without payment. He was also struggling once upon a time. But painting, he points out, will be his main focus in the foreseeable future. ‘Art is endless. Once you’ve reached your goal, you’ll find nothing waiting for you but the abyss.’ To avoid that abyss, Vinh changes course. As he approaches his half century it remains to be seen if he’ll find fame for a third time.

Meanwhile, with the usual warning, we are all able to enjoy his work, if not in those galleries world wide, at least on-line. And if you can drag your eyes away from those alluring women he captures, explore around for there is much, much more in his oeuvre to please the eye. And I think his own personal story has been one worth telling.

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Dunh’s Deviant Art Gallery = http://duongquocdinh.deviantart.com/gallery/

Retro Portlanders – Ake and Bidegain

WARNING – DON’T READ IF YOU HAVEN’T A HEAD FOR CHEMICAL REACTIONS
Wet-collodion process, also called collodion process, is an early photographic technique invented by Englishman Frederick Scott Archer in 1851. The process involved adding a soluble iodide to a solution of collodion (cellulose nitrate) and coating a glass plate with the mixture. In the darkroom the plate was immersed in a solution of silver nitrate to form silver iodine. The plate, still wet, was exposed in the camera. It was then developed by pouring a solution of pyrogallic acid over it and was fixed with a strong solution of sodium thiosulfate, for which potassium cyanide was later substituted. Immediate developing and fixing were necessary because, after the collodion film had dried, it became waterproof and the reagent solutions could not penetrate it. The process was valued for the level of detail and clarity it allowed. A modification of the process, in which an underexposed negative was backed with black paper or velvet to form what was called an ambrotype, became very popular from the mid-to late 19th century, as did a version on black lacquered metal known as a tintype, or ferrotype.

No, I definitely went glassy eyed at the above. It sounds complicated and reportedly is. Film, of course, made it and other early processes quickly obsolete. If you’re a mere pointer and shooter, as I am, you’d be so pleased to see the end of the wastefulness of snapping to your heart’s content with film. I could never afford to do that pre-digitally – now I can.

But there are a growing posse of camerasmiths around the world going back to film – some in fact never left it behind. A smaller group are going way retro – back to the early days of the art and the processes, as well as the equipment, that marked the early years. One such is a revival of wet-collodion.

I found Ray Bidegain first, then via a link, Jody Ake. Now, when looking at their images, it takes some time to realise what is logical – that one is indeed looking at contemporary work. Then there’s the automatic jump to the conclusion that what they achieve is down to the gee-wizardry of Photoshop, or something equivalent. But no, these two have gone right back to the source. They are – and do excuse my use of this word – authentic.

Jody Ake uses the process for his – yes, his despite the name – gorgeous portraits, still lifes, nudes and landscapes. – even to the degree of painstakingly mixing all the above chemicals. Initially he trained at the University of Oregon and later moved to NYC to explore his potential in the photographic industry of the big smoke, but now resides back in Portland. The deaths of three close friends in an accident twenty years ago, followed by a near death experience of his own, behind the wheel of a car, only a few months later, caused him to reassess his life and his values. He claims he still feels guilty over his survival, but sees the laborious way he goes about his photography calms him and is a salve to his pain. He claims a camera takes one under the surface of reality and this is therapeutic as it ‘…can see more than the naked eye, moving us past our persona and catching a glimpse of who we actually are.’

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Now, to me, that’s just so much hairy-fairy, mumbo-psycho-babble until one looks at his output – then you could think there is actually something to it. Atmospheric, with a degree of the intangible, his is sure an eye-catchingly stark and beautiful product.

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As is Bidegain’s, who also works using a platinum plate technique in conjunction. Both artists have images held in galleries around the Americas and beyond, also exhibiting on a regular basis. As their hometown is also shared, presumably they are known to each other. Ray B’s oeuvre has been described as exuding a ‘…glow as from an inner light.’

