Previsualisation

A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera…’ – Dorothea Lange

How could an early twentieth-century photographer be so aware and conscious of the power of photography without possessing any of the knowledge we now have at our fingertips, in our case thanks largely to the information age of the internet?

Lange was from that famous school of American documentary photographers during the early twentieth century which included, amongst many others, Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, James Nachtwey, W. Eugene Smith, Nan Goldin and Mary Ellen Mark.

Seeing without a camera is also described as pre-visualisation. Ansel Adams was a great proponent of getting the image clear in his head before exposing a sheet of film.  There might have been monetary constraints behind such a process, but I like to think it was then, and still is now, all about searching and finding the photograph before letting the camera perform its very mechanical and technical thing, the job of making an exposure.

At this time of the year when the photography calendar has started with the WPPI convention in Las Vegas now completed, the various Australian state professional awards commenced, nominations for entries into the New Zealand professional awards having been called, and mumblings already starting about the Australian awards later in the year; discussion is rife about creativity, and the creation of great photographs.

Whilst some photographers maintain that a good photograph can be created via careful post-production of an image (either digitally or in the darkroom) I am strongly of the opinion that great images have their genesis in a process involving careful thought.  That superb reaction shot taken by a wedding or documentary photographer is more than just the tangible evidence of good reflexes, it is the sum total of years of experience, of getting into the right position, of thinking about new angles or approaches and having the presence of mind to be ready for the unexpected.  Luck plays very little part in it.

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Migrant Mother; © Dorothea Lange, 1936

The power of Lange’s photographs is as strong and compelling today as they were when she worked for the US Farm Security Administration and created the iconic photograph, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936).  This image has little to do with technique and a lot to do with the gentle but determined desire of the photographer to observe and then capture a scene that she felt needed to be seen by a wider audience.

The focal length of her lens, her choice of film type, or the length of time it spent in the developer are rendered irrelevant by the choice of angle, the humanity contained in the eyes of the subject, a poverty-stricken mother, and the fact that her children, huddled in their tent do not make face contact with the camera.  Their eyes are unseen.  The power of the back story to this photo is compelling but it is the photo that takes you to that place in an unwavering way.

Whilst I now own up to looking for more books about photographs than I do for books of photographs, it was through my early career period spent studying photographs that I started preparing my eyes for seeing without a camera.  This was a difficult period because I was hooked on the mechanical process of creating photographs.

A period of time we all must pass through in order to reach the other side, I hasten to add!

But it slowly dawned on me (cheerfully admitting to being one of the world’s tardiest learners) that the content, the construction, and the creation of the photograph was more important than the delivery of the image.

This applies equally to the commercial image sold for money, and the fine art print created for aesthetic and stylish reasons.

The brain behind the eye behind the viewfinder is more powerful than any of the metrics we use to measure the calibre, quality or resolving power of the lens.

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Outside Portrait Gallery; © Ian Poole, London, 2016.


Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 6.10.45 pmThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp156, issue 53 :: April, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Mongkok, Hong Kong

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Mongkok – a View; © Ian Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

A brief stopover in Hong Kong not only broke the Australia-Europe journey, but gave me a few moments in one of my (many) favourite cities.

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Raise the Red Flag; © Ian Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

The artwork in the Cordis Hotel appears to be revolutionary and following the China Party line.  I have a feeling that it is just a little less than that and has a tinge of unorthodox about it.

These artworks by Jiang Shou, variously titled Red Guards – Going Forward! Making Money! were scattered around the hotel.  Featuring featureless faces with wide open mouths shouting slogans, these child-like guards illustrate the blind worshippers of capitalism.  The use of the Little Red Book of Mao and a mobile phone locate the artwork into a contemporary period.

Shou uses sarcasm to report the changes in culture over the years.

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Red Guards #1; © Ian Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

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Red Guards #2; © Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

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Red Guards #3; © Ian Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

Hong Kong Airport is a great people watching space and waiting for my hotel shuttle bus was a perfect time to indulge.

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Airport; © Ian Poole, Hong Kong, 2016.

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Hong Kong Harbour; © Ian Poole, 2016.


 

Sabcar – a Brisbane Model Agency

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Cheryl and Andrena; © Ian Poole, Brisbane March 1977

An opportunity to re-connect with the Principals and members of the Brisbane based model agency Sabcar , is also an opportunity to see some old photographs.

Most of these shots were taken to produce a major poster promoting all the talent at the Agency at that time – March 1977.

