Born in Blackall, western Queensland, my photographer friend John Elliott constantly revisits his hometown, as well as the nearby towns of Mt Isa, Boulia, Barcaldine and Winton. This area has been a rich treasure trove of photographic opportunities for him. On a visit to Winton this week John found a portrait that I had done of him back in 1992, and subsequently gifted to a local grazier with a keen interest in photography, Rob McQueen. Rob was kind enough to offer me hospitality whilst I was judging an early BHP Billiton Cannington Waltzing Matilda Photographic Competition.
For me, the gift of a photograph is as good as it gets; so when you see a photograph that had been gifted to someone else a long time ago, being produced (in good condition) and shown proudly, I am doubly rewarded. Being welcomed into Rob’s homestead, fed and watered; and then shown around his property was a buzz for a city boy like me. Rob spotted the quirkiness of the Elliott portrait amongst the small exhibition I brought with me for the obligatory “show and tell” I did at a workshop for local photographers; and I knew that it would have a good home.
The image of John was part of a series of Brisbane based artists that I shot in the early 1990s. My aim was to not only secure a good portrait of the artist but also show something of the environment or studio where they worked. In John’s case, he was a reportage photographer working out of his camera bag, rather than a studio; and his Brisbane inner city apartment was as close as I could get to a working environment. I had set myself some creative parameters and was trying to use the Hasselblad SuperWide camera (903SWC) because it enabled me to include large amounts of background. The downside was that this is not a camera designed for portraits – it foreshortened the subject close to the lens. Additionally I was limiting my equipment to a tripod and a hand held Metz flash. It John’s case I had just arranged a time and a day and was trusting to luck in finding the angle, the appropriate location and any props that might be handy. John had a new Celtic tattoo (so the shirt was removed) and the revolver stuck into the skull sort of appeared from nowhere, as did the naked girl in the background! Unbeknownst to me he had arranged for Sammy to disrobe just prior to my taking the photograph, and not wanting to slow down the creative juices, I went with the flow……. The angle and the viewpoint is all mine – the props, the atmosphere and supporting models are all John’s handywork.
A slightly less controversial portrait was of the experienced painter Lawrence Daws who allowed me to document him in his country studio in the foothills of Queensland’s Glasshouse Mountains; and using the same technique as with John I was able to record great detail of his then empty studio and allow him to dominate the space within the frame.
The idea of using such a wide angle lens (f4.5 T* Zeiss Biogon 38mm on 6x6cm format) was that it’s incredible depth of field coupled with its wide field of view meant that I could find detail and information within the smallest room, as long as I was careful with my composition and did not come too close to my subject. Indeed a worthy challenge.