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Initially he was a wedding photographer, a job Ray eventually found didn’t offer him the challenges he craved. So he spread his wings and began toying with old redundant processes and now has great acclaim for his mastery of them. He spends much time passing on his knowledge of these outmoded ways so they are not lost forever. To him, his images ‘…serve as visual reminders of moments and feelings I have experienced, signifying both the passage of time and the reverberation of consistency in all our lives.’

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Yes, his work does have an inner peace about it, soothing the eye of those who will come and gaze and wonder about what we may have lost with the world so maniacally speeding up since his methods were in vogue. Inner peace, the old ways – should be more of it I reckon. Peering at the works of Bidegain and Ake are a positive advertisement for that notion.

Jody Ake’s website = http://www.jodyake.com/

Ray Bidegain’s website = http://www.rbstudio.com/

Under the Cloak at Night

Every time I see a photographer use the dispersion effect I always think how it’d work really well with bats. With a bat theme in mind I set out to photograph a cave, settling on Kweebani Cave at Binna Burra National Park. I photographed myself in costume in my garage and Frankenstein-ed different body parts, hair, dress and cape flicks to make the final girl. I composited in a moon and a new sky from photos I’d shot separately. To create the bats I used different bat brushes found on DeviantArt and the dispersion effect, which you can learn about at http://www.exposingillusions.com

hayley roberts Under-the-Cloak-of-Night-

That’s how the Brisbane photographer describes the process involved in putting together her digitally manipulated photograph bearing the title of this piece. Similar ‘how tos’ can be found for many of her images at the listed URL. Her own website is fascinating as well, with links to her blog.

But it wasn’t that particular image that first took me to her. That one was of a mermaid in a purple-scaled sheath, seaweed clutched to her breasts, seemingly stranded beneath a wreck of a vessel, birds circling. When I investigated further I was strangely surprised that the creator of these surprising images – deliberate repetition there for effect – was Australian. No doubt I shouldn’t of been, but I’d recently been immersed in so many European stylists of similar ilk I was genuinely delighted to discover a local contributor. Perhaps I’m showing my age; my world had its formative years in the cultural cringe. Anyway, it is obvious that Hayley Roberts is extremely skilled in the magicking of her wonderful illusions. Books taking flight from library shelves as a white clad feminine form approaches down an aisle; a young lady of indiscriminate age wiping away a tear as a clipper ship commences its descent to Davy Jones in a very contained sea; a fairy on a unicorn taking a chilly rest-stop at Winterglen, with dragon in attendance are only a few examples of her engaging inventiveness.

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One can see Tim Burton and Shaun Tan in all of this and Ms Roberts does note that they have influenced her oeuvre. But the photos she produces are decidedly stamped with her own individual imprint.

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It doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that she is also under the spell of the possibilities that Photoshop allows for as she pays homage to concepts evoked by magic realism. Hayley, like many, in no way suspected she had the wherewithal to be in any way creative, but her increasing mastery of camerasmithing has enabled her to push the envelope away from her staples – event and nature photography. So now she knows how to tantalise her viewer with her eerily beguiling visual world. Ms Roberts is yet to make a full-time living from her artistic pursuit, working part-time, surrounded by her other great love, in a library. Her dream is to be in a position ‘...to travel around Australia taking creative portraits in rural and iconic locations.’ As she says,’…finding your passion makes anything possible.’

Hayley Roberts’ website = http://hayleyrobertsphoto.com/

David Bailey

Despite the title, no, this isn’t about the esteemed Brit photographer – what hasn’t been written about him? No, this is about another camerasmith entirely – one whose family nick-named her that because of her obsession for taking pictures from a young age. These days she’s very accomplished at her art, although it would be fair to say she’ll never be in the same league as the great Bailey. But, nonetheless, she is making a splash and she caught my eye.

Abandoned Fishing Boat, Dungeness, Kent, England

It was the boat, first of all, that drew me in during a systematic trawl through an on-line photography site – then the head. Both were black and bleak, the former beached on a grassy sward like a wannabe Ark. On a closer inspection it wasn’t that large a wreck of a vessel – it was all in the framing. With the other, the head, broken and distended – well, it just seemed so incongruous. What was it doing there in that desolate location? Most likely it’s a sculptural installation designed to surprise. Perhaps it is attached to something we cannot discern due to a rise in the land. But whatever the case with these two images, I decided then and there there was much, much to admire about this woman’s product.