Produced at my studio at the old pink church in Warren Street, Fortitude Valley, it was a major exercise in logistics.

The negatives from this (and all my other commercial photographic output) is now stored at the John Oxley Library within the State Library of Queensland.

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Cigarette; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March, 1977.

Any assistance in putting names to faces would be greatly appreciated.

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Denise Moran; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977.

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Narelle Meuller; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977.

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Gloria McQuilty and ?; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977.

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Karen Radel; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977.

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Julie-Anne Ross; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977

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Michelle Calcutt and Denise Moran; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977

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Albert Park; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, March 1977

 

On a technical note, the majority of portraits in this very large project were shot on the medium format Hasselblad camera system using a 6x6cm black and white negative.  Both Kodak and Ilford films were used.  There were some shots taken using a Nikon 35mm outfit.

Additionally the bulk of the assignments were taken in the Warren Street Studios with a handful of sessions taken at Albert Park.

 

 

Further stories featuring Sabcar Model Agency are told here:

 


 

 

No Time Like the Present?

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2016 Hair of the Dog; Photo courtesy of Queensland AIPP.

As a well known and committed procrastinator, it was only a few weeks ago that I realised that a couple of 2016 projects and goals were going to need quite a number of new, exciting and creative photographs taken.  Creativity is one of those skills that has never come easily to me – and probably never will.  So delaying making plans to fulfil the requirements of my own needs was another stuttering step embedded in my procrastination.

I was brought back to reality when a week out from a long-planned speaking engagement I realised that the details loosely floating around in my head needed to be set in audio-visual concrete and speaking notes were required to keep me within the tight time constraints nominated by conference management.

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Portfolio Review, Hair of the Dog; Photo courtesy of Q’land AIPP.

This flurry of activity then generated the realisation that other projects needed just as much urgent attention.

Coinciding with my small commitments to the photography convention was the visit of a couple of international friends who were key-note speakers on the same bill.  My hosting them during their Brisbane stay was one of those privileged benefits gained from having access to peer review from long time friends.  I have banged on often enough in this column about the value of mentors, and peer review to enhance your understanding of your own work, and so here was my opportunity.

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Mike and Jackie; Photo courtesy of Queensland AIPP.

It soon became obvious that it wasn’t the chilled Chardonnay being taken to ward off Brisbane’s humid summer that was doing the talking – but that I had some mental blocks that required re-adjustment.  A lot of the current images that were being compiled to complete these projects were taken on overseas jaunts.  Certainly an obvious way to seek out new visual interpretations, but not necessarily the only way of completing assignments.

NIMBY – not in my back yard – had become part of my raison d’être.  I had become the very person I have spent most of my teaching and mentoring career warning students against.

With some firm and pointed observations my friends noted loudly that I wasn’t spending much time documenting my beloved home town.  ‘Where are the photos of locals and familiar scenes?’ they asked.  Another good friend is working on a personal project titled 500 metres from my desk and I have been giving him strong encouragement on seeing his powerful and creative images.

I was obviously having difficulty in seeing 5 metres from my desk, much less 500!

With these thoughts pulsing through my brain I attended the opening of an exhibition that had had its genesis during Australia’s bi-centennial back in 1988.   The re-hanging of this show would give me a chance to revisit the prints that I had processed for one of the six artists being shown.  A chance to review my processing skills after almost 30 years. They were still in good condition!

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Glen O’Malley + Subject; © Ian Poole, Brisbane 2016.

More importantly I took a camera with me to the gallery.  Now there is a radical thought.  Well for me it was – I know I tell every one else to carry a camera, yet often I am not one to do so.  To my absolute surprise a couple of shots jumped out in front of me.  One or two are tolerable and may well end up residing in a presentation portfolio.

Several conclusions were reached in the past few weeks.  Good photographic friends are valuable beyond words, even if their comments are sharp and cutting and a little too close to the bone; interesting photographs are sitting, waiting for all of us very close to where we are at this very moment; and having a challenge and being challenged is the quickest way to lift the quality of one’s visual output.

I’m on to it now! Stay tuned…


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp152, issue 52 :: March, 2016.

School of Hard Knocks

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Robbie and Margaret Bruce; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 24 June 1967.

It is not commonly known that I had a reasonably extensive background in wedding photography prior to moving through to the commercial and advertising genres.  With hindsight I was probably not the greatest exponent of the craft at that time.  But I do look back with a little fondness at the skills that I learnt during those development years.

