Shooting the Picture
Press Photography in Australia
Talks / Lecture
Researchers Sally Young and Fay Anderson pose the question: will changes in technology spell the end of traditional press photography? With Andrew Meares, Chief Photographer, Fairfax Media.
Transcript of ‘Shooting the Picture’
Speakers: Margy Burn (MB), Fay Anderson (FA), Andrew Meares (AM), Sally Young (SY), Stuart Baines (SB),
Location: National Library of Australia
MB: Good evening, everyone and welcome to the National Library for I think one of our first events after everyone’s recovering from January in Canberra and holidays and so forth. I’m Margy Burn, I’m the Assistant Director General responsible for Australian Collections and Reader Services here at the Library and I’m really pleased to be doing the introduction from the Library tonight ‘cause I’ve had a long association with Sally and Fay so it’s a particular pleasure to be here at their Canberra launch of the book. As we begin let me acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and thank their elders past and present for caring for this land which we’re now privileged to call home.
The National Library’s been associated with this project from its inception, really. The book, Shooting the Picture, Press Photography in Australia which we’re here to hear about and launch again tonight is one of the outcomes of an Australian Research Council-funded Linkage Grant Project on the history and significance of Australian press photography. And the Library and the Walkley Foundation were partners in this project with the universities and the academic researchers. Our role in the partnership, speaking from the National Library, was to collect oral history interviews that were conducted by the academic research team to be added to the National Library’s oral history collection and these interviews have formed the basis of the book.
And we’re also welcoming two old friends back to the Library in the authors. Sally Young is a Reader in Political Science and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow for 2014 and she’s published extensively in the area of Australian politics, Australian media, political communication and journalism studies and writes a monthly column for Fairfax. Sally first came to the Library’s notice in 2002 when she was among the first group of summer scholars. These are PhD students who have a six-week immersive and very supportive research experience at the Library so we’ve been delighted to stay friends with Sally ever since.
In that initial 2002 scholarship research for her PhD Sally looked at political advertising and communication and how it’s changed over time based at looking at the Library’s collection and that research went on to become a small NLA publication on political advertising. Snice then and in addition to her position at the University of Melbourne Sally is a frequent commentator on Australian politics, elections and the media.
Fay Anderson is at the School of Media, Film and Journalism at Melbourne University and Fay has also published widely on media history, I think after a first career as a journalist before entering in the world of universities. She’s also researched and written on war correspondents, on genocide, photography and violence. And indeed Fay – this is Fay’s second oral history project with the Library and earlier again Australian Research Council-funded Project that Fay undertook was about war correspondents in Australia and again the interviews came to the National Library.
Joining Sally and Fay this evening is Andrew Meares, Chief Photographer for Fairfax Media and you may recognise him through his appearances on that very popular component of Insiders and also know him as @mearesyontwitter. Andrew was also the first non-reporter to be President of the Parliamentary Press Gallery and he’s also one of the 60 photographers interviewed for this project and you will see in the book and in the media on the screen tonight some of his very familiar photographs.
Before I hand over to our three panel members I just need to say that tonight’s proved to be a very busy night at the National Library. It’s our council meeting tomorrow and the official farewell is being held for Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, the retiring Director General so some of the Library staff will be making a premature exit including me and I think Stuart will be taking over the microphone in terms of managing the questions so excuse me for that discourtesy but I need to hear the Chairman’s speech or I’ll be in trouble. So without further ado it’s my pleasure to hand over to our panel, thank you.
FA: I’m just – hi, my name’s Fay. I’ll just give a brief background about our interviews because they were one of the most important parts of this project. We interviewed 60, although there’s another four coming – I spoke to Shelley Grant just before – I’d like to thank Shelley Grant and Kevin Bradley who have been so supportive of our project but also the oral histories. Our oldest photographer was 95 and our youngest was 33 and it was our intention to interview press photographers over generations and we discovered as we were undergoing this book that not a lot had been written so the interviews actually became really important. As Margie said they’re available here subject to access restrictions so you can look them up, you can actually listen to some of them and what we found is both that they were profoundly important but they gave a voice to photographers that we haven’t heard before and Sally and I were struck by how articulate, how generous, how open all the photographers were when they spoke to us.
Some of the interviews lasted for seven hours so make sure you’ve got a long time if they’re open and they were extraordinarily articulate and extraordinarily giving in how they reflected both on their lives, it was the - intention of these oral histories was whole of life but also patterns that emerged and there were trends that emerged. For me, and I’m particularly interested in trauma, partly it was about how close they are. Photographers – and I think Robert Capron, I’ll paraphrase - if you're not close enough you’re not good enough – so we found that the photographers have to be very close to the action, far more close than journalists, particularly now with the change in the media landscape. So – and there was also great humour, profound change, technological change and also the way they spoke so if you’ve got time I really urge you to listen to some of these interviews, you’ll laugh and I suspect you’ll also feel great profound soundness as well. So thank you for coming and I think Sally’s just going to give a bit of a breakdown and then –
SY: Okay, this is - should be working? Great. So Fay’s talked a bit about the interviews and I’ll just talk briefly about how we managed to turn all of this information into a book which was a very difficult task because as Fay said many of these interviews were quite long, we had many of them but we also had the raw material of many photos to look through as well and we had various archival materials and analysis of photos so we had a large body of information that we had to turn into a book and we felt the pressure of this task immediately because there is – well there hasn’t been until now any significant work on Australian press photography. There’s one thesis that’s probably been the largest work to date but we knew that what we were writing would be the first book on Australian press photography and we felt a burden of trying to do such a topic justice given the amount of work that press photographers do and the generosity of the photographers in giving us their time and telling us their stories so we had a large volume of material that we had to try and condense into one book.
We were extremely undisciplined and went way over our word limit as academics are wont to do and spent more time on it than our publisher would have liked as well but in the end we came up with a book that covers many topics. We decided to show as many photos as we could and we have 90 in the book that we talk about and we also include the information from the interviews and we divide our topics up into themes so Fay always gets the cheery topics, war and crime and disasters are her area and politics was my particular interest in coming to the project and we also had Nikki Henningham who looked at sport for us because neither of us felt qualified to tackle sport and thought that that was best left to someone who knew more about that particular specialty and lot of the photographers did talk about how sport was a very important specialty especially for Australian media.
