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.
Renaissance Hotel, Sydney
(Jul 1992) • 88.5 KB • GPS: 33:51:46S, 151:12:34E
What was then the Renaissance Hotel (currently it's the Sydney Harbour Marriot), as seen from the Cahill Expressway above Circular Quay.
Obviously I was spending far too much time admiring Steiglitz's 1920s photographs of New York.
(Sep 1992) • 124.7 KB
A sarcastic kick at mortgage slaves. Many of my friends were signing up for the Great Suburban Dream, so I created this to use on
Having Fun Yet? Christmas cards.
As a colour image it would have been ruthless, but unfortunately in B&W it's just a harmless abstraction.
Martin Place Sydney
(Aug 1992) • 113.2 KB • GPS: 33:52:04S, 151:12:34E
Martin Place at lunchtime. At the time I thought the composition was clever, but it looks more like a self-conscious gimmick now.
Australia Square workers
(Aug 1992) • 62.4 KB • GPS: 33:51:53S, 151:12:29E
HCB Lite. Three women have a break while the photographer fiddles with Geometric Exercises.
Circular Quay park
(Jul 1992) • 77.7 KB • GPS: 33:51:40S, 151:12:32E
An office worker having a lunch-time snooze in the sun at Circular Quay. A strange pastiche of Kertész, Moholy-Nagy and Dali.
Darling Harbour sandpit
(Feb 1993) • 60.2 KB • GPS: 33:52:30S, 151:12:06E
The playground at Darling Harbour again, a few months later. Another lazy gimmick shot.
Office workers, Martin Place
(Aug 1992) • 57.1 KB • GPS: 33:52:04S, 151:12:29E
When critics fuss about
a lack of connection with the subject, I presume this the kind of thing they would rather be looking at.
Yeah well, the
staring at the camera business always struck me as ineptitude rather than Engagement.
The pic also illustrates the perils of relying on auto-focus for candid work. Here the AF detector locked onto the sandwich kiosk in the background, rendering the main subjects totally out of focus!
Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens schoolgirls
(Jul 1992) • 176.7 KB • GPS: 33:51:51S, 151:12:57E
A group of schoolgirls reading in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. I'm still surprised at how close I managed to get with a Nikon F4S , with only the front pair of girls noticing.
Pitt Street Mall shoppers
(Aug 1992) • 60.7 KB • GPS: 33:52:12S, 151:12:30E
Lunch-time office workers at the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney. It's a bit of a half-baked photo: I should have moved three metres to the left to center the mannequins between the couple.
Hurstville CD shopper
(Oct 1992) • 49.2 KB • GPS: 33:57:57S, 151:06:18E
An example of the kind of frustrations I had to face in the early 90s.
Although I managed to reduce the grain (T-Max 400 at ISO 1600 developed in Perceptol 1+1), the results still had too much noise and contrast.
The limited DOF is nice, but the belly-button angle (necessitated by the Nikon F4S waist-level finder) is distractingly timid. I should have also waited for a better expression, although this was a problem with all my photography back then.
Nevertheless the shot was taken indoors in a retail (ie. photo-hostile) environment, so it's among the earliest of many attempts which would eventually develop into Sydney Unposed .
Warringah Expressway Picnic
(Apr 1981) • 93.2 KB • GPS: 33:50:25S, 151:12:38E
A Dylanesque shot of one of my STHS / Oatley friends, Paul Saintilan , taken during a picnic on the Warringah Expressway in North Sydney.
Paul has become perhaps the most successful of our high school group: a BFA in composition; AGSM MBA; EMI and Decca London; Music Viva; AIM; and most recently a PHD in Marketing  (!)
Paul Gas Mask
(Apr 1983) • 129.5 KB • GPS: 33:53:50S, 151:11:08E
Another STHS / Oatley mate, Paul Underwood, pauses from running amok with a .45 automatic  and M17 Gas Mask  in Macdonaltown.
Always cheerful, we noticed Paul became a little too laid-back as we reached the end of high school. At the time we assumed it was due to his fondness for reggae music and a certain green weed… Only later did we learn that it was actually the preliminary stages of Leigh's Disease , which was misdiagnosed as epilepsy in 1984 and which finally killed him in 1996.
(Dec 1990) • 95.3 KB • GPS: 33:53:08S, 151:15:30E
Sharon Freund, one of my 1990's UNSW Law friends .