The late 1960s, in yet to come of age sub-tropical Brisbane, Australia, was not a hotbed of creative energy.  Powerful flash units semi-permanently fixed to medium format cameras and driven by the equivalent of a motor cycle battery draped over one’s shoulder were the norm.  It was a time of cameras manufactured by Rollei and Mamiya and Yashica, and flash guns by Metz and Braun. We had moved past flash bulbs, although I did for a while work for a photographer who supplied me with a 2×3 Century Graphic – the roll film version of the Speed Graphic.  I was then able to get my New York press photographer fantasies out of my system.  (Wow, you must be very old… – ED)

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Catholic Leader-Birth Control; © Ian Poole, c1966.

No it wasn’t the equipment that was paramount in my early training but the people skills I observed and learnt from clients and other photographers.  Remember I was the classic back-yarder.  No formal training, no tertiary education; just a man with a Nikon F and the desire to earn some extra money.

The Nikon was the first mistake!  No photographer employer was interested in 35mm. It was far too small a film size, ignoring the convenience of a smaller camera.  After investing in the Nikon all I had money for was a second-hand Yashica 635 twin lens camera using the 6x6cm 120 format film.

But the real training came in having to interact with clients who had not booked my services.  It was a time when following a reading of the Saturday morning wedding column in the daily newspaper, I made a list of weddings and times and locations and passed them out to a small group of ‘Spec’ (speculative) photographers who would set off with rolls of film (but not many) and business cards (lots).  Our job was to garner photographs of the wedding guests, and one or two of the bridal party.  Our sales came from family groups dressed in their Sunday best, hair combed and faces cleaned attending a formal gathering, possibly for the first time in a while.  As well as taking photographs, our job was to sprinkle the wedding guests with business cards encouraging them to visit the Studio in the following week.

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Gay Walker, Miss Australia 1972 (Woman’s Day Magazine); © Ian Poole, Brisbane.

My job was to create photographs that sold.

This most basic of all marketing business premises was hammered into me.  Family groups lined up in an aesthetic, but well lit, group were only successful if all faces were towards camera and had NO blinks.  Finding a grandmother with a cute grandchild was like striking gold.  These moments had to be exploited (in the nicest most professional photographic way) and turned into ‘must have’ photographs.  Remember I only got 10% commission on SOLD photographs.

This later translated into a formulae that was useful when covering more hectic and fast moving events like the foyer of the theatre holding a Saturday afternoon ballet matinee or in the crowded foyer outside the university graduations.  The Grandmother Formula was a pure gold mine at ballet performances.  Smooth talking little old ladies became my stock in trade.  A sharp, but polite and respectful, repartee was developed.

 

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Sterling Studio Staff (author far left), University of Queensland Graduation, Brisbane City Hall; c1966. (note ties, sombre suits and respectful haircuts)

I was working with one or two older photographers who became my mentors – and such was their silver-tongued monologue delivered in the space of 3 metres and 10 seconds.

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Mrs Poole and #2 Son, Her Majesty’s Theatre; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, c1967.

Lighting was always easy – blast at f11 with flash.  But posing had to be controlled and arranged and done in moments.

Working the graduating crowds as the completion of the awards ceremony was a short timed photographic feeding frenzy that required similar, but slightly different skills.  The robed and mortar-boarded graduate had to feature prominently, but the cluster of family needed to be respected and appropriately arranged.  Groups of graduate friends could not be ignored, but family groups must come first.  This was all in a time well before such institutions stepped in and arranged a single entity to do this documentation and usually well away from the hurly burly of the public entrance.

The skills gained were many and varied.  Recognising a saleable shot from 20 metres was a requirement.  Using the right language to greet, slow down, stop and interact with a prospective subject was critical.

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Carol Stratford at the Theatre; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, c1966.

Posing, rearranging, grouping, checking for bra straps, fly-away hair etc – all of this done on the run and with great respect, was as critical as getting the correct exposure.

Any wonder I regard this 5-6 year period of my life with fondness and a gratitude to those unnamed fellow photographers who shared a few of their secrets.  What they didn’t tell me I learnt from the School of Hard Knocks and Dreadful Mistakes, I’m sure you’re familiar with it?

That period, that school, those learnings would be enduring components later to combine with an understanding of aesthetics gained through post-graduate study.  Together they prepared me for new and exciting opportunities within the photographic profession.