So in doing the book what we really were trying to chart was the history of Australian press photography so we begin with the first – what we think is the first published photograph in an Australian newspaper and we move forward through changes in technology like colour photography, for example and changes in cameras right through to digital technology and what that has done to the industry and to newspapers and news audiences as well. So one of our great dilemmas in doing the book was not only trying to fit everything in there but also about how we end this story because obviously press photography’s undergoing enormous shifts and we’re living through a period of great transformation so we debated very much about how do we end this book? Because we don’t know the end, we’re looking at this right now and nobody knows the end. There’s been predictions of dire consequences and we’ve seen ourselves even through the interviews that several – how many photographers have lost their jobs since we did these interviews? About –
FA: Fifteen –
SY: Fifteen? That many. So even just in the last couple of years we know that from the interviews themselves that people in the industry have been greatly affected by all of the changes that are going on in news media and the redundancies and job losses, outsourcing, use of agencies and other aspects to the work which we can talk about. So as Fay said we were very lucky when we started this project, some people had said to us – probably journalists actually had said you won’t get much out of photographers, they won’t say much, they will – they just speak through the visual medium and you won’t be able to get much out of them. But we found that wasn’t true, as Fay said you know they were very articulate and thoughtful and reflective and I was very fortunate to interview Andrew Meares and you know he was incredibly insightful about the changes that he’s seen over his career. So he started in 1991 at the Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet and the shifts that he’s seen in newspaper industry and in press photography of that time, just an amazing transition period and you were right on the – probably the end of the dark room era and right through at the forefront of the digital era and you talk about how that shift impacted on your ability to get photographs back to the newspaper which was one thing we discovered – was an un – sort of – for a lay person who’s not a press photographer, you think that it’s about getting the photograph but for - many of the photographers told us that one of the major aspects of the job is actually getting the photographs back to the newspaper and in the –
AM: Just on that point I was just noticing down there there’s a phone plugged into the wall so the most important thing in my toolkit back in those days was a screwdriver ‘cause you’d have to pull that apart and plug cables into it to be able to send your photo so yeah, there was a lot an – there was no point having a photo if you couldn’t share it and that’s the power of photography so yeah, I’m glad you picked up on our anxiety.
SY: Absolutely, I mean photographers, many of them remembered that, having to you know strip down to their underwear in a hotel room and build a dark room in a bathroom and you know in a shed or wherever they were to try and get photographs or bribing the local Telecom technician with a case of beer to get him to let them in to send a photograph back and the machinery that was involved so some of our older photographers remembered some of the early machines that would send and receive photographs, that they were as big as a car and you could only send you know three might come off that and now they’re spitting out hundreds at a time. So with – on that note I think it probably is best to hand over to Andrew for a moment or at least to invite him into the conversation. We’re very fortunate that he’s come along tonight and we’ve got a few examples of his work which he can talk to as well but we were going to do this in a way where we thought we’d ask him questions as we had in the oral history interview to get him to think about –
AM: I’ll try not to go for seven hours.
FA: Oh that would be Rick
AM: Oh Rick’s had a wonderful life, you got to listen to Rick.
SY: So maybe Andrew could just talk a bit about that transition and the technology changes that you’ve seen and how that’s impacted on your work because that’s been a huge shift in what you’re doing.
AM: Yeah look, it’s - part and parcel of photography is the technology behind it and it’s always evolving so I think that hit me on my very first day at work so I was very lucky to go straight from school as a 17-year-old to be the last cadet under that apprenticeship at The Herald and they gave me a key to a locker and I was just rapt that I even had a locker and the status in the locker room, opened the locker and there was this humungous camera bag and I couldn’t believe I could get a camera bag and in the camera bag were cameras and lenses and it was interesting that I got given fixed lenses so they were all – there was no zoom lenses for someone like me, the accomplished photographers had the zoom lenses but I was given the old lenses. And in a way as a young photographer that was great ‘cause it taught you distance so I could do my mathematics the old school way and it stayed with me to this day that I could photograph the election and just go on with prime lenses, I didn't use a zoom lens at all but it taught me that technology’s part and parcel of what we do and so as soon as colour came on board I - was a bushfire the day that sort of happened and I had this fantastic shot of all this pool furniture in a pool and these firefighters and these flames and the guy next to me was from Reuters and he was shooting colour, I was shooting black and white and we got back to the office, everyone loved my photos and then Will’s photos came on the wire and for the first time ever The Herald decided to publish it in colour so I lost my front page because he had colour and I didn’t – we had the same photos effectively but – so I had lots of real life lessons.
You had to be on top of technology the whole time so as soon as computers came in I embraced that, when we had digital I embraced that and I was thinking about it today when I knew I was coming down here and I’d have to say that the last six years – so since Gillard rolled Rudd, although politically it’s been tumultuous and today’s events with Trump have kept me occupied, it’s actually been the most stable time in my career, one, because there’s been a healthy lot of work to shovel so I’ve probably had more work security around the need for imagery in political discourse than ever before because it is so tumultuous but also there’s been a calming down around the technology. So I was very fortunate to – as we were talking about before, that anxiety around getting a picture to market. Digital photography removed that anxiety which gave me more time to craft images so my first proper digital assignment was actually with Pauline Hanson so my very first assignment was they gave me the camera and a truck – this is in 1998 – a truck had crashed into a house in northern Sydney and my boss said you’ve got the new camera, out you go and I literally had this thing an hour and it’s – in those days it was a computer, it wasn’t a camera but I’d worked out how to do it and I remember sending the photo back on a lap – ancient laptop and an ancient mobile phone – we had 2G in those days – and I had a crowd of people watching me and I thought you’ve no idea what I’ve just done but that was my first image, was a guy being stretchered out of a house.
Then the next weekend I went up to do Pauline Hanson and it was amazing because we could spend time with her in a documentary sense. In those days we made pictures, we didn’t take them, there was often a negotiation with who you were photographing and how they would be depicted and that infused politics so you’d ask the Prime Minister to do something and they’d consider it and do it and you had certainty around your image because we didn’t have the luxury of shooting a whole lot and sending a whole lot so digital photography removed that ambiguity out of it and I could actually be more honest and truthful with my camera and pursue a documentary approach. So I did that with Pauline Hanson and then we got accused of giving her oxygen and promoting her and this blowback from my friends in the Press Gallery which I laugh at now that she’s returned. But having those same debates now around preferences in WA but it was - the photography aspect to me was more truthful because I could do documentary because I didn’t have to devote so much time to sending. So fast forward to nowadays so I wifi everything straight out of my camera, into an iPad, caption it and send it off.
And that’s something we probably developed in the early 2000s to do bushfires with more efficiency and then luckily we worked out, it - really good work for probably eight, nine years ago and it’s only now that that’s sort of becoming commonplace with cameras in the marketplace. Obviously mobile phones have changed everything and I do notice nowadays they don’t even sell you a phone, it’s all about the imagery and they’re selling cameras like Kodak used to in a way so look, I’ve seen a lot of change and it still comes down to you’ve got to be there, you’ve got to feel that you got to have some sort of empathy and compassion for what you’re photographing, you got to have a voice and want to say something and then yeah, you compress all of that into an image. We try to stick a caption on it so it’s got a little bit of relevancy and then you deliver it to market and then the market these days is around retweets and likes on Instagram and sometimes you get published in the paper and it’s – I still really love it and although it’s completely depressing with the wonderful people I’ve lost and in a way you make your heart quite hard like I lost Ray Strange – shouldn’t say lost, he’s still very much alive but he’s a photographer who’s been in politics a lot longer than me and he finished up at News Limited just at Christmastime and it’s hollow. When I go into Parliament House now –
FA: It’s <inaudible> 18:47.
AM: Yeah, I feel hollow because he’s been such – he’s been at every job I’ve been to virtually and he knows everything and it hurts, it really hurts. And yes, you get posttraumatic stress from some of the stuff you do but also there’s the end of your job and the colleagues you have. And look, we’re not the only industry to undergo change but I’d like to publicly thank Fay and Sally and the Library for doing this project ‘cause I appreciate it’s the first book, I also am convinced it’s the last book to be every done like this. It’s an amazing body of work and the hours and effort they’ve put in to listening and I think it’s been a very healing project for the photographers involved because no-one’s really listened to us at all. I mean there’s a healthy banter amongst us which used to be in the pub but now that we’re all sensible and hopefully living longer than my cohorts –
FA: You’re also too busy.
