Heide Smith Photography Catalogue

One of Australia’s great portrait photographers has been honoured by one of Australia’s great photography and works on paper galleries – Josef Lebovic Gallery.  Heide Smith should be well known to anyone following quality Australian photography over the past 40+ years.

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Dupain and Poole; © Heide Smith, 1985

Just being featured in the catalogue (Collectors’ List No. 188, 2017) was indeed a pleasure, but to find myself side-by-side with the late, great Max Dupain was equally exciting.  I am unworthy of such a comparison!

The Lebovic catalogues are legendary in their recording of Australian works on paper and photography.  As a reference point for costings and valuations it is the “go-to” document for anyone trying to place a dollar figure on photographs.  The photos of Dupain and myself is part of a much larger body of work that was sponsored by Ilford Australia recording photographers from around Australia and subsequently as an exhibition which toured Australia-wide in the mid 1980s.

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Mal Meninga; © Heide Smith, 1991.

The variety of subjects photographed by Smith places her in the company of many great Australians.  As I have only photographed Mal Meninga from the sidelines of some State of Origin matches, it is intriguing to see him “buffed” up in a hand coloured dressing room shot.

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Robert Hawke AC GCL; © Heide Smith

And just to prove the depth of Smith’s portrait collection is one of the many images she took of Australian Prime Ministers.  A privilege that comes from living for such a long period in Canberra.

Reference to the catalogue will give details of her extensive work with the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands and the results of being resident photographer for the Canberra Press Club from 1984 to 1996.

The catalogue also showcases some early work in Germany (her birth place) from 1956 onwards as Smith formalised her photographic training and skills.


 

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Contemporary Poole; © Gary Cranitch, Brisbane Mater Hospital, 2017.

 

Amateur or Professional?

‘I am a professional photographer by trade and an amateur photographer by vocation.’   –  Elliot Erwitt

Two moments over the past week or so brought this Elliot Erwitt quote into sharp focus for me.

My current major working task is to unbundle my life’s output of negatives into the local library.  In doing so I was struck by the sheer banality of some of the jobs that I have completed over the years.  Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer Then I reviewed, with some delight, the portfolio of photographs that this worthy journal published in the last edition showcasing some of my far more recent images.

The concept of professional work versus amateur output was starting to take shape in my head.

Whilst there are many descriptors to illustrate the concept of professional photography, they mostly revolve around the concept of creating images in return for money.  There are great professional photographers who are not necessarily great photographers; and there are great photographers who are not necessarily great professionals.

Good professional photographers are often expert at orchestrating a large number of different skilled operations towards the required goal of photographically illustrating a product or concept to the satisfaction of a fee-paying client.  This was the description behind some of the negative files that I was putting into the library’s database last week.  Photographs that had, in their day, totally satisfied the demands and requirements of a client who had then happily paid for that service.  Looking at the images with the 20/20 wisdom of hindsight, they will never be used again in any creative sense, despite totally satisfying the client’s brief when they were created.

On the other hand, surveying my portfolio of photographs in last month’s issue of this magazine, I was just as happy with their publication as I was when I created many of the images.  So using Erwitt’s formula, had I become an amateur photographer?  An amateur photographer is typically seen as someone who takes photos for fun and passion.  The subject, constraint or motivation of money is not a factor.

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Tate Modern; © Ian Poole, London 2016.

We are straying into a discussion which parallels an age old question, that being, what is the main distinction between a chef and a cook?  The chef, being the trained and practising professional (there’s that word again), is someone who prepares food in return for monetary recompense.  On the other hand, the cook, often an amateur, usually prepares food simply for the love of working with good ingredients and enjoying the compliments of satisfied diners, usually family and friends – rather than paying patrons of their kitchen.

Since my earliest days as a working photographer (dare I say professional) I have always had a grudging admiration for the self-proclaimed amateur.  Someone who chooses to embark on a journey to create photographs without the constraints of client demands and direction, cost, budget or time commitment.  One or more of these parameters has always been attached to my professional assignments.  The wedding that is being held on a pre-determined date; the portrait that is to be given as a birthday present; the ship that will enter harbour with the next high tide; the visit by the Governor to open the next sitting of parliament – these definite and precise directions can not be ignored by a professional photographer.  Whereas an amateur may choose to attend and document, or not attend at all, at their whim.