 

NB: all these photographs will be part of the Ian Poole Archive shortly to be accessible at the John Oxley Library within the State Library of Queensland.

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 4.14.49 pmThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOSp156, issue 51 :: February, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Making of an Exhibition

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The O’Malleys were invited to have lunch at the Pooles; © Glen O’Malley, 14 March 1987, Red Hill, Brisbane (from the Journeys North Portfolio)

With the re-hanging of Journeys North – Revisited by the Queensland Art Gallery, I was able to reflect on the work done in getting Glen O’Malley‘s portion of that iconic Queensland Photography Exhibition on to the gallery walls.  Sponsored by the Australian Bicentennial Authority, Journeys North was a comprehensive black and white documentary exhibition with an interesting grouping of participants.  The Exhibition opens on 20 February and runs until 3 July 2016 at the Queensland Art Gallery.

Lin Martin was the only woman, and she was joined by College of Art Lecturers Charles Page and Robert Mercer, fine art photographer Max Pam, and long time camera club member Graham Burstow.  Whilst the prevailing genre was documentary, the diversity of images produced was a piercing insight into the Queensland (and by default Australian) psyche.

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Yowah Opal Fields – John Perham fossicks for opals and runs a museum ; © Glen O’Malley, 1987, (from the Journeys North Portfolio)

Probably not necessarily mainstream Queensland society, but an in-depth assessment from a photographic standpoint.

At this time I had known O’Malley for well over a decade, having assisted in helping him find a job with well known Brisbane architectural photographer Richard Stringer.

see https://poolefoto.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/richard-stringer/   My claim to fame in the Journeys North saga was that I had a fully fledged commercial black and white darkroom and almost enough trays to process a series of large exhibition prints.  O’Malley  was demanding four 60x50cm (24″x20″) – two for himself and two for the Gallery.  All archivally processed!

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Gerard and his girlfriend hung out his washing; © Glen O’Malley, 1987, Brisbane (from the Journeys North Portfolio)

The process of making archival gelatin silver photographs is both time consuming and tedious.  Making four prints from the same negative is not as easy as pressing “Command ⌘ P” four times!  For a start, large quantities of chemicals are required as these big sheets of sensitised paper absorb vast quantities of liquid and exhaust the chemicals quickly.  Then, after an agitated soak in fresh and strong fixer, that very same fixer needs to be washed from the print.  A slow process taking (wasting) a large quantity of water.  Then the density of each photograph must be consistent.  Many tests were made and debated.

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Camooweal – Mrs Steele; © Glen O’Malley, February 1987 (from the Journeys North Portfolio)

With the passing of time it can be now said that O’Malley’s great skill was his instinctive and observant eye.  Not necessarily his dedication to “correct” exposure!

I have deliberately not spoken of the other artists.  With the exception of Max Pam they are all friends and past photographic colleagues and the photographs will speak loudly and proudly on their behalf at the Queensland Art Gallery.  But I will show a couple of their pieces.

The great sadness of this Exhibition is that it has never been repeated.  Almost thirty years and no similar exploration of photography sponsored on such a major scale.

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The Big Pineapple, near Nambour; © Max Pam, 1986, from the Journeys North Portfolio

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Lynn and Jenny Cook, twins, Weipa; © Charles Page, 1987, from Journeys North Portfolio

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Young Dancers, Kuranda, Laura Dance Festival, Cape York ; © Robert Mercer, 1987, from the Journeys North Portfolio

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Eyes right, Coolangatta; Graham Burstow, 1986-87, from Journeys North Portfolio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Herbie Harold Adams, retired boxer, gold miner, Clump Point; © Lin Martin, 1986-87, from Journeys North Portfolio)

All photographs in Journeys North are gelatin silver photographs on paper.  Purchased 1987 with the financial assistance of the Australian Bicentennial Authority to commemorate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 Collection: Queensland Art Gallery.   

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Further essays –


 

Photographic Review of 2015

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Paris Farewell View; © Ian Poole, 2015

Photographically speaking 2015 has been a reasonable year for me.  Whilst this blog is not about illustrating the best photographs from the rapidly finishing 2015, it is more about what those photographs say about my travels, my activities and as memory joggers.

Paris Farewell View earned me a Silver Award at the AIPP Photography Awards.  By showing a final look back into the doorway of the apartment Louise and I had used in my first visit back to Paris in almost 40 years, I was getting a little bit nostalgic as we left to fly to Turkey.  It is not recommended that you enter a self-portrait in the APPA competition, but I felt that the portrait was less than the interesting spin created by the reflected view.