AM: Yeah, that it is a bit of an unhealthy culture and lifestyle that goes with it but – and we do have a good friendly banter but you don’t really pour your heart out like these ladies had to listen to us tell them everything and I think you know there’s a lot of dark stories that may or may not be in the book too but they’ve had to listen to them and I think there’s been a great unifying project that’s – that hasn’t been commended enough and I want to publicly thank you for taking that on.
FA: Thank you.
SY: Yeah, we had a book launch in Melbourne that was like a mini reunion with many press photographers coming who hadn’t seen each other for years and it struck me how little it seems sometimes the newspaper – and that’s probably not just the newspaper industry but how you’re sort of forgotten once you’re out the door in a way and even some of the more recent redundancies as well, I mean you live this life where you’re moving a million miles an hour. I mean Andrew spoke about at one point how he used to sleep at the office because it was easier than going home, I mean you’re just working that much and then suddenly it’s done and so some of the older ones who’ve been retired for quite a long time you know just to be able to talk about their experiences, I think they did find it – that it was important to be talked about and one of the other reactions we’ve had to the book is that journalists say to us I never appreciated the photographers, they were just people that we got to go and you know take an image to go with our words –
FA: They were our drivers, I think a couple of them said.
AM: We pre-date Uber.
SY: Yeah so you know I’m glad that we’ve been able to draw attention to something that you know I don’t think it’s been quite understood in Australian media how important the visual aspect of newspapers were and I'm more a words person. When I started this project I thought I don’t know anything about photography but you know for me I think about news and I think about the words. I’ve done content analysis of words, I’ve looked at headlines and things like that but to look at the images, I mean the images are what front pages were, what got people to pick up the paper and some of the amazing – we have amazing photographers in Australia and you know internationally we’re quite well known for you know some of the international photographers say the light that Australian photographers, the conditions they have to deal with, the job they do is amazing and –
FA: And also there were a couple of other things, there were the gender politics that were playing out so we interviewed a couple of really pioneering women so the first News Corp woman was Yvette Grady who was employed in 1965 as a cadet. First Fairfax was 10 years later with the fantastic Laurie Graham and the first Fairfax sort of war photographer, although Kate wouldn’t call herself that, was Kate Gerrity who was 2003 and her editor at the time, Mike Bowers, was threatened with his job if she didn’t come back safely. So we had a tendency or we tend to collectivise the Australian experience with the American and the British experience but in many ways the Australian experience is quite different which you probably –
AM: Yeah, one thing I really picked up in the book was how did I learn to do what I do? And it’s only because I went to the back bar of the Australian hotel and drank beers with these boys who took me under their wing as a little 17-year-old and obviously in the dark room and you learnt by failure you know you’d be sent out the door and if you stuffed up they’d tell you about it and if you did well you got published. And so I’m just amazed that that cultural pride and excellence in Australian photojournalism which sadly is not recognised so much on the world stage now – I’ll mention two people in a sec but certainly in the ‘90s we were winning all the international awards, whether it be sport or other you know mainly whether - we didn’t really win some of the conflict stuff, thank goodness we don’t have that in this country but I’m immensely proud of that culture that’s in that book and that’s something that’s been handed down through a culture of excellence in one sense but it’s been done the tough way you know no different to a stockman or footy field in how that’s come about which is what I think – I’m so pleased you’ve addressed some of those gender – untold gender stories ‘cause having lived through that I did go through a period where we had no female photographers and I had a wonderful opportunity to hire a whole lot but yeah, it’s not always a proud history in there as well so I’m glad it’s all in that book.
SY: Maybe we could talk about some specific images –
SY: - of yours, I mean this is about press photography so let’s have a look at some
FA: So I’ve got –
SY: - photos, some – Andrew’s amazing work.
AM: Often it’s accidental how you end up somewhere so I was in Germany having dinner and our biggest decision was between schnitzel or pork knuckle so I get to travel with the Prime Minister – not everywhere but this case, he was doing one of those sort of – we did Indonesia, Germany and then we’re off to Turkey for the G20 when the horrible events in Paris were playing out, the Bataclan Theatre and there were bombs at the stadium and at other cafes, shootings at other cafes. And so I found out – that was sort of happening while we were at dinner and then I got back to the hotel and you turn on the TV and your immediate response is that’s terrible, your second response is what do I have to do?
And I thought oh well Turnbull will make a response but not now, he’ll do it in the morning and then we fly off to Turkey so I was sort of getting my mind around doing that and then my phone just started going crazy, saying get to Paris but at that stage the borders were closed <inaudible> 25:00 well I’ll work it out in the morning or jump a plane so I end up – opening the borders and jumped a plane at 6:00 and then got in there mid-morning and I met up with our London correspondent, Nick McKenzie. And then having covered the Sydney siege just prior you’re strangely familiar with what to do so all the policing action had ceased by the time I got there and it was very much a city coming to terms with it and it is absolutely horrible to be there because it’d be no different to a shooting happening at m<inaudible> 25:30 Kingston and Dixon with bombs at Canberra Stadium, I mean it’s just – it’s so normal and that’s why those places were targeted so it gave you a really up close realisation of what terrorism looks like. It’s not just - it can be anywhere.
So we just did a tour you know horrible tour of grief and then at this location was just a little restaurant on a beautiful little corner in Paris and the police dropped the tape and we just happened to be standing where that happened so I was sort of the first person on scene really and you immediately photograph – preying on people’s grief, really you know the hugging and crying and you know you’ve got to harden your heart and shoot that ‘cause I’m trying to convey what’s happening in front of me. And then lucky I’d been there long enough to photograph those bullet holes and then I thought would be good to flip it. But then I look at images like this and regret – I don’t think it’s – if I’d been more patient I might have got a better person in that bullet hole so you tend to look at all your photos as mistakes, you never really embrace them as a success.
SY: Same with books.
AM: And so I don’t take necessarily great pride in anything I shoot, I just take pride in I’m trying to convey what’s in front of me and you soak up the atmosphere to provoke something. So I’m a big believer in - Roland Barthes is a philosopher who wrote Camera Lucida and he talked about these two crazy words which I can’t remember the Latin derivative but he talks about stadium which – that photograph is interesting and he talks about punctum, that that photograph moves you. And in a way the photographer’s trying to do that. Every time I pick up the camera I’m trying to motivate you, to engage you in that picture and there’s certain composition techniques we use around rule of thirds and you know almost Fibonacci numbers to trap you into that within that image. At other times you just forget all that and just do something provocative but really you’re just technically trying to capture what's in front of you and there's not too much think – I do most of my work by gut feeling and hoping I don’t stuff it up.
SY: You’re navigating with quite traumatised people. How do you manage that? How do you negotiate that?