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© Elliott Erwitt

Elliot Erwitt commented that he did not set out to photograph a book of dog photographs – it just so happened that one day he had finally created such a volume of images that Phaidon offered to publish his book DogDogs.  Calling Erwitt an amateur would be misinterpreting, maybe even misrepresenting, a lengthy career as an image maker.  In an interview with Erwitt when he was last in Australia he recalled that his ‘hobby’ of photographing dogs had become a job – suggesting that his keen canine interest was interfering with his ‘real’ job.

That line, the one separating amateur from professional is tenuous at best, and poorly defined most of the time. Sometimes it’s pretty hard to even see where the line is.

Personally, I am more than happy to continue to blur the already soft line between my trade and my vocation. It’s a movable barrier, so why not?


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p146, issue 58 :: September, 2016.

 

All our own work

An earnest debate amongst Australian professional photographers is currently ensuing online regarding the legitimacy of using second and third party professionals to prepare entries for photography awards.

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Story Bridge + Bird; © Ian Poole, Brisbane, 1995.

In this instance specifically, whether professional retouchers should be able to work on an awards entry and whether the resulting modified photograph still remains within the original photographer’s integrity of ownership.

The debate resonates on many levels.

Firstly, the Australian professional institute has encouraged its members to enter the awards with a view to improving professional standards across the broad range of the industry.  Comparing current entries with those of 30+ years ago, this has been achieved well beyond the imagination of the two or three Australian photography industry founding fathers’ fondest thoughts, wishes or hopes.

Secondly, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of first time professional photographers practising their craft without any degree of formal training.

And thirdly, many of these new industry members are trying their hand at entering professional awards for the first time using photographic images that were commercially sound enough for sale to clients – but then fail to attract high assessments from the panel of judges.  The antipodean professional awards of New Zealand and Australia present some of the highest standards in photography, as evidenced by the success of some of their participants on a world stage, so where does the disconnect occur, and why?

That third point is the basis on which many photographers are now questioning their own poor results and looking for answers in places other than deep introspection. Some are rooting suspicion from their discovery that some entered photographs have received post-production treatment that might not all have been the work of the entrant.  A lack of formal training in photography means that some fundamental knowledge of the history of the art is absent, missing in action, from their perspective.  This colours their judgment, hiding the real issue.

Right from the earliest days of photography there was a dependence on skilled third party assistance for the photographer to be able to produce saleable portrait images.  From the late 19th century through the early 20th century the production methods were similar, albeit the materials used varied.  The photographer (usually a male) exposed sensitised material and worked with the clients in The Gallery and behind the scenes vast numbers of staff (mostly female) worked on the production of the finished product.  Some photos of these areas in very large studios indicate an almost Dickensian workhouse nature. In a very real sense however, both sides of the production process were equally harrowing as work places.

The widespread use of colour materials in the mid-twentieth century brought about a dramatic change to the business model.  A host of colour processing laboratories created a revolution where photographers concentrated on finding clients and taking photographs while relying on their finished print production being entirely done by laboratories.  The resulting images were really only packaged back at the studio for delivery to clients.

This reliance on laboratories by domestic photographers was echoed in the commercial world.  The difference being, that instead of processing negatives these laboratories worked with transparency film and offered additional skills for sale.  Compositing two or more transparencies into one, adding text to a transparency, blending several images to create one finished result – something that any half trained photography student could do today in minutes with Photoshop – had to be sent to an expert or experts (often in another city) for completion.

My personal experience of having seen most of the Australian professional awards judged was that this manner of production was always perfectly acceptable.  Whilst the viewer often marvelled at the technical skill required to achieve some of the effects, nevertheless it was the brilliance of the concept, or the execution of the original exposure, that was being assessed and attributed to the entrant.  Today, the common practice of having one’s award entries printed and finished by a master printer is not only accepted, but tacitly encouraged. Judges don’t expect entrants to be master printers, so why should they expect the same photographers to be master retouchers?

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Tokyo Opera House; © Ian Poole, 2012.