Paris was the source of another piece of documentary photography that seems much easier to take in that city.

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Orion; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2015

Orion occurred when I followed that great photographic dictum which tells you to always turn 180 degrees in case the “real” photograph is happening directly behind you.  It was.

This was the year that I discovered that great genre of travel photographers – the shot of the platform on the other side of tracks.  It has been around for a long time, but not used by me.  Traveling regularly on the Paris Metro gave me plenty of time to explore the genre.  As I did in Japan later in the year.

I am not one of the great documentary photographers – in other words I cannot thrust my 35mm lens directly into the faces of passers-by.  Using the Fuji XT-1’s adjustable viewing screen I was able to appear as if I was disinterested in the scene in front of me.  It did remind me of all those the years using twin lensed cameras like the Rolleicord and Mamiya C3.

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Arts et Metiers; © Ian Poole, 2015, Paris

Arts et Metiers was our local Metro station and the amazing wheels and cogs dropping out of the ceiling should have been enough to attract me; as was the curved wall/roof which was coated in a bronze metal.  A colour shot obviously, but I felt driven to reproduce it in black and white.  Rightly or wrongly.

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Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut; © Ian Poole, Ronchamp, 2015

A sign pointing to the amazing Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, constructed by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier at Ronchamp, caught my eye whilst cruising the auto-route to Beaune.  This mostly concrete building is constructed on the site of a previous chapel that was bombed during WWII.  Considered to be one of le Corbusier’s more striking buildings, constructed late in his career, it has been photographed countless times in its history.  I could not resist adding my interpretation to that list.  I have included Louise by way of size illustration.

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Istanbul Storm; © Ian Poole, 2015

Not only did Istanbul Storm earn me a Silver Award at the 2015 APPAs, but the AIPP has used the photograph as one of the illustrations promoting the Hair of the Dog Convention in Brisbane in February.

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Some Antiques; © Ian Poole, Beaune, 2015

Another photographic aspect that I experimented with was using reflections to further construct an image.  Some Antiques is one of those.

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Wilding Pines; © Ian Poole, New Zealand, 2015

 

I got off to a good start in 2015 with Wilding Pines being shot on 3 January outside of Queenstown in the South Island of New Zealand.  Being shown around by good friends Mike Langford and Jackie Ranken, this late afternoon shot has a gentleness about it.

There must be something linking my friendship with Mike and Jackie to good photography by me.  My final shot in this eclectic review of photographs that I took in 2015 is Listening to the Jazz.  It was taken in their company in Tokyo late in 2015.  Mixing with fellow photographers to create images is, of course, wonderful.  More important though is sharing good food, drink, experiences and naturally, good jazz.  This is what was happening in this photograph.

 

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Listening to the Jazz; © Ian Poole, Tokyo, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blasts of the Past

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Cycling Advertisement #1; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1975.

Recently I showed a set of photographs taken for a commercial client some forty years ago.  These were mostly Ektachrome colour transparencies, processed properly in Kodak approved chemistry and then stored in conditions appropriate for the extremes of sub-tropical Brisbane.  They had fared well over the decades.

In the course of laying out the blog I had cause to wonder whether my photographic style had changed over the years.  The assignment was to illustrate a range of bicycles and an equivalent range of riders showing diversity in age and gender. It was interesting to note that I had shot a good mix of close-up and long shots, utilising my wide and telephoto lenses.  What did surprise me was the fact that the framing of the shots was not dissimilar to work that I have done recently.  I guess that our craft is a moving feast, and that stylistic treatments will roll in and out of use over time so is this mere coincidence or a constant?

One would assume that a lifetime of experience, the influence of all those lecturers at conventions, and the comments of judges about my images in competitions, might result in a gradual change in style, if not technique.

Having spent vast amounts of money stocking a library with photographic books by people such as Sam Haskins, Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Jeanloup Sieff, and Guy Bourdin; and only replicating their influences in my private work, not my commercial output, there surely must have been other influences along the way.

A mid life crisis driven foray into academic study left me with a visual arts postgraduate degree.  Probably the most life changing point in my photographic career.  Good lecturers had pointed me to other genres of fine art as well as towards obscure photographic practitioners.  I was reading books about photography that did NOT contain photographs, and the photographers mentioned above became slightly less relevant to me.  My ability to assess, evaluate, appraise and critique became more finely honed with the discipline of academic research.  These are traits that I hope stand me in good stead today.