AM: I find it – I just observe so I do a lot of – well there I didn’t, I’ve got schoolboy French so I couldn’t really hold a conversation. It’s a matter of being respectful I guess at a distance but then being horrible but that’s what I’m there to soak up so you get blooded quite early. I remember - a job that stays with me forever was two policemen got killed at Crescent Head like it was a domestic incident, the gunman lay in wait and the cops turned up and he shot them as well and then that policeman – one of the policemen had an 11-year-old daughter so we went to the funeral to cover that. I remember the coffin coming out, the church bells ringing, the 11-year-old daughter just wailing as she was saying goodbye to her dad and all of our shutters were going click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click. So you get taught as a pretty young photographer to harden your heart so you can do your role but my argument is that you have to show empathy and compassion as a human in order to capture something and know what you’re doing so it is a – I’m not going to say –
SY: Yeah, it’s a duality, isn’t it?
AM: Yeah, I am definitely callous in what I’m doing but I’m trying to be respectful whilst doing that.
AM: That’s how I manage it anyway. Similar sort of image in a way is Cronulla riots and I mean I learnt a lot out of doing this job too, I’d – so I’d done all that Pauline Hanson stuff and then when this happened it was like wow, politics is tangible like all that stuff we’d talked about can actually become real and we knew ahead of time that this’d be trouble. We talked about Mike Bowers was my photo boss at the time, I remember ringing him on the Friday saying we’ve got to roster everyone we can on Sunday because the cops aren’t dealing with this in a manner so it was pretty obvious to us what was going to happen. What wasn’t so obvious to me was how to photograph it so we worked out that being in the core of a mob didn’t necessarily yield anything. More interesting or violent aspects were happening on the fringes so I’m sure there’s a whole lot of sort of crowd and mob theory there that shaped our coverage but I’m proud of not just my work but the other newspaper guys and Andrew Quilty did a beautiful essay there that day. Craig Greenhill did some very brave work but we were mobile and we were able to move our cameras to where they needed to be, more so than television.
And because we were white we were seen as invisible and were given the privilege to sort of photograph what was going on which – I mean we were a little concerned to our safety ‘cause we knew that our photos could be used as evidence and certainly the next morning the shock jocks who had called for violence were now appalled by that violence and they were saying these photographs that were on the front page, they should all be locked up. And so that’s what happened, they used our photographs and I spent a great deal of my time at Sutherland Court to prosecute people in my photograph and by the end of that process I was a little bit cranky at the court, the prosecutors, the police and the defence attorneys but I was proud that photography was still a truth medium. And in fact that amazes me sitting here tonight, that we have Donald Trump ringing up the National Parks Service wanting a photograph to prove how big his crowd was while the photographs actually proved how different his crowd was, that I’m amazed photography’s still a truth medium. I mean in an era of photoshop, advertising, Hollywood and tremendous awareness amongst the population how quickly we can be fooled, I am astounded that it still has the currency that it does and although newspapers are in a – economic situation, we still publish 144 photographs on our web page – that’s just the home page, haven’t bothered counting everything else that goes on.
I’ve convinced you to not buy a house, eat something, eat a plate of food without it being photographed and shared and liked and swiped so photography as an app is amazing. I don’t know the figures around the IPO of Snapchat, I just know that my 15-year-old, his whole life is on Snapchat and it’s a photography-based app so I’m convinced it’s not going away. And I know that Daniel Berehulak who I meant to mention but he’s an Aussie guy who started up doing sport with Getty’s now, went on to do an amazing series of Ebola in Africa and he just did an incredible body of work, I would encourage all of you to look at –
SY: Did he win a Pulitzer for that?
AM: Yeah and then he’s gone - he’s backed that up by going to the Philippines to do a story on the death squads on the drugs and this is stunning, stunning body of work but that’s come about through a grant through the World Press Photo Foundation in conjunction with New York Times. So I think for that calibre of work to happen it’s going to have to happen not just in a pure newspaper sense, they can’t fund it anymore so I think we have to be open to different models but I’m convinced photography will continue and people like Daniel will continue to do their work that way. So in that sense I’m incredibly optimistic that photography will continue but its funding models will have to shift.
SY: So you have to be entrepreneurial in a sense.
AM: Yeah, I mean I – there’s a huge boom around podcasts, right? Why aren’t we having visual podcasts or – I mean I’m convinced things will evolve and happen. There’s certainly an appetite for photography there and I think the professional photographers have not been entrepreneurial, I don’t think they ever have been if you look at sort of this photojournalism dying question is not a new one and obviously the closure of the wonderful picture magazines was around then. If anything photography in the newspapers has matured a little bit. We actually don’t cover this sort of stuff much anymore and obviously I’m very proud of what I’ve done and my colleagues do in those chaotic situations. That’s been handed over to crowdsourcing iPhone photos and sometimes that’s wonderful and sometimes that’s a question of the veracity of the image of how that come about so –
SY: It’s also about the quality so I mean the technology – it sort of begs the question, we have better technology, does it necessarily make the photographs better?
AM: I love that quote you had in this book from J Town who said that when you cook a great meal usually you compliment the chef but saying that you did that ‘cause you had a better camera is like complimenting the chef ‘cause they had a really good oven, you know? Yeah look – like take that picture, for example so that guy’s really getting beaten up pretty badly and I’m looking at it going what’s my exposure? Maybe if I move left a little bit the composition'll be better. Oh good, bottles were coming you know I’m having all those discussions at the same time wanting to vomit because it’s like this is awful, what can I do? And I made the decision to keep shooting, keep shooting so I took 119 photos in that sequence with him coming in, being taken away. Yeah and I’m using a whole lot of techniques to make that happen and then I’m making a judgement out of that 119 what’s the most meaningful?
I think with citizen journalism stuff often by the time the camera has come up it’s already happened so you’re often getting more aftermath so look, I’m not against that, I’ve always been open to it, whether it’s the plane in the Hudson or you know the horrible things that happened – I can remember the July attacks in London was one of the first big times we had that and I think it’s a very – you can’t look at any broad scene of anything these days without – whether it’s Taylor Swift or Donald Trump but there’s iPhones everywhere so I’ve always embraced it but I still think there’s a role for intentional photojournalism to do that and obviously you know Paris and Cronulla are two examples where we run in perhaps – but I had a meeting today with Parliament House security about what would happen if we had an incident up in that building and they have a policy there we’d be locked down, you’re supposed to stay in your office and lock your door and I was saying well you’re going to have at least a dozen to two dozen men and women running towards whatever happens and please don’t shoot us so I – that’s not going to change and the camera in our hands will change but the intent to find something and share it will remain.
SY: You still have a scar on your head from taking these photographs, don’t you?
AM: Yeah, I was a bit foolish. They were using an ambulance to evacuate two people who weren’t injured, they were just of Middle Eastern appearance ‘cause that’s all it took that day and then the ambulance got stopped and then people started rocking the ambulance and I just thought well that was unusual, usually ambulances are somewhat respected in our society and I thought this could end badly, smashing windows or tipping it over or dragging people out so you don’t know. So in a crowd situation you tend to have to be close to anything so I moved in closer at the same time they decided to throw beer bottles and yeah, I think the first one got me in the head straight away so I’ve got two stitches from that one. But look, that’s me turning my back on the threat, it’s me not having protective equipment you know you’re –
SY: That’s you getting the photograph.