I only got to know Sharon well during our final year. At the time she seemed a little bit adrift, but didn't we all?…
A few years later she landed firmly on her feet. A post-grad degree and then career, marriage, children and nannies. Last I heard (Jul 2011) she was working as a magistrate and as one of the NSW deputy coroners .
(May 1985) • 103 KB • GPS: 33:52:45S, 151:13:32E
UNSW Law Revue director and producer Anitra Hadley, vamping it up during a UNSW Med Revue cast-party.
(Aug 1984) • 178.7 KB • GPS: 33:58:16S, 151:06:30E
Wendy Hanlin, one of my 1980's UNSW Chemistry friends .
We took this photo one evening while mucking around in my room, in between an all-afternoon lunch and smoking three packs of cigarettes (her directly, me indirectly). Notice the bean-bag, slouch ankle boots, lycra leggings and Zelda haircut — all back in fashion a few decades later.
A warm and funny woman, we caught up for another photo shoot in June 1991, and more recently via a couple of e-mails in July 2005. At the time she was working as a physiotherapist , had finally quit smoking, and was happily married with two young children.
Dave Mason, The Reels
(Mar 1982) • 23.8 KB • GPS: 33:51:45S, 151:12:41E
Dave Mason, lead vocalist of the band
The Reels , at the Sydney Cove Tavern.
This was when Sydney still had a live music scene . A couple of decades later this particular venue was converted into a supermarket, while other pubs replaced live-bands with poker machines .
In the early 80s I used to photograph gigs in a vague hope of breaking into the rock photography circuit. Unfortunately things didn't work out, but I did learn how to work discreetly in often hostile surroundings.
( Oh yeah? Nick Cave and The Birthday Party , in a mosh-pit full of head-butting punks, three spiked heads from the front. The Nick sees my camera, starts spitting in my direction, and then takes a running dive into the audience, aiming directly at me. Luckily I was surrounded by taller punks, so they received most of the blow… )
Franklin River Dam Protesters, Tasmania
(Feb 1983) • 145.6 KB • GPS: 42:31:41S, 145:39:56E
In February 1983 I stayed for a while in Strahan with greenies who were protesting the building of dams on the Franklin River in Tasmania .
Because the Franklin river blockade site was restricted to those who had paid for a 2-day NVA training course, this Macquarie Harbour landing was as close as the general public were allowed to go by the protest organisers.
Summer evening storm, Hurstville
(Jan 1983) • 96.3 KB • GPS: 33:58:14S, 151:06:31E
southerly buster  roars through suburban Hurstville after a hot summer's day.
Burning Palms, Royal National Park
(Jan 1991) • 203 KB • GPS: 34:11:13S, 151:02:33E
A place called
Burning Palms in the Royal National Park, 50km south of Sydney. The influence of my (then) hero Steichen is obvious. Over the years I've also become irritated by the photo's clumsy emotionality (at the time I was in love with a young divorcee).
Burning Palms, Royal National Park
(Feb 1991) • 198.1 KB • GPS: 34:11:11S, 151:02:35E
Same location as before, but taken early morning and facing the opposite direction. This image isn't too bad, despite being a subconscious rip-off of the background in Sydney Long's
Pan 1898 painting .
Sydney Harbour Bridge
(Aug 1991) • 170.3 KB • GPS: 33:51:10S, 151:12:38E
Sydney Harbour Bridge as a pot-rivetted steel cactus. Lots of fun as an intellectual exercise, but the point is?…
What also bothers me is that it is such a blatant rip-off of 1930s modernist works. What was I doing rehashing material from someone else's past?…
Hurstville Westfield foodcourt
(Jul 1991) • 49.7 KB • GPS: 33:57:57S, 151:06:20E
An early experiment with indoor candids, shot in a suburban shopping center in Sydney's south. Nice and moody, but T-Max 3200 had a limited dynamic range and was excessively grainy.
(Feb 1991) • 85.1 KB • GPS: 33:47:48S, 151:17:19E
On the beach at Manly, pseudo Moholy-Nagy in colour. Ah yes, but what does it mean and what does it have to do with Australia/ Sydney/ Manly/ Me in 1991?
Art Gallery of NSW couple
(May 1991) • 168.1 KB • GPS: 33:52:05S, 151:13:03E
A sunday afternoon cuddle on the grass outside the Art Gallery Of NSW.
