Glass Plate Negatives Gift

Many years back a friend gave me two glass plate negatives that she had found in a second-hand shop and which she thought I would like because of my interest in photography. It is only now that I have put any effort into identifying the buildings depicted in the images.

Glass Negatives Gift - DPI

It was remarkably easy to establish that the above image of the entrance to the Department of Public Instruction is of “a sandstone building that symbolised the civic virtues of public education” at 35-39 Bridge Street, Sydney. The entrance is still the same, except for the name of the occupying department being Education, as can be seen in the image below by Pware – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

DPI Building

The large and heritage-listed Edwardian Baroque public building was designed by Colonial Architect George McRae and built in two stages, the first completed in 1912, with John Reid and Son completing the second stage in 1938. It is described in a section about colonial state education in the Dictionary of Sydney Website’s section about education: This is an excerpt from it:

“The opening of the university created the need for a ‘feeder school’. With encouragement from the University professors, the colonial parliament enacted legislation which founded and endowed Sydney Grammar School, opened in 1857 on the College Street site the university had just vacated.

The establishment of the university and the endowment of Sydney Grammar School were indicators of the growing role of the colonial state in secondary and higher education. It was the same in elementary education. From 1848 the National Board of Education competed with the ‘denominational schools’ of the churches. By 1866 the old name of ‘national’ schools, associated with the now failed educational experiment in Ireland, had been replaced by ‘public’ from a local Australian perspective. It was a clear indication that the schools of the state, just like the university, were being designed to serve ‘public’ interests.

From the 1850s, colonial governments founded many solidly built Gothic-style public schools as a statement of commitment to civic pride and the common good. Many were opened in the city and nearby suburbs. Such schools as Cleveland Street (1856) and Bourke Street (1866), both of which still stand today, were demonstrations of the authority and resources of public schools over the less impressive school buildings of the churches.

At the peak of the public-school system was Fort Street Public School, opened in 1850 just above The Rocks on Observatory Hill. Established as a model training school for teachers, Fort Street soon achieved outstanding results at the public examinations administered by the University of Sydney. Fort Street and similar state-provided schools became ‘superior’ public schools offering a form of secondary education for ‘free’.

With the universal male franchise came a clear view that education in a common school should be the basis of a common citizenship for most social classes. This was a challenge to the churches, particularly the Church of England and the Roman Catholics, who continued to maintain their own school systems with the assistance of state aid and in competition with the public schools of the state. While the church schools were often designed for the poorer classes, state administrators such as William Wilkins knew that many middle-class parents in Sydney had come to prefer the public schools as providing the ‘best’ education.

These issues came to head in the 1870s, culminating in the 1880 Act which removed all state aid from church schools and established a Department of Public Instruction. It was soon based in Bridge Street, Sydney, in a sandstone building that symbolised the civic virtues of public education.

The Church of England agreed to give up its elementary schools (while moving more into establishing secondary schools) in the interests of common Protestantism. But the Roman Catholic Church rejected this settlement and condemned all public schools as ‘irreligious’ even though they still taught a form of non-denominational Christianity and allowed the churches some access. A great religious and cultural divide was created in Sydney, as in the rest of Australia where similar arrangements prevailed. Where you went to school almost mattered more than where or whether you went to church. Public schools had lay teachers; Catholic schools survived through having the ‘religious’ as teachers.”

The second glass plate negative image (below) that was given to me shows the drinking fountain at 1A Prince Albert Road in Sydney with St Mary’s Cathedral in the background across St Mary’s Road. It took me a little longer to identify that location. A friend has suggested the cars look like the 1930s.

Glass Negatives Gift - StMarys - adjusted

The February 2017 image below, by Robert Porter and found on Google maps, clearly shows the same location.

Water Fountain

The NSW Office of Heritage and Environment website refers to the water fountain as the Frazer Memorial Fountain. It also says: “Historically significant as a manifestation of nineteenth century philanthropy, this edifice is one of the few intact remaining drinking fountains in Sydney. Demonstrates earlier aspects of daily life in relation to water supply and usage as well as public health and hygiene. Long association with parks gardens and pleasure grounds. Aesthetically significant as a good example of baroque-inspired Victorian Gothic sandstone fountain. Socially significant as a source of drinking water as well as a meeting place prior to the universal provision of reticulated water.” It also describes it: “Elaborate baroque-inspired sandstone drinking fountain. A good example of an ornate sandstone covered drinking fountain, it features Pyrmont sandstone and specially imported Aberdeen granite in the water basins. The fountain is set on a square base from the corners of which arise four pilaster/column groups which support the wide arches. There is a crenellated spire surmounted by a lantern and steps at the base of the fountain which give access on each side to the area where the water basin formerly stood.” And finally, it indicates: “The fountain was fully restored (excluding water feature) in 2003.”