AM: Yeah, you can do things to mitigate the risk absolutely. We cover bushfires really well in this country because we have a close relationship very much – thanks to Nick Moyer – with the Rural Fire Service who have a really good induction training program and we’ve negotiated to do defence embed so I don’t think risk is a reason not to do something but you have to be mindful and I chose not to be mindful at that time so I don’t blame them, I chose to be there. Although the nurse putting the stitches in I think thought I was one of the rioters, she was really terrible to me.
SY: Well better than congratulating you.
AM: But we don’t really do that sort of photography anymore. Alex Ellinghausen’s my colleague up here, we’re probably the last two who run around capturing things like actually taking photos. The industry’s really moved on to taking photos and part of that’s come through lack of people on the books so you’ve got to have more certainty – enjoy your farewell. Thanks for having us. This – come around so it’s a lack of staff to deploy so when I was photo editor I’d have six to eight people a day and you could take a punt on things where now there’s certainty so virtually every photograph we’re doing is not previsualised but it’s in a diary at this time, meet this person. So I think there’s a – we’re losing some of that documentary aspect to our work but we’re getting certainty around it for the newsprint and we’re certainly getting – photographers are having to become – I don’t know, cleverer out there so we’ve gone back to sort of making photos again. I mean there was an era where we were sort of faking photos to make them look real, I don’t think that occurs anymore.
SY: Sorry, what do you mean by that, Andrew?
AM: So I would manipulate you to look as though I’d just captured you. So this always sat uneasy with me ‘cause I’m trading on the genre of photojournalism but I’m not practising photojournalism so you’re tapping into that broad history of truth but then I’m manipulating that so there’s a lot of discussion we di – when computers came in, that we could digitally manipulate, there was not much discussion of hang on, we’re already physically manipulating.
SY: A setup, you mean?
AM: Yeah, a setup so there is a culture of that in Australian photojournalism that’s always sat alongside the truthful images. Those images sometimes got awards but often you know the horrible things won the news awards so in a way it was sort of complicit in the way the image was constructed. I thought would perhaps be untruthful if you really knew how it came about but what I’m saying is I think we’ve moved beyond now where we – a lot of the work we do is like this, it has purpose and meaning which is – I don’t know, I thought I’d put this up ‘cause perhaps you’re politicised being in Canberra.
SY: Exactly so obviously you take a lot of photographs of politicians and working at Parliament House and we can talk about – last year there was a major victory that you achieved in terms of changing the rules around press photography in the Senate which we might talk about but when I saw this image of yours I wanted to know the story behind this because I think this conveys something quite amazing and I wasn’t sure whether the subject was aware of that or what the background to this photograph was but –
FA: I think he’d be aware that he had to hold a whip.
AM: Yeah, I mean I feel a little bit for George here ‘cause it created more of a storm than I had intended. Going back to my hero, Barthes, he talks about – there’s a cultural context that we all bring to our understanding of a photograph depending who we are, how we’re brought up and the circumstances we’re in and your experience may be different to mine but it’s the same photograph we’re looking at so therefore meanings are derived from what you know. So I feel a little bit sorry for George because the whip is actually a 1912 Country Party whip that hangs in his office because he’s now the National Party Whip so to him and I there was meaning in that whip around his status within the Party. And certainly the political story we’re trying to say is listen to George, he’s got a lot to say and you may not like what he says but yeah, certainly li – we interviewed him the week before Trump came to power and he told us that Trump would win and why Trump would win and he’s been proven right and he certainly hasn’t gone quiet since then so we think he’s a very valid voice to be in our newspaper.
So the whip had meaning for George and I but perhaps meaning for other people when it was released so this came about ‘cause we spent a couple of days with him and you know we weren’t up there with an agenda, we were there to listen and I think George very much appreciated that that was our purpose. And we knew from those discussions that he had left the Catholic church, he’d wanted to be a priest but ended up not doing so and he left the Catholic church ‘cause they weren’t conservative enough for him and he embraced the Greek Orthodox church ‘cause they take the view that the church doesn’t change, it’s the world that changes and you shouldn’t have to reform the church because it’s the constant. So he told us about this tattoo and I thought I’ve got to find a way to photograph the tattoo and then I knew that he had some photographs on his phone so I wandered into his office trying to get what we call a pick-up so he’d done his own you know iPhone photos of him getting the tattoo and I thought that would be enough to augment the other photos we’d done in his electorate.
And I put it to him that it’d be great to photograph it not with an iPhone but light it properly and I showed him a series of photographs that News Limited did of returned servicemen who have these amazing tattoos like whole back tattoos of their platoon or their time in Iraq or Afghanistan and they were lit really beautifully and it was a respectful way of doing a tattoo. And so I pitched the idea of showing him that and he was open to that but then because he is a very large man I was trying to work out how do I do that? So it was actually my idea to introduce the blue singlet to deal with his girth but also as a symbol of that sort of Aussie ocker iconography so in a way you put all that together and a man who’s known but not that well-known. And I listened to another hero of mine, Nick Cave, who was talking about the song-writing process and he’s – the way he does it – I’m not linking myself to him in any way, I wish I could photograph like he writes but he says you take two disparate elements, put them together and watch the sparks fly. And I think a lot of good photography does that, it jolts you, it’s juxtaposition or confusion and you have to keeping looking at it and looking at it to resolve it so in a way this image – it was the way that it was released into the marketplace so I think gave it a whole lot of controversy. So it was the day that protesters against you know our asylum detention policy had glued their hands to the House of Representatives and George – we’re actually not allowed to photograph protests and it’s a level of censorship –
SY: Sorry, in Canberra?
AM: Yeah, in the Parliament there’s – so I’ll go back – segue into our Senate discussion but given you’re Canberra people I’ll tell you. So you can find a little plaque about 200m from the front door of Parliament that designates the Parliamentary precinct and that’s an act of Parliament that draws a circle around Parliament House that gives them special powers and that’s derived under section 6 of the Act which says that the Speaker and President can – it’s their responsibility to maintain control and order within that Parliamentary precinct so that regulates police raids and the media and so from that they’ve written a whole crazy 32-page document regulating the media and one of those rules says you cannot photograph or video a protest in the Parliamentary chamber.
And it’s something that as Press Gallery President I should probably fight against but it’s one of those things that - we absorb that rule because Parliament has come about from hundreds of years of fighting and discussion, that we have 150 people that discuss issues on our behalf and if we turn that over to a protest chamber or whoever’s loudest and can dominate the debate will win where at the moment we’ve vested that power in people like George to represent you so it’s something that the Gallery is somewhat complicit in. I mean the rules do get broken but it’s something we haven’t fought a major campaign against because there is a protest area that is open to all and we do document what happens there so that’s sort of how that came about. But George helpfully took a photograph of the protest from the chamber which is not regulated so he was quite energised about it that day, he put that photo out and he also put out a Tweet with a photograph of his whip saying meet my little friend, Hippies.