A notorious image in that it was the first of my pics
deep-linked (ie. stolen) by another site, in this case a Russian women's e-zine. What was amusing was that they used it in a lovey-dovey context — I guess they didn't notice the steel bars in the background…
BTW I worked around the heist by setting up a redirect to load a replacement pic of a busy "shemale" instead =)
Stanwell Park beach
(Apr 1990) • 84.5 KB • GPS: 34:13:44S, 150:59:30E
A couple towelling themselves after a swim at Stanwell Park Beach, 70km south of Sydney.
The image almost works, but it is spoilt by the low taking angle and distracting ground clutter. Years later I also realised it was an accidental crib of Max Dupain's
Bondi 1939 .
Shark Beach, Nielsen Park
(Jan 1990) • 137.1 KB • GPS: 33:51:04S, 151:15:57E
A sunbather reading at Shark Beach (sic!) in Vaucluse, eastern Sydney. Love the headphones and kids frolicking in the surf. Hate the
stab in the back angle and (again) subconscious rip-off of Max Dupain's famous
The Sunbaker 1937 .
UNSW Law Revue
(Jul 1990) • 211.9 KB • GPS: 33:55:06S, 151:13:48E
I participated in over ten student revues while at University, either as photographer or sound or video or lighting bloke, or even once as a stage manager.
This photo is from my last gig, the 1990 Law Revue , and is a reprise of a similar shot I did for an earlier Med Revue .
Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens family
(Apr 1982) • 60.5 KB • GPS: 33:51:52S, 151:12:57E
A family moment in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. A very early candid shot, and at the time I was thrilled at how close I imagined I got. Of course today I would junk the image due to its ugly lens flare,
stab in the back angle and because I wasn't close enough.
SCC steps, George Street
(Jun 1982) • 57.2 KB • GPS: 33:52:27S, 151:12:25E
Schoolboys waiting for the afternoon bus outside the (then) Sydney County Council building, across the road from Sydney Town Hall. Here for a change I got things right — in close, in colour, the people in their environment, undisturbed by me. Consequently this is one of the few early images which still works.
Speakers Corner, The Domain
(Jul 1981) • 184.9 KB • GPS: 33:52:06S, 151:12:55E
Sunday orators in the Domain outside the Art Gallery of NSW. In the early 80s they could still attract a sizeable crowd, but a few decades later the handful of speakers rant mostly to themselves.
As a teenager I was fascinated by the David Potts rear-view photograph of a man with rosary beads walking along a street in Nicosia Cyprus — so much so that I often wasted a lot of time trying to reproduce the effect.
(Jun 1981) • 115.8 KB • GPS: 33:52:14S, 151:12:01E
In 1981 the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper held a student photography competition. This photo, taken with a borrowed Yashicamat 124G, was one of my entries. It depicts a quiet moment during the evening rush-hour on Pyrmont Bridge at Darling Harbour, looking westwards at the Fielders bread factory and Pyrmont Power Station.
Today most of these landmarks are gone, demolished to make way for the Star City Hotel & Casino.
Macdonaldtown rail viaduct
(Feb 1981) • 156.4 KB • GPS: 33:53:47S, 151:11:11E
From my first roll of B&W film. Alas it is lame newbie stuff: (1) find some unusual graffiti, (2) take a shot when an
Ironic Juxtaposition occurs.
Winter sunbather, The Domain
(Jun 1981) • 221.8 KB • GPS: 33:52:03S, 151:13:06E
Another entry for the SMH competition, this time taken in the Domain park outside the Art Gallery of NSW.
This is my first ever
don't ask, just shoot candid (and I was terrified while doing it!). It made it into the competition Merit Entries Exhibition at the Sydney Centerpoint Tower. Unfortunately my untitled image had been christened
Lazy by some unknown hack — I still remember how furious I was about this.
Berrys Bay, Waverton Park
(Jul 1980) • 197.8 KB • GPS: 33:50:29S, 151:11:54E
A couple of teenage girls at Waverton Park.
My first ever photo of complete strangers, although not a true candid because I asked for permission before taking it. I still like how it radically changes meaning when you notice the empty bottle at the lower RHS shoreline…
The colour balance is a bit strange here because the cheap, non-professional C41 negative has not aged well.
Scarborough Primary School
(May 1980) • 38.2 KB • GPS: 34:15:58S, 150:57:59E
A deserted view of Scarborough Primary School on a winter Sunday afternoon.
Although a spectacularly banal shot, it's from my first ever roll of film. Again unfortunately the colour is wobbly due to cheap C41 and poor storage.
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.