The disappointment some new entrants to the awards system face is the discovery that their ‘successful’ commercial output does not rate highly in a peer review competitive situation.  Money from clients (albeit the most important yardstick for a commercial enterprise) while essential, is also on a par with lavish praise from one’s own mother.  The success of the trans-Tasman competitions is that the quality bar has been raised to a very high level.  Something to be applauded, not dragged down to a lesser level by adding the criterion that if the image was adequate enough to sell, it is therefore good enough to be applauded and awarded by a jury of our peers.

Content, intent, story-telling, description, emotion, memory, originality, technique and many other signifiers are the harbingers of an award winning photograph.  Judges tend to wait and hope, looking for photographs that bring a special message and trusting that they will be able to recognise these images when revealed in the dance of assessment in those quiet rooms.

Long may that expectation reign.


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This essay first appeared in f11 Magazine :: for PHOTOGRAPHERS and AFICIONADOS, p148, issue 57 :: August, 2016.

Business Cards – I have had a few.

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Business Card #1; c1966

My very first business card was also a photography card.  The agonising that went into such a simple small text document was amazing.

I had created the strangest collection of partners to combine into a photographic business.  My good mate Alan Larsen was also an accountant – that seemed to make sense.   Another friend was a pianist and vocalist and there seemed to be symbolic relationship between those skills and wedding photography.  Something to be exploited we thought.  The connection with Alan was also based on the fact that he possessed a darkroom – and that was where the wedding photos were going to be processed.  In fact in was in that darkroom on Sunday  17 December 1967 that we heard of the disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt.  Yet another useful fact!

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Business Card #2; c.1969

More important than a gold embossed dairy maid, was the fact that my next business card came equipped with a brand new Ford Falcon Station Wagon – luxury beyond anything on my radar; and my first new car.

This card (and attached job) proved that my photography career was still in a transistory state.  It did lead the way to my first food photography jobs and other assignments.

The next card was a pivotal moment in my photographic career.

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Business Card #3; c.1974

I had finally made photography my primary source of income.  Not in a solo business but with a partner.  Greg had worked in an advertising photography studio and I had a bookkeeping background with candid and wedding photography skills – what a combination that was!  We were two steps ahead of being backyarders.  The colour of the card matched the corporate colours, the shade of the Mazda 1500 and the go-faster stripe painted down the wall of the foyer of our first hand built studio and darkroom.

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Brisbane Card #4; February 1976

Card #4 was produced just in time for Friday 13 February 1976 – the first day of business for IAN POOLE does PHOTOGRAPHY.   It was the first day of my striking out solo.  Albeit sharing a large former Lutheran church with David McCarthy OAM Hon. LM, Hon. FAIPP, APP.L AAIPP. former Australian President of the AIPP.

By this time I had been a member of the IAP (the precursor of the AIPP) since the previous year.  It also showed the phone number that I was to use (in slightly various altered iterations) until 2014.

Colour was of importance, as was a different shape (square to make it stand out); and the double denim of the clothing was the latest in denim safari suits!  There was NO trendier photographer in all of Brisbane!

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Business Card #5; c. 1980

Mind you I was to use a Hasselblad camera for most of my working career.

Business Card #5 was starting to show a little more sophistication in graphic design.  The denim remained but the typography was more restrained (and I was still a member of the Institute).

The next major move came with the transfer of the Studio to the Brisbane inner city suburb of Red Hill.  This was truly a one man business conducted from my home and enabled me to do some of those family things like taking a daughter to and from her local school. Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer Card #6 was a utilitarian object with the addition of a facsimile machine to the Studio’s assets.  Smaller space but more facility.  Upper Clifton Terrace gave me the impetus to move from being a lecturer at the College of Art, Griffith University, to being a post-graduate student at the same institution.  This opportunity opened all manner of photographic avenues to me with exhibitions being held and curated, and artist’s residencies in places like Japan (courtesy of the Australia Council for the Arts).

Business Card #7 was the result of a commercial graphic art studio and the resources of the Government of the Great State of Queensland.

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Business Card #7; 1994

No mention was made of my membership of the now named Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP), but I was able to flaunt my newly gained post-graduate status from Griffith University.

Joining the Queensland Government Photographic Unit gave me an opportunity to travel the state photographing all manner of projects and people.  Including an awful lot of “grip and grins” – hand shakes and ribbon cuttings!