The Website tells us that it “is the second of two Frazer drinking fountains donated to the city by John Frazer MLC, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist. The fountains are both made of fine Pyrmont sandstone and were installed in 1881 and 1884 respectively. While both fountains were designed by City Architect Thomas Sapsord and sculpted by Mittagong sculptor Lawrence Beveridge, they are very different in style. This fountain – the second – was erected in 1884 at the outer perimeter of the Domain on Mary’s Road (opposite the northern end of St. Mary’s Cathedral), where it remains today. Its Baroque style is very ornate and contrasts with the simple Gothic lines of the first Frazer Fountain, located in Hyde Park. Like its forerunner, this fountain features Pyrmont sandstone and specially imported Aberdeen granite in the water basins. The dolphin taps and drinking cups that once featured have long since vanished but the high sheen of the granite basins remains. The original handrail surrounding the fountain has also been removed, though a section of it was still standing in 1983. Unlike the first fountain (which has had its taps and drinking cups replaced with a bubble fountain in keeping with changing attitudes towards health and hygiene) a resolution of the Council in 1936 to replace this fountain’s dolphin taps was not carried into effect.”

 There endeth the history lesson!



EPSON MFP imageThis is the third piece that I contributed to the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine, It was published in the September 2017 issue.

We often hear about “writer’s block”; a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown. There is less use of the term “photographer’s block”, but I have heard of many people who have experienced the phenomenon of going through a creative rut or, even worse, not coming out of such a rut.

I haven’t personally suffered from photographer’s block. I’ve never had a problem finding something to photograph in all the years I have been a passionate enthusiast amateur photographer. Perhaps that is why, when people learn that I am a photographer and ask what I take photos of, my response nowadays tends to be along the lines “anything in front of me that moves, or that doesn’t move”.

Many of us shoot substantially more images when we go on holidays to a new and exciting destination, but we don’t have to wait for such an event in our lives. I haven’t been on a holiday away from home for more than a year, but I have continued to take many images during that time. There is always something if we use our eyes and look for the possibilities.

Earlier this year I sold my home of 23 years and bought a new place in a new suburb. Documenting some of the action involved in preparing the old home for sale, then moving out, provided a few photo opportunities. Documenting the new place being built and, after moving in, looking at the nearby surrounds provided further opportunities. Time has not permitted it just yet but I will be embarking on an exploration of the rest of the new suburb seeking more shots. I already have my eyes on a single tree at the top of a nearby hill with good views in all directions. I am sure there is a project there to capture that tree in a whole variety of ways in diverse light at different times of day.

I have recently been invited to be part of a small group exhibition that will require me to get out and shoot images in my city from a different perspective to what I have done in the past. That means I will be seeking to find new shots in very familiar locations.

I find projects very good for stimulating the visual senses. We don’t need to be working towards an exhibition or entering a particular category of a competition. We just need to set ourselves a challenge. The Friends of APS Contemporary Group’s Facebook page, and its folio groups, set themes for participants to address if they wish. Some recent ones have been Blue Sky Day, Shadowlands, Connections, and In Between. Each of those themes have challenged various participants in various ways – some have interpreted the themes literally; others have explored them much more by thinking outside the square about what the theme might mean.

I find it useful to use the Internet to locate definitions of the themes. For example, doing that for Shadowlands told me they are lands or regions of shadows, phantoms, unrealities, or uncertainties: the shadowlands of imagination. I also learned that in his book, The Electronic Mind Reader, John Blaine writes “He was neither asleep nor awake, but in the shadowland somewhere between”.

My mother died earlier this year and, in the weeks prior to that, as she was deteriorating, she spent a lot of time in the Shadowlands. I took a few images of mum asleep and combined them with images of dead or decaying grass, leaves and objects to try and portray a sense of that Shadowland between life and death – all in tones of grey. They ae, of course, very personal images.

One definition of Blue Sky Day is “using the imagination to think of ideas that do not yet have practical uses or make money”. Another speaks of a blue-sky project being one that is “of or denoting theoretical research without regard to any future application of its result”. Well, there you are. You don’t need any particular reason to capture a particular image. So, go ahead and use your imagination to think of ideas for photos that you might take that may have no practical use and will not make you any money, but will nevertheless be great shots that will keep you enthusiastic and prevent any risk of you suffering from photographer’s block.

Blue Sky Day - by Brian Rope

“Blue Sky Day” portrays a section of a blue car parked near a blue wall under a blue sky.

You never know, one of those photos that you took for no particular reason may end up being the best image you ever made, winning a big competition or making the cover of your next book (when you get over your writer’s block) – or just giving yourself and your friends enormous pleasure.


Ability To Create Images

This is the second piece that I contributed to the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine, It was published in the March 2017 issue under the title “Against the Odds”.

2017.03 - APS Focus - as published - small

It’s frustrating following major surgery. I’m dictating this into my tablet rather than typing it because the surgery was on one of my hands, and the other hand that needs the same surgery is now much overused and painful. I’ll be out of action with my hands for some considerable time – the surgeon predicts four months to full rehabilitation. It’s not only my ability to type that’s affected, I can’t use my heavy camera either. So, I’ve been making quite a lot of use of my smartphone camera, albeit held carefully with one hand and gently firing the shutter with the thumb of the same hand.