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Politically Incorrect Xennox Advertisement; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1980.

But back to the transparencies of bicycles from the seventies.  They were not of a quality that would demand an immediate assignment commission from a high flying New York advertising agency – but nor was the product from Australia’s highest selling cycle manufacturer.  These were shots taken early in my career and at the time they were the distillation of self taught technique and the early results of skills passed on by practitioners of the professional Institute which I had recently joined.  The years I had spent buying, and trawling through, vast quantities of magazines represented visual research, today that would take place online.  I was working with a young and ambitious art director who was as keen as I was to explore a good idea using our mutual client’s products.  Team work usually enhances creativity and close collaboration does tend to prevent unpleasant surprises later on in the process.

Would I approach this same assignment differently today?  I would ask for more money – I deserve it!  I would still shoot the same variety of images.  I would be forced to pay for access to the same botanic gardens.  Probably I would direct some model expressions differently, but then I am still surprised that a couple of the poses still hold up – even if the clothes indicate historic images.  I would direct the models to wear helmets – but that is a bureaucratic imposition.  While I feel that my skill-sets and techniques have dramatically improved over the years, my instincts tell me that when it comes to directing talent, setting a scene and then recording what takes place, nothing very much has changed.  I used the best materials, and the best processing laboratory available at the time – as is evidenced by the fact that I was able to scan the results easily today.  My data asset management (DAM) is good, as I can identify, date and retrieve the assignment.

Questioning one’s own style is a difficult proposition, but probably should be done on a regular basis if we are to stay ahead of the photographic pack.  Revisiting work from days gone by can, at first, be excruciating with props, clothing and hairstyles immediately dating the images and shortly thereafter calling their instructive usefulness into question.

However, looking beyond this, looking a layer or two below the surface can deliver a revelation or two – so I recommend it.


Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 8.35.45 amThis essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and  AFICIONADOSp150, issue 48, October 2015.

The Photograph and Australia

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Ian Poole vs The Photograph and Australia; © Gary Cranitch, Brisbane, 2015.

At the Official Opening of The Photograph and Australia, I should have been concerned when the speakers spent more time defending the curatorial policy rather than lauding the (mostly) fabulous collection of photographs gathered from around the country.

Major photographic exhibitions at the Queensland Art Gallery are few and far between, so this survey production prepared by the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a not to be missed opportunity.  The exhibition’s curator (Judy Annear, Senior Curator Photographs at The Art Gallery of NSW) has an enviable CV from the Australian photographic world.  With the imprimatur of the AGNSW behind her it was a given that collecting this body of work was so successful.

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Tracey Moffatt’s work sits high above historic images of aboriginal Australia. Photo ArtsHub

No, my problem with the show is the layout.

In her catalogue introduction Annear describes the show as taking a conceptual rather than strictly chronological approach to the medium.   This leads to the placement of three photographs, (Beauties, variously 1994/97) by Tracy Moffatt above a case of albums and c1860/80s photographs.  Moffatt’s found photographs have been reprinted in slight colour variations, after the style of Andy Warhol.  Despite a half column of supporting description in the exhibition catalogue it is still difficult to correlate their importance within the show.

The small room full of cartes de visite probably will display more examples of the genre than most viewers will ever see in a lifetime.  Certainly interesting, but obviously AGNSW has a huge enviable collection from which to select.

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Only to Taste the Warmth, the Light, the Wind; Olive Cotton, c1939.  (Major promotional image)

In the absence of Australia possessing a domiciled Julia Margaret Cameron, it was always going to be an historical fact that white Anglo-saxon men would feature in early Australian photographic history.  The placement of 40+ variable quality self portraits by Sue Ford along a single wall is an amazing piece of revisionist feminist photographic history.  Ford has clearly earned her place in Australian photographic history with critically acclaimed output going back to the 1970s, but this token filler in a room containing some solitary iconic images by Max Dupain, Olive Cotton, David Moore, Axel Poignant and Mervyn Bishop beggars belief.

The 1883 astronomy photographs of Joseph Turner illustrated an historical moment for Australia, but the inclusion of the additional later images did nothing for the survey.  Similarly the amazing Charles Bayliss illustrations of the world famous Australian inventor Lawrence Hargrave‘s plane models was of a first time interest to me; but their relevance in Australia’s photographic history is drawing a long bow.