Card #8 was an opportunity to indulge some of the finer things in photography.  Curate exhibitions at Gallery Frenzy, write articles for f11::for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS and spend a little time taking some portraits of special people.

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Business Card #8; 2012

I now no longer had a formal Studio, but I did have the freedom to chose where and when photographs could be created.

Documenting a career via one’s business cards is an interesting exercise in graphics, desires, dynamics and reactions to what is happening in and around your life.

My career has been as varied as the cards would indicate!


 

August 2016 was a great month

For different but related reasons August 2016 was a great month for me.

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In Good Company

Firstly I had a comprehensive portfolio of my photographs published in the online magazine f11::for PHOTOGRAPHERS AND AFICIONADOS.

Secondly I gained my Master of Photography (M.Photog) status with the (AIPP)

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In Equally Good Company.

The first achievement was the result of over nine months of submission and collaboration with the f11 Publisher and Creative Director, Tim Steele.

With some gentle (and often times not so subtle) prodding, Tim was able to move me away from a grab-bag of retrospective images culled from a lifetime of photography into displaying a targeted and curated array of complimentary shots.  For this I will be eternally grateful.  Whilst I have a fair record in curating photographic shows for other people this was proof positive that the artist should rely on the input of a dispassionate party in such an exercise.

As a long time exponent of the black and white process and genre, it was an eyeopener to me that not a single monochrome image was included.

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Istanbul Dolls; © Ian Poole, 2015

The wonder of colour was never more evident than in this portfolio.

Issue 57 commencing at page 98 gave a comprehensive survey of my more contemporary photographs.  The supporting essay alluded to a voyeuristic photographic eye – a statement that I don’t shy away from, albeit not in the wide angle, camera in the face documentary style that is employed by some practitioners of so-called street photography.  I am no Vivian Maier!

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Observations; © Ian Poole, 2015.

What this project did do for me was to isolate a not strongly held view that I was attracted to people and place.  Having been fortunate to travel a few times over the past few years it was obvious that I would document those moments.  But it was the urban landscape (with its attendant population) that attracted my lens more than “the landscape”.  It took an analysis of various submissions for Tim to make this point so strongly – a fact with which I am pleased.

The second part of the bookending of the month of August was my gaining my M.Photog.  The road to this achievement has been paved with many challenges (I Earned a 73 ……. and a few other scores) and (Failure) and (The 2015 APPAs).  In this 40th year of the APPAs (Australian Professional Photography Award), it was a nice co-incidence for me.

I had attended the “test run” of the APPAs 41 years ago at the HYPO Convention at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast, and entered the second APPA and earned a Silver Merit.  Having decided early in my membership of the AIPP that I was a better Judge than an Entrant I chose for a long period to restrict my involvement to the judging table – UNTIL!   Some six years ago a few of my Institute “Friends” took me aside at an Awards Dinner and monstered me.  “Put Up or Shut Up” was the demand.  Thank you Mike Langford APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP,  Jackie Ranken, Peter Eastway APP.L GM.Photog FAIPP FNZIPP Hon. FAIPP Hon. FNZIPP, Ian van der Wolde APP.L M.Photog III Hon. FAIPP, Andrew Campbell APP.L GM.Photog and David Oliver AAP.L GM.Photog.  So, with the exception of the disastrous 2014 Year of the Bronzes, I steadily worked my way through gaining my Associateship and then Masters.

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Birmingham Gallery Cafe; © Ian Poole, 2016.

This year’s Award images also contributed to my gaining a Master of Photography within the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography Iris Award system.

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Tallin, Estonia; © Ian Poole, 2016.

Huge thanks need to go to Living Image Print and Andrew Merefield (and Darren Jew who was away swimming with whales) for the care and professionalism given to putting these pixels onto paper.  A skilled job for a pair of skilled professionals.

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Opposite The Ritz; © Ian Poole, 2016.

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Edinburgh; © Ian Poole, 2016.

……and a final comment must be made to my talented mentor Adam Finch M.Photog.  Adam has continually challenged, critiqued and encouraged my photographic output.  No good photographer can exist without a mentor (or an Editor).  Thanks.