And my editor of Good Weekend thought this was a really good time to release this image to the market, not wrapped in the headline and the wonderful story we’d done as you see there but as a Tweet saying George has a thing for whips and so it shifted the context of what Matthew and I were working on in that – Matthew Knott in that who wrote the piece and what we were trying to do in the context of a good weekend where you sit down and get to know George to a Tweet and then that unleashed you know Magda Szubanski who railed against George for his stance on safe schools and same sex marriage, described it as the gayest image she’d ever seen and that if - she would play him in a biopic – oh no, something about a biopic and lesbians and – so this thing took on a zeitgeist that I didn’t know and I think – it was perhaps the way it was delivered to market courtesy of my Good Weekend editor. But look in a way George and I were both seeking to be provocative and I guess we achieved that.
SY: Do you think he’s happy with it or do you know?
AM: Yeah, he used the hypocrisy around criticising him on the sexuality question, saying you know hang on, you’re – so he’s very clever at manipulating it and I think he was – he said that if Andrew Meares ever asked you to do anything just say no. I’ve got a shoot with a Minister and a shadow Minister on Monday and I’m interested to see whether they’ll do what I’ve got in store for them so it might damage my reputation more than him but look, he wants to be noticed and he certainly achieved that because out of that Tweet it then became front page story and then – yeah, just – and then it became – yeah, it just went crazy so I think he’d be overjoyed that he got noticed, yes.
FA: It also says something about the relationship between the photographer and the subject and you don’t always you know again often the journalist’s voices are privileged in these stories but what became clear I think to Sally and I is how important the photographer is either as an invisible presence or someone that actually negotiates how you’re going to be photographed.
AM: I put that down to trust so often we turn up – well – two stories, this one, we spent a lot of time in George’s car, I asked all the questions, Matthew sat there you know getting the attention and notes and of course Matthew wrote the piece beautifully and had – ‘course he asked questions as well but I was able to – having done a lot of stuff with Pauline Hanson and being intensely interested in the Trump story, spent a lot of my career in disadvantaged places in Australia and elsewhere, I kind of got where George was coming from. It just reminded me of all the work I did with Hanson back in ’98 in the back blocks of Queensland that we’d done so it’s very familiar to me. Despite my lovely life here in Canberra and my wonderful Sydney upbringing I kind of knew where George was coming from in a lot of this stuff and deeply interested in other stuff that he had to say so I – George and I just spent a lot of time talking and so you are a journalist, absolutely.
The number of times you’ll sit through an interview and you’re the subject and you’re the – the journalist often has their head in their notes furiously doing shorthand or thinking about the next question. I have a whole 30 minutes of eye contact with the subject, just nodding and I’ve done a lot of listening and people feel quite empowered when they’re being heard and listened - so often when it came time to do the photograph I would ask a couple of questions, inconsistencies or something I didn’t understand or an emotive question around why did you do that? And that became the lead of the story because they felt they could trust me just ‘cause I sat there nodding at them a lot of the time and then – but that was – I had a vested interest in that ‘cause often I wanted them to do something and it was a collaboration often, those photographs so you need to have a level of rapport.
I think photographers are highly skilled at manipulating and doing that task, it comes as no surprise to me that you unearthed that aspect of it and I think they’re quite good at – like no one takes me to lunch in Canberra, no one really rings me up with a tip, we do all our job by observing and you learn to back your judgement around body language and that’s kind of our main role as political journalists, I think is to watch stuff and catch people out and not be nice a lot of the time so therefore there’s a level of respect and fear that comes with that too ‘cause they know that we can’t be – I mean they can shut off our access but then they need access to the publics we serve so I’m kind of happy with where we’ve ended up with all of that.
SY: I’ve just got to check with our timekeeper about opening questions up to the floor. Yeah? How much time do we have for that, for questions from the floor? <inaudible> 49:16. Okay then we might do that now so that you all get a chance to ask questions.
SB: Just for the benefit of the recording and also anyone using the hearing loop, we might steal one of your mikes so if you do have a question just wait for Alissa to come ‘round with the mike so that we can make sure it’s recorded.
A: I’m asking this ‘cause no one has yet put their hand up. I happen to be an archaeologist and I was wondering do you have your own personal archive? How is that all archived and collected?
AM: Yeah, it’s a bit of a sad story, that. Yes, I keep every photograph I take however they’re all in different formats now, different programs. I’ve got a – like a box in my office with a whole lot of hard disks that the Library perhaps even – they might actually have - the only people who’ll be able to open it ‘cause I know this library’s pretty good at reverse technology. So something that really concerns me in that sense however the photographs that we submit for publication are in a very robust archive in the next like metadata sort of if you kind of know how to navigate so I think the stuff that we put forward to the public record is pretty robust. There’s a very sad story there with Fairfax so Mike Bowers to his credit when he was photo editor knew that we were sitting on his amazing glass negative and film negative library sitting in Alexandria at that time and it was deteriorating, we didn’t have the funds to look after it properly.
We approached – I’m sure we approached this institution and the National Archives and no one else had the storage capacity or the will to manage the collection and it ended up being on-sold to some shonky guys in America and I don’t know where that’s at now but it’s not a pretty story. However what Mike was able to do in that process was put a team together and produce I think two, maybe three books where they just went through and sort of did a best of so in that sense they’ve done that and all that work was digitised so some of it has been. And I know there’s some commercial imperatives around this too, I know that big organisations get here, a multinational, they buy up all the photo libraries.
They actually don’t necessarily want a whole lot of Beatles photos of the visit in Australia, they’re happy with a tight collection and restrict that collection and you can make money off the conciseness of it so I think there is an issue ‘round the volume and now that I’ve got a camera that shoots 10 frames a second I don’t know if every one of those frames need to be kept but it’s something I’m very mindful of. And Mike Bowers again and I have been in negotiations with the Museum of Australian Democracy to do something along the lines of the cartoon exhibition they have there, to certainly build a better repertoire of the political archive. And I know – I have never opened discussions with this institution but it’s something we should probably look at doing because I know that the energy and the resources that have gone on to last several campaigns, federal campaigns for example, they cost a lot of money and there’s been a lot of us clicking away. I don’t think that’ll happen next election and so certainly for researchers of the future it’d be good to get some of that archived.
A: I’m interested in when you’re doing a photo shoot as opposed you know of a person as opposed to an event, you mentioned that you spent a lot of time with George Christensen. Is that the norm? I mean how do you go about that because you talk first and then shoot or you know do you get a fair amount of time normally to actually have the subject relaxed and being able to chat to you so that you get the right moment?
AM: Yeah, they fall in different categories. I mean I’m lucky here, ‘cause I’ve been in Canberra for so long now that I know most of the politicians or they know me so it gets a little bit easier but the flip side of that is I often only get 30 seconds or a minute with them. So George was a very big exception for me and he was a willing participant but often you’re doing it – you don’t have the time. So when you don’t have the time you end up doing template photography so I – walk into this room, I would immediately assess it for what kind of background I want, what lighting I can do, it obviously becomes cookie cutter. I’ve got a lighting setup that I can do very quickly, get in and get out. I get a rendition of you but it’s not a look into your soul or anything amazing so that’s the bread and butter of what we do. I got a colleague, Nick Walker, who does stunning work, he comes down to Canberra to do the power issue. That’s a very considered body of work where they’ll sit down with an art director and look for a continuity or a theme that they’re trying to do throughout the magazine. Nick works very hard at that and he’ll practise lighting techniques and certain looks and feels he’ll go for and he certainly does research the person.
