A photographers life

A photographers life
You could only guess as to the image you were going to end up with
20 July 2010

After spending the best part of my working life as a photographer, I have decided to pull the plug. It was late January 1981 when I entered this building (National Library of Australia) thinking that I knew quite a lot about photography; after all I spent five long years studying photography and worked as a photographer at the Royal Australian Mint. It didn’t take long before my boss decided to show me that I was just at the beginning of a steep climb. It happened when I printed a large black and white print and hung it to dry in our photo-finishing room.  I thought the boss would be impressed when he viewed my image, but next morning I found the print ripped in half sitting in the bottom of the bin. But those days were very different to now.  I have vivid memories of our huge darkrooms and the smell of the chemicals.  It was no surprise to see a photographer extinguishing his cigarette butt in a tray of chemicals. This is obviously far from tolerated by today’s standards Darkrooms have many stories, some never need to see the light of day.  Photographers would often hide outside the darkroom and wait to scare whoever would exit from the dark abyss with varying hilarious and slightly dangerous outcomes. A cocky young photographer use to repeat this act day after day to one of the senior photographers, each time having the same effect. Until on the last occasion the senior photographer gave the young upstart the dressing down of a life time, I think I’m still deaf in one ear from the yelling I heard. I remember the excitement of seeing images slowly emerge in a developing tray.  I would often work without gloves because I liked to feel the print and make sure that I had ‘agitated’ it properly.  Later on when we were processing colour film with highly toxic chemicals, it was accepted practice to rescue rolls of film tangled up in the ‘dip and dunk’ processer by putting your hands straight into the chemistry - gloves or not. OH&S wasn’t the highest of priorities back then. Photographing with film cameras was special. You could only guess as to the image you were going to end up with and there was an anxious time waiting for the results, no instant preview! In the very early days, the photographic section was to some extent isolated from the rest of the Library and as a result there was a somewhat relaxed atmosphere. This probably encouraged some good Aussie pranks (I can’t go into full details here, either) but, importantly, fostered an atmosphere conducive to creativity and productivity in the section. We always aimed for the highest possible quality and utilised the best photographic equipment. Our film processing, both black and white and colour, was recognised as amongst the best in the country. Other institutions and even private businesses insisted on our lab for important film processing. The reputation of Photographic Services at the NLA section was highly regarded throughout the photographic industry. Under the leadership of Andrew Long, the photographic section made the transition from conventional film to digital imaging. We faced new opportunities and challenges. The section worked hard to understand the complexity of the digital revolution and quickly gained a highly respected place in the competitive pecking order of photographic establishments. During recent years I have witnessed yet another change, this time in management style. In the past, I was allowed to work more independently and with much less paperwork. These days there is more red tape, regulations, meetings, procedures. With new technology, we have shifted into a new level of technical competency which requires a lot of time and energy. Young people are more likely to embrace photographic technology and sail through problems more smoothly then us oldies over 60. I am leaving with a strong sense that the timing is right. I am impressed with the dedication of my photographic colleagues who are displaying such commitment to their work and an enviable level of competency. I am also leaving thousands of images in the Library with my name attached to them; I am not proud of some of them, but, as always, you win some you loose some. Some of my favourite photographs are included below. I have loved working at the Library and have never taken my job for granted; the pressure is always to do your best. I believe you’re only as good as the team around you and would like to thank all my colleagues and friends that have been there for me over the last 29 years. The game is over for my professional career. I thank God for a truly fortunate life (including the life in this wonderful institution). I leave with enough energy to chase my 13 grand children around the back yard and I may even find some time to shoot a few photographs for myself.

Portrait of Lois (Lowitja) O'Donoghue addressing the National Press Club, Canberra, 1992

Portrait of Lois (Lowitja) O'Donoghue addressing the National Press Club, Canberra, 1992

Darren Wintour, Engineer, inspects an engine of MacAir Airlines' SAAB 340 VH-UYC 'Gurambilbarra' following arrival at Townsville International Airport, Townsville, Queensland, 30 May 2005

Darren Wintour, Engineer, inspects an engine of MacAir Airlines' SAAB 340 VH-UYC 'Gurambilbarra' following arrival at Townsville International Airport, Townsville, Queensland, 30 May 2005

Friday prayer at the Canberra Mosque. Participants are required to take their shoes off before entering the mosque (masjid)

Friday prayer at the Canberra Mosque. Participants are required to take their shoes off before entering the mosque (masjid)

Breakfast at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, on the lawns of the old Parliament House, Canberra

Breakfast at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, on the lawns of the old Parliament House, Canberra

An unidentified Aboriginal man sitting on the ground with his didgeridoo, at the ceremony of 30th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, 26 January 2002

An unidentified Aboriginal man sitting on the ground with his didgeridoo, at the ceremony of 30th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, 26 January 2002

Portrait of John Howard at the National Press Club, Canberra, 8 November 2001

Portrait of John Howard at the National Press Club, Canberra, 8 November 2001