 

 

 

 

Portfolio Published in f11

It was with some pleasure when I read the current issue of f11 :: for photographers and aficionados.    With a substantial number of contemporary photographs to view it was a joy to see them presented with such care by Creative Director Tim Steele.

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The process of arriving at this point was both interesting and laborious.  My initial idea of submitting a grab bag of images from a checkered commercial career was ruthlessly rejected  (fortunately) by the editorial board.   I was forced to regroup and reassess the work to be presented and be also constrained by the publishing needs of a journal that is produced eleven times a year.

I am in good company with Stephen Robinson’s delightful memories of vintage New Zealand architecture, the NZIPP Iris Award winners and of course the essay by Tony Bridge and equipment review by Gary Baildon.   I am almost embarrassed to mention a column by yours truly amping up the debate about whether photography award entries should (or should not) be the sole work of the entrant.

www.f11magazine.com
f11 Magazine has a social media presence on Twitter: @f11magazine; and
Facebook: Facebook.com/f11Magazine

……and one of the photos that didn’t make the cut –

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New Otani; © Ian Poole, 2015.

In Defence of the Cliché

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Louvre Sunrise; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2016

Avoid imitating a cliché – is the oft loudly exclaimed cry from art teachers, creativity lecturers and judges at photographic competitions.  So why should I buck the combined wisdom of teachers and mentors with far greater stature than me?

It was a reluctant first-time visit to the Musée Rodin in Paris that did it for me.  I certainly have no difficulty in recognising that Auguste Rodin was an artist held in the highest regard, but my reluctance to visit it was based on the anticipation of feelings of intense déjà vu.

How could I not be impressed with the image of sculptures as well known as The Thinker or The Kiss?

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Rodin’s Thinker; © Ian Poole, Paris, 2016

When I realised I was comparing the shape of my hand with that of Rodin’s sculptured artwork, I knew that I was hooked and engaged with the artist’s masterpiece.  No catalogue, no wikipedia entry, no poster, was ever going to illustrate the power and emotion that he had crafted into each piece.  And whilst I had never sculpted in my life, I realised that I had photographically mimicked the poses and hand gestures from both pieces without much regard from whence these concepts had come.

After looking first hand at examples of photographs by Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon I started to understand the power contained within the images.  I had always thought that the landscapes of Adams were a case of hard hiking and early mornings, but to my horror I found a conscious thought process underlying his many images.

In the case of Avedon, my cavalier response had been that anyone with a few lucky breaks and access to ‘big’ names as subjects could produce great shots.  How wrong was I?  Avedon had a wonderful knack of reproducing and inserting the soul of his sitter into a photograph. Neither photographer had lucked onto a quick fix.  They had learnt their craft, worked hard within their genre, and consequently produced images that appeared to be effortless when viewed.

Clichéd – almost!

In case there is a misconception out there in reader-land that a rush trip to Paris or New York is required to look at cliché driven images to promote one’s own creativity, examples are happening all around.

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The Wanaka Tree; © Tony Bridge, New Zealand, 2016.

My respected fellow f11 correspondent Tony Bridge has been leading a workshop at the prestigious 27th Wanaka Autumn Art School in New Zealand and he was goaded by some of his friends to lead his group of students to that well-known location, The Wanaka Tree.  Tony’s response was to give his students a master class in landscape creation with a totally new interpretation.  I trust they were impressed, because I certainly was.

A further opportunity exists for some Australian readers to visit the National Gallery of Victoria and view James McNeill Whistler’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother, 1871  (more commonly referred to as Whistler’s Mother).  This work is currently on loan from the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris.  The portrait painted in a stoic palette of grey and black, portrays a character vastly different to that of the artist – who was noted for his flamboyant dress and outgoing social personality.  The painting, having been mocked and parodied for decades, is still a powerful depiction of personality and emotional representation.

Having viewed photographic interpretations of these (and many other art works) frequently in my career, I am now of the opinion that a greater knowledge of so-called clichéd images is valuable in the extension of one’s creative development.  Studying why such pieces have become so hackneyed, even banal, is a step further in creating a personal style.

Maybe the clichéd road is the road to creativity.


 

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.


 

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.

 

Sterling Studio Staff (Author far left)

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.

Ian-Poole-Brisbane-Photographer

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.