So a great story he told was he had to photograph John Olsen so he wanted to insert John – the artist, John Olsen, into a painting so he got a yellow backdrop, ‘cause yellow’s a big John Olsen colour, and he got him to paint it and then ripped the artwork, ripped the backdrop and stuck John’s head through it so you could see his beret’s facing his cane and hopefully that will cover the icons of portraiture of that artist. But he only achieved that by speaking to some other artist friends who found out that John had a great love of chardonnay especially at 11:00 in the morning so Nick turned up with two really expensive bottles of wine at 11:00 in the morning and they opened them. So I think they drank them before they even did the shoot and I think three frames in John said you’ve got enough and that was that. So there’s different layers of which you can approach what we do, we probably do too much of the cookie cutter and not enough of the considered but it’s certainly worth doing the considered.
And although we have - been difficult industrial times in the paper I think there’s a need for having quality images like that George or that Olsen photo I described because just another picture’s not good enough anymore. So I think we’re probably moving more to that ladder of less of us but hopefully more considered in what you do and certainly the political work I do, they’re very nervous to do anything outrageous like that George one was very unusual for me and ‘cause I’m known as a political photographer. I think it’s different when they pose with someone they don’t know and prime ministers can be very good at saying no to what you want so often you had to have two or three ideas to get through that ego.
A: I was just wondering what was the precise legal role you played in the Cronulla trials? Was it to testify that the photographs had been unchanged? What was the legal status of you?
AM: Yeah, they subpoenaed our photographs as evidence of a crime being committed so I don’t know what section of the Crimes Act that was. My view – the internal discussion I had at the time was they should only get what we publicly put in the domain so I have no problem standing behind the photograph that was on the front page but I questioned the wisdom of Fairfax handing over every frame I took that day ‘cause that would allow them to draw inferences or use my photographs for the purposes that weren’t in the public domain. But they had the legal powers to seize our servers or you know it’s contempt – they’d have a whole lot of contempt of court options open to them if we didn’t collaborate but what was instructive to me was how you know they had a whole lot of photographs and the defence counsel and the prosecution and the magistrate were all drawing different conclusions from the same photographs so it became a – more an academic thing for me, that it was interesting how you know I was putting – when I was on the stand I was making a point that I was being subjective .
I’m not a CCTV camera, I’m not unpassionately – I’m deliberately doing things for a reason and they were questioning certain things and you’d have to admit you know you didn’t photograph that – the defence were trying – why didn’t you photograph that? You know using examples for what wasn’t there to mount their defence. So I was pleased I went through it as a journalist and as a human to be accountable, I think it was an important process that I won’t back down from. I guess I was just – felt awkward being involved in that and it certainly meant that we were concerned that protest into the future would be seen as a threat and a problem ‘cause we were complicit in locking people up.
A: Yes –
AM: That was my reservation at the beginning of the process –
A: Compromise your future.
AM: Yeah, I don’t want to contribute but I couldn’t get away from the fact that these were on the front page of the paper and certainly in the very rawest sense we could have been called on the stand to say this is who I am and yes, I took that photograph, thank you very much and leave the court like that. I think that was perhaps the pure intention of the police, was to get the evidence and act upon it. And I did give a statement around the Sydney siege so we had a whole lot of photographs of that and in that one I was a willing participant too because I knew when those shots rang out something had horribly gone wrong. And thankfully that coronial inquest was so vast they didn’t have to call me up at all ‘cause they had plenty of other things to discuss than the photos so I think we do have an important public role to contribute to knowledge about what has happened, contribute to the discourse and then back that up with a level of integrity that what we shot is what happened and I think nowadays they would cross-reference that with a lot of images and they certainly have gathering powers to Hoover that all up.
A: Hi, you mentioned it just before but I was wondering about the Senate photo ban but specifically how it affected the culture of reporting in the House versus the Senate?
AM: Yeah, I think I could talk for another hour on this topic. I’ll try and do this quickly. So I’m trying to do this concisely so photographs were only ever taken inside the Chamber for ceremonial circumstances so when the Queen or the Queen’s representative was here or General MacArthur you’d see photographs in the Parliament. It wasn’t until we kind of moved to the new Parliament House up on the hill there that they installed television cameras in the wall and they had an act of Parliament that would allow them to broadcast Parliament occasionally. It’s very commonplace for us to see it all every day now but back when they built that building it was very rare, maybe a budget speech or thereabout so my photographer ancestors argued we should have parity with the Broadcasting Act and be allowed access. And so in their wisdom the Speaker and the President wrote a set of guidelines, not an act but just a guideline directive that allowed photography under very strict rules and I won’t bore you with all that now but it was incredibly restrictive around the person with the call which was one directive they’d given the television cameras.
So the call meant you were up, the Senator or the member was standing and speaking and that was one provision they gave television but the language of television demanded you needed to do cutaways so if I’m speaking and Sally’d ask me a question they would cut back to Sally so you knew that Sally would be nodding or looking in disgust at my answer. So there was a language of television around that that gave them great freedom to use the medium to convey the Parliament. That freedom was never given to photographers ‘cause I think they were fearful of what we do with our lenses. And that fear – I call it vanity – stayed with us until November 2016 in the Senate so in the ‘90s there was a relaxing of the rules in the House of Representatives and they certainly played that up to be theatrical. And it was actually Keating, who was probably the best theatre performer, tried to shift the goal posts to shut photography down because they were bending the rules to photograph the back of Keating’s head to photograph John Howard who in those days – ‘cause we’re talking ’96 - ’95, ’96 – who was doing quite well as an opposition leader and they tried to shift the goalposts to say you can only photograph the front of a member speaking, not the back of their head.
So the photographers were using a loophole that you had to have the person with the call so therefore you couldn’t photograph the opposition leader but if you put Keating out of focus, in the foreground you could capture – be compliant with the rules but photograph Howard without it and so they tried to shift the goalposts by saying that and then that turned into a vanity ruling because Keating didn’t want his bald spot photographed. So the opposition made great mileage of that ‘cause it went to Zegna suits and clocks and trying to picture Keating as a man out of touch and to his credit Peter Reith did a lot of horrible things as a minister but he did change the photo rules and said that – he wrote a scathing letter to Speaker Martin at the time saying how public accountability requires public scrutiny and the photographers have an important surveillance role to convey Parliament to what’s happening and they should be able to photograph everything.
To their credit when the Libs came to power in ’97, ’98 the rules changed but the Senate hung onto their ruling and it’s for them to articulate why not me? But I was able to shift it when – I was listening to Patricia Karvelas on Radio National talk about it as a free speech issue. I’d been on her program many times whinging about it but it was wonderful to hear someone else talk about it, not me ‘cause for too long it had been a photographer issue and I saw it very much as a reporting Parliament issue, And that the chilling effect they had on that was that if Arthur Sinodinos got caught up in a corruption scandal he could be seen on television, everyone else could report, Tweet, talk about what happened in the Chamber but we couldn’t photograph him and that meant that that corruption story was diminished online and in newsprint ‘cause there was no artwork to go with it.