And, as her family intimated when they accorded her the appellation of the other famed lensman, Dawn Black freely admits she is addicted to capturing images. As she stated in a recent interview. ‘… I delight in the creativity that photography gives me to interpret (landscapes)…in my own way.’

She has this knack for the art in her gene pool, with both her father, as well as his father in turn, keen amateurs with a camera The elder man worked all his life for Ilford, in the now redundant profession of film processing. From an early age Ms Black had a Kodak in hand. She later studied architectural design at university, but her fervour for pointing a camera and snapping re-imposed itself once digital technology arrived. She claims she is not a manipulator of an image, preferring to present what the eye nets via the lens.

"The Light of The Moon" by Igor Mitoraj

It has also helped that she has been a bit of a gypsy in her life. She’s now resident in the Netherlands, but English born Black has lived in Wales, Scotland and Singapore, before finally settling on The Hague to raise her family. Her work also features product from the US, Italy and France. The mother of four has found that she can make a reasonable living selling her prints and since 2009, her offspring apart, this has been the main focus of her world.

Dawn Black has deliberately tried to create her photos in the old style of black and white darkroom production that her grandfather would have been up to his neck in. Her attachment to an older style is perhaps the reason why my focus was so drawn to her. No doubt, if he is still around, Granddad would be awfully proud of his now not so little David Bailey.

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Her site’s on line – check her out = http://www.dawnsblackphotography.com/

Off to the Great War': Woolloomooloo, 1915 – Peter Stanley, June 1, 2015

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In 1915, more men volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force than in any other year. July was the peak month, with over 36,000 men enlisting—one-tenth of the total number who served in the war.
Herbert Fishwick’s photograph depicts a volunteer walking past the big waterside sheds at Woolloomooloo—today probably waterfront apartments worth hundreds of thousands of dollars—just before he embarks on the transport that will carry him to Egypt, then Gallipoli or Britain and the Western Front.
None of the individuals in the photograph is named, but they stand for the almost 100,000 men who left that year for the war and for those who farewelled them.
The volunteer carries his kitbag on his shoulder. One of the two young women—his sisters, perhaps, or even daughters—carries his rolled-up overcoat, with his service cap dangling from it; he’s preferred to wear his slouch hat. The woman on the far right could be his mother or wife. The women wear white; this may be autumn or spring. The young ones are buoyant. Only the older woman seems to be ambivalent about farewelling him. She might one day be wearing black.
If this is early to mid-1915, the subjects of this photograph have not yet seen the full extent of casualties on Gallipoli. In July 1915, the first wounded from Gallipoli will arrive home, also at the wharves of Woolloomooloo.
The photographer, Herbert H. Fishwick, was born in Britain and became well known in the commercial field in New South Wales and beyond, working for The Sydney Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald. He recorded a wide range of subjects, including the Southern Alps (Fishwick was a pioneer skier and kept skiing into middle age); aerial photographs of towns; boxing matches;  landscape scenes—and sheep. The Pastoral Review and Graziers’ Record noted when he died that ‘in the realms of the stud Merino sheep breeding industry he excelled … outstanding amongst these experts in animal photography’. The National Library holds over a thousand of Fishwick’s images.
See the boys larking about—embarkation for them meant a more interesting day out. The lad on the right is about to be yanked out of the frame, but he has been captured forever—a bystander innocent, for now, of the war that will come to dominate his country and, perhaps, his life.