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Out in the blizzard at Cape Denison; © Frank Hurley, 1912 (National Gallery of Australia).

On a positive note!  Following three visits to the exhibition, the purchase of the catalogue, research of many online reviews (positive and negative), and the purchase of Photofile, vol 96, I did manage to maneuver my way through the display space and find many old and new favourites to delight, educate and excite me.  Frank Hurley’s depiction of an Antarctic blizzard has probably never been bettered.  Ignoring the degree of difficulty factor, the composition and emotion contained in this relatively small photo was enhanced on discovering through research, that it was one of Hurley’s personal favorites.

As opposed to the image used for the catalogue cover (Beauties, Moffatt), the use of Olive Cotton’s Only to Taste the Warmth, the Light, the Wind was a master stroke.  It brought to light a photo which was sadly unfamiliar to me.  It has a strong aesthetic, but my long distant commercial background noted that the grain structure held up well in the large format illustrations featured in and around the Gallery.

I was very familiar with the JW Lindt image of the body of Joe Byrne hung on a wall to be photographed, but had never seen an original print.  In what is arguably Australia’s first news photograph it neatly illustrates the then preferred newspaper technique of an artist drawing being superseded by photography.  We see in the left hand bottom corner the bowler hatted artist (drawing pad under arm) walking away from his nemesis JW Lindt.  Lindt also features in a personal favourite – Coontajandra and Sanginguble, 1893.  The tall narrow crop of this carbon print (61×30.5cm) indicates that Lindt recognised an aesthetic contained within the photograph, as well as the strong detail shown in the body scarification.  I compliment Annear for including the most subversive images on show – a series of small postcards making a political statement in 1900 regarding the policy of Federation.  The photos of Thomas Hinton may or may not illustrate someone of an unsound mind, but they probably come close to being the first known Australian “selfies”.

Viewing a good version of Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, 1937; dark, rich, moody and all about the body not the face, was a joy.  Not the pale copies we often see in printed versions.  But where o where are the sporting photographs.  One would assume that the 1956 Olympics recognised a growth spurt and turning point in Australia.  With small exceptions press photographers don’t exist in Annear’s world.  The inclusion of Mervyn Bishop smacks of tokenism in this survey.  Which is sad as Bishop deserves and owns his place in Australian photography, but there are so many other great documentary photographers from Frank Hurley onwards.  Where is a “surf culture” illustrated? (with the exception of Dupain).

I think this leads me to my main criticism.  The Photograph and Australia was too grand a project and of course had a difficulty from its inception.  As someone who has spent a lifetime trying to demystify photography and make it accessible to an everyday viewer, this exhibition is the antithesis of approachable, accessible photography.  It relies heavily on academia and a convoluted rationale so loved by post-graduate students.

Much of the exhibition is wonderful, much of it is valuable beyond words.

It is a must view moment, but in an attempt to display photography as high art it missed a great opportunity.


Swimwear Fashion, 1975 Style

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Cribb & Foote Catalogue #1; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1975.  Michelle Adamson_right (Dallys Model Agency)

Whilst the photographic production in advertising doesn’t change all that much, the fashion that is portrayed certainly does.  In this October 1975 assignment for former Brisbane advertising agency, Duthies Advertising, a simple black and white image was being created for the (also) former Ipswich Department store Cribb and Foote.  The iconic Cribb & Foote Ltd was purchased by the Walter Reid group.

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Cribb & Foote Catalogue #II; © Ian Poole, 1975.

An analysis of the negative is also informative.  It is a negative exposed in a Hasselblad 500CM – note the double V indents on the left hand side of the full frame.  Film was Kodak Plus-X, exposed at 100 ISO and lit by Strobe 1000 and Bowens 2000 Quad packs.  The Strobe was a now long gone British design electronic flash unit.  Robust and the small brother of the much larger 5000 joule studio unit.  The Bowens was the relatively inexpensive work horse of those times; and probably a rare few are still in use today.  Also note the bag of horse feed and the Norco Fruit Yoghurt boxes in the background of the studio.  Both remnants of previous assignments.  Such was the variety of a start-up advertising/commercial studio.

Brisbane, with its sub-tropical weather, has always been a good location to hire bikini models.  These girls were all from the Brisbane office of the Sydney based Dallys Model Agency.

For more stories behind the vintage photographs see –