So although the photograph itself doesn’t explain the whole corruption scandal it gives it currency and it attaches that corruption scandal to it. And he was exonerated, I should say that, from ICAC but that day we ended up photographing him without the call ‘cause he chose to not rise to his feet and answer the question, he just sat there and shook his head. So that’s the photograph I took because the President had given him the call and I got sanctioned by the Senate because they said he didn’t have the call because he wasn’t standing up and speaking even though that wasn’t written down and it’s not in Odgers and it’s like – so they shift the rules wherever they want so this is an ongoing fight. And so Patricia Karvelas was talking about it as a freedom of speech issue and I thought yes, that’s it and so I ended up Googling the implied freedom and political communication and then I rang Sally and said Sally, do you know any constitutional lawyers ‘cause I knew George Williams would be a good person to contact or – and I knew Sally would know some other academics. So Sally got in contact with George on my behalf and then I hit George up with my arguments and he said they were strong and robust and he wanted to go to the High Court and I did too but I didn’t know who was going to pay for it if I lost ‘cause I’m sure –
FA: Could Sally not pay for it?
SY: I wanted to come if it went to the High Court.
AM: Attorney General Brandis would have represented himself and worn the wig, the whole lot. But it was enough to jolt them out of their complacency because my argument was how on earth can you use the Parliamentary Precinct Act to regulate how you depicted in a cartoon in a journalist’s story or in a photograph where at the same time the Constitution says that the Senate is chosen by the people and therefore you have to have a free and informed vote when you go to the polls? And so I was trying to link up that their use of the Parliamentary Precinct Act was unconstitutional because it was manipulating how they appeared to a voter. And once I sort of articulated all that out I remember joking with the Speaker – so it wasn’t his chamber and I joked with the Speaker in a coffee queue and let him know that I was deadly serious and we were going to the High Court and it would give for the first time ever the Press Gallery constitutional basis in that building. At the moment we’re there under a privilege and they could kick us out if they want and I still hope to take them to the High Court over an issue one day to prove that we’re there on behalf – as much as we get a hard time in the Press Gallery we’re there on behalf of the public. I won’t bore you with the Westminster history of that but I’m pretty passionate about it as you can tell. And so once we got that sort of argument together Senator Hinch came along and heard about the issue and then he made it his cause and that upset everybody ‘cause they were saying just shut up you know we’ve got this in the bag, you’re just creating trouble and then the big breakthrough was Senator Conroy left, he was vehemently opposed to it, I think perhaps how he’d been depicted in the media and with his resignation it created a wide open gap that Hinch filled and we can now freely report.
SB: Just got time for one more quick question.
A: I’d like to come back to the hanging question that was posed at the beginning. What is the future for photojournalism in the media in Australia?
AM: I’m going to leave that to these two. I got ideas but you guys know more than me.
FA: I think you should actually also add something, Andrew. You go.
SY: This is why we had such trouble ending the book because we just – we – I mean this is the hard thing because we’re supposed to be removed from what we’re studying and somewhat objective but obviously we became very much on the side of press photographers and hoping that you know seeing their distinctive role and hoping that that continued. And when we interviewed them there was a wide spread of opinion, it obviously depended a lot on where they were at the time you know if they were going through redundancy or they’d been made redundant they would have a different view than someone who’s still thriving in the business or so on. But amongst that spectrum of opinion you know we had ones who were saying you know it’s gone, it’s dead, sadly it’s done because they associate press photography with having you know staff photographers and having that job security and there used to be a lot more of them than there are now, for example and they could see many signs of you know the decline of press photography in that way. Then we had others who’d say look, press photography’s not just about having staff photographers who are salaried and working for a newspaper, it’s about images that show news events and personalities and so on and so long as visual images are there there’s going to be a role for press photography and we need have no fear that it’s just going to die tomorrow.
So we had this wide spectrum of opinion and I think the only way to answer these questions is to think about how you define press photography and you know whether you sit on the side of the spectrum that says you need staff photographers, they need to have job security, there need to be a number of them, they need to work for newspapers, there’s that view. Newspapers have changed a great deal and we could spend a whole other hour or two talking about you know the economic models of journalism and how they’ve broken. Or whether you sit on the other side of the spectrum and say look, this is about the image, it’s not about whether someone works fulltime for a newspaper, it’s about whether images show events and issues and the sort of things Andrew was talking about before, move us and are interesting and reveal things to us so it depends on how you define what we’re talking about and that’s why we can never give a definitive answer to the question because it will depend on how you see that definition but I suppose that’s a bit of a copout.
AM: It’s all valid. When I look at near future I always just take the sedentary position of status quo informs us a lot so I think we’re where we are now kind of is the near future so job – newspaper jobs will continue to decline, the need for images will continue to rise. How will that gap be met? There’s international agencies that do a low-cost model and a high output so there’ll be – you see a homogenisation of the same picture everywhere so there’s a limited number of pictures being – in the professional sense being taken but widely shared because digital makes it so easily – to be shared. And my bigger fear is you’re going to see increased native advertising, whatever they call it where it’s sort of embedded advertising so they’re going to look for new ways of telling stories so the future newspaper to me isn’t a generalist masthead, it’s a program that you watch that interests you, whether it be video or you sp – a product you spend time with, whether it’s words, pictures or video and you may not even know who’s paying for it but someone is.
They’re just buying your time and then through that they’re buying your analytics and your data so how you spend your time is kind of the commodity here and unfortunately we’re spending less time with newsprint, even less time online but if I look at my son’s media habits around Snapchat he doesn’t even know what he’s consuming but there’s – Snapchat to those who don’t know is a photo application but it’s effectively television so you got different channels and he’s spending time looking at either videos or photos but someone’s paying for that. So I think that yeah, the jobs will just shift and my big fear as an independent journalist for my 26, 27 years is that’ll be where I’m selling my work, I guess to a whole suite of advertisers, I’ll be employed by one or two to promote something.
FA: Yeah. We also found militarily disaster areas, crime scenes, that actually the control of access has actually also affected news photographers so sporting clubs for example have their own photographers, Tony Abbott has his own photographer so that’s a way of controlling both the discourse but also their narrative. And so what became clear is not just about the future, and Sally was right, there was no consensus and everyone asked that question but it’s also that absolute need to have independent photographers and I think that became very, very apparent as we sort of navigated this story too.
AM: Yeah look, it is still happening, The Guardian devote a huge chunk of their budget to Mike Powers to come down to Canberra to live blog for them and obviously the international agencies are still you know covering everything they can around the world, it’s just they’re having to source it different ways as well and I you know I really do hope it continues because there’s a demand for it so in that sense I think demand leads to supply, surely. And it’ll happen, it’ll just happen in different ways and I think as consumers we just need to be aware that it’s you know who’s making it and how, it’s not the same way as it has been.
SB: Okay well we’ve run out of time, gone a bit over but not to worry. We have refreshments outside so hopefully you can join us out there and I’m sure our guests will be happy to continue the conversation out there. Sally and Fay have also agreed to sign copies of the book which you may find shocking we have for sale out there at a special 10% discount for coming along tonight. Events such as this one rely on the support of Australia's publishers and we at the Library like to thank Melbourne University Press for making it possible for Sally and Fay to visit the Library and for supporting our events program throughout the year. We have plenty of events coming up so pick up a What’s On on your way out of the building and hopefully we’ll see you again here at the Library. Thank you very much.
AM: Thanks for coming.
[End of Recording]