The Blue Room – I initially discovered the photograph and the above piece about it in the June edition of the National Library of Australia Magazine. To me it was the informality of the photograph that seemed to be its significance in an era where posing was de rigeur. The author makes his own educated guesses about the women around the departing infantryman, but I’d like to imagine, displaying the romantic in me, one of them to be his sweetheart – perhaps the damsel to his right who may well have her left arm encircling his back. That would give him something to think about during the terrors that lay ahead for him. It is, I agree, difficult to deduce exactly how old the soldier may be and we’ll never know if he returned to Oz in one piece or forever lies in foreign soil.
I love the look of the lad in the far right hand corner being taken hold of by an unseen parent, we imagine, in order to calm him down amidst all the excitement. Is it his brother to his rear, in the cap, heading off quick smart to escape those same clutches?
For me there is so much to relish about this photograph from an instant in time in the year 1915. Adventure was thought to be over the horizon on the other side of the globe for the unknown soldier captured for all eternity by Fishwick’s lens. All too soon, in a few month’s time, both will know that such send-offs will be little cause for jubilation. That then had to wait till war’s end.

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Fishwick – Armistice Day

Wave

The surfing miner felt unfulfilled. Sure, there was great money to be had underground digging out what is so vital to the nation’s financial health, but now he was grounded from both his passion and his work place – one on the sea, one in the bowels of the earth. He needed something to take his mind off the damage done to his right knee that would leave him incapacitated for six months. His brother and sister were both fortified with their engagement in artistic pursuits, so he looked to that area for inspiration. He picked up the expensive camera he had treated himself to a while ago, then had put aside due to time constraints – now he had no such excuse. Gradually an idea took hold and he clicked on to the ether to see if he could make it pan out.

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That was back in 2007. Fast forward to to the present day and the thirty-two year old, on the basis of what he taught himself to do back then, has seen his skills taking him all over the world – even to dipping his toe in minus twenty degree water off the coast of Iceland. He now combines his first love with this recently discovered expertise to win accolades and awards world-wide, as well as a handy amount of pocket money.

I initially encountered Ray Collins one Saturday morning, earlier this year, on opening the Weekend Magazine supplement of the Oz. Within there was a quite stunning photograph that took me away from a disappointing Tasmanian summer to a place where I know the weather is blissful in all seasons. Fusing glistening water and a bright blue-hued sky, the snapper had captured a gloriously perfect wave in the instant before breaking. And through its tubular pipe we get a glimpse of a coastline fringed by sand, pine trees and Coolangatta towers. I took to my laptop to find out more about the obviously talented creator of such an image.

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During his time away from the coal seam and riding the white horses of the sea, Ray discovered that he was quite the camera-smith once he mastered the intricacies of his rediscovered purchase. But now it came time to find out if the theory of his nub of an idea could be put into practice. Maybe in doing so he could match his siblings and produce works of beauty too. He has done that in spades, but it wasn’t easy. First he needed to outlay some cash, not a small ask when he was on half-pay, to see his vision realised. For three thousand dollars he purchased himself a housing unit – all to take his camera to sea.

The tough going didn’t end there. Although technically he was the match for any other surf-snapper, there was nothing in his photos that stood out from dozens of other practitioners. He needed an angle. He decided to break away from the convention of man’s (and woman’s) mastery of the breaking swell. He resolved to focus on the wave itself – its ‘…textures, colours and purity.’ He wanted ‘anticipation’ in his product – and he worked at it till he achieved that aim. He attained his goal. Surfing magazines more readily came to pick up his depictions and eventually he came to the notice of the guru of his art in the States, Larry Moore, who took him on by awarding him one of his prestigious mentorships – the first Australian to be thus honoured. He was set.

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Following on from that, he has won just about every gong going in his field and he services a list of international brands as long as your arm with pictures for their advertising – Qantas, Red Bull, Apple, United Airlines just to cite a few. Each day he has to sort through several hundred emails, all clamouring for permission to use his work for a multitude of purposes.

Attached to this, though, there are two rubs. The first is that he still works away at that coal seam. Despite his international repute, income from his output with the camera is still fluky and he needs the stability of a regular wage in his life. He is not one to go simply where the waves take him.

Rub number two? He will never see his images the same way as you and I do. Ray Collins is colour-blind.

Ray Collins website = http://raycollinsphoto.com/