Tyro

First steps and early work

We all have to start somewhere.

I never studied to become a photographer nor worked as a photographer's assistant. Instead I started taking photos at sixteen during a family trip to Nowra (a small seaside town south of Sydney). For the following decade, during high-school and then later at university, all my photography was self-taught and pursued as a hobby in my spare time.

Below is a selection of this early work. Some of them are okay, but others clearly show that I had a lot to learn.

Image Gallery

after university

portraits

university

high school

Notes

Growing Pains

I don't regard this material as profound examples of my early photography, but merely simple mistakes made by a young photographer just starting out. They have only been included to provide a comparison with more recent work.

As I look over these "Tyro" images, it is striking to realise how unsure I was of myself. When I should have been finding my own voice and direction, I instead copied from the usual parade of photo-masters. The influences should be fairly obvious: for people images → Max Dupain, David Moore, Kertész and (grudgingly) HCB; for landscapes → Steichen and Moholy-Nagy; for cityscapes, mostly Stieglitz and Abbott. Being self-taught, I never heard of Winogrand, Klein or Frank — which is just as well as I would have "quoted" from them too, and lord knows we don't need yet another monochrome pecker.

The greatest problem, however, was a naïve tendency to treat people as props in a geometric landscape. What made it worse was that I was fully aware of doing it, but couldn't find a work-around which still retained the spontaneous, no-permission nature of what I wanted to shoot.

Only years later did I realise that part of the solution was being more self-confident, low-key, moving in closer, and having the determination and patience to wait until the subject's expression was "right". Unfortunately a lot of my early work was done when merely the composition was right, which of course is a completely different thing.

The Wrong Gear

Another problem was an endless struggle with inappropriate film(s) and camera(s).

I desperately wanted to shoot in colour, but at the time every E6, C41 or Kodachrome film was too expensive, slow, grainy or yielded (to my eyes) weird results. So it was B&W by default, if only to keep costs down and gain full control over the final image. Yet I was endlessly frustrated by the limitations of monochrome.

Then there were the cameras. At the time I was convinced that the only way to obtain truly candid (35mm) shots was by using waist-level finders on Nikon Fs. Usually this worked well, but after a few years it became frustrating to always shoot in a landscape format at stomach height. The incredibly loud Nikon shutters didn't help either, forcing me to stay outdoors in busy locations, just to mask the noise.

What about using a different type of camera? Due to outrageous prices in Australia, Leicas were out of the question. Rolleiflexes? No — I had been turned off TLRs a few years earlier by endless focus problems with a mis-calibrated Rolleiflex T. Minoltas? Canon Fs? Just as loud as the Nikons. So I kept struggling with Nikon Fs for a few years, and then in the early 1990s gave up.

Of course what I should have done was trade-in my gear, buy a second-hand "beater" rangefinder, and then try something different. Well it took a while (and a cancer scare), but I finally got around to doing it in 1999.

Only 37 images?

Pretty much. A few more portraits might be added later, but as noted earlier, this material has only been provided to act as a point of reference for more recent work.