One other thing I can do, on good days when my hands are reasonably OK, is use various apps that allow me to post process and manipulate images taken on my smartphone camera. The phone is linked to my tablet so images are available on it as well. I can do most of the processing simply by sliding my finger on the surface of the tablet screen. Once I’m happy with the result I can save the processed image and I can upload it to various websites, including the ubiquitous Instagram and my personal Flickr site. So, I’m still able to easily share images and receive comments, and sometimes praise, about them.

It’s a salutary lesson having to learn about the things you cannot do when access to things you regularly use is taken away from you. It has reminded me about several people with various disabilities whom I have met over the years and who have been excellent photographers. One of them was in a wheelchair and one of the great joys for me of looking at his images was that they were all shot from a different view point to that which able-bodied adults use for most of their images. His images were a reminder of the importance of seeking different viewpoints.

Russell's Precinct - by Brian Rope

Another photographer that I’ve known who has a disability was actually legally blind. The first time I saw him in a photography shop collecting processed slides I was astounded. Inquiring, I learned that he could at least discern general shapes and so, if he was pointed towards the scenery, he could hold his camera to his eye and memorise what he was photographing so that, later, when projecting his slides after a while he could make out the same shapes and then recall the original scene. When I arranged for him to screen his holiday slides at my local photographic Society, we were all most impressed by the composition of these images and the fact that they were generally all in excellent focus. He knew how to use his camera. We should all know how to use our cameras so that we can compose and focus!

I’ve also met, and seen an exhibition by, a photographer who is deaf. You might say that’s a disability which does not affect our photography skills. And that may be right. The interesting thing was how this photographer used her photography to tell a wonderful story about deafness. Over a period of a year she met with a diverse group of people who have experienced different types of hearing loss and deafness. Some have dealt with their disability by getting Cochlear implants, others use hearing aids or sign language, and yet others simply live with their deafness. The photographer used still images, multimedia vibratory works, video and text pieces in a multidisciplinary exhibition about the complexity of deafness. The exhibition was opened by another Deaf person who is a sign language user and the opening was simultaneously live-captioned (via telephone link to an interstate captionist) to a large monitor and also interpreted into spoken English by an on-the-spot sign language interpreter. It was the reluctance of many people to confront and discuss issues relating to deafness and hearing loss that was the impetus for the project and the exhibition. The one in six Australians who have a hearing loss need themselves and everyone else to address the issues. Here was the photographer making that possible at least amongst her audience. What an inspiring use of photography!

Perhaps you also know some good photographers with other disabilities. If you do, I would encourage you to learn from how they overcome their disability to create good images. You may even be a photographer with a disability yourself. If so, as someone with a temporary disability learning to create images despite that, I admire you even more now.

We should all seek out opportunities to create photographs that are inspiring.


Tribute to Malcolm Smith

A good friend, and photographer colleague, Malcolm Smith died on 3 June 2017. I prepared this simple tribute to him in response to a request from his family for material to include in a eulogy at his funeral service. It was first published on the Canberra Photographic Society’s Forum on Facebook on 8 June 2017.

Malcolm was interested in art all his life and one of his earliest memories were of having his portrait taken by the famous Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux in early 1946:

Malcolm Smith by Harold Cazneaux

After retiring from his engineer and computer consultant careers in 1994, Malcolm commenced working as a professional photographer from his Canberra studio. Photography took over from his painting in oils and acrylics. As well as undertaking portrait and general photographic commissions, Malcolm did many front-of-house and publicity photographs for Canberra theatre groups.

He joined the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers and won many awards from that body, including top-scoring contemporary portrait at the National Professional Photography Awards. He became a Master of Photography with Gold Bar in the AIPP.

Despite being a recognised and awarded professional photographer, Malcolm also took a keen interest in and became involved with amateur photography bodies. He joined the Canberra Photographic Society in the early 1990s and quickly became one of the Society’s most highly successful competitors and achievers. He took out 1st place in A Grade monochrome prints in 1995, 1996 and 1998, won the Hedda Morrison Portfolio Trophy in four consecutive years (1997-2000), won Monochrome print of the Year in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 2000, and was named the Society’s Photographer of the year in 1995 and 1998. Malcolm also judged competitions for CPS on a number of occasions.

Malcolm had a compelling interest in images of people, ranging from studio and environmental figure studies to dancers in performance motion. He also had a keen interest in landscape photography, often isolating small areas for detailed scrutiny. His images were widely exhibited in several solo exhibitions in Canberra, as well as in both Canberra Photographic Society and many other group exhibitions.

Malcolm also had an involvement with the Australian Photographic Society, the national body for enthusiast amateurs. Along with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Bec, Malcolm was a valued member of the organising committee for that Society’s 50th anniversary convention in 2012. By that time, Malcolm had wound down his commercial photography work to enable him to spend more time developing his own photographic art. The Committee Collection photobook produced for that convention featured some of Malcolm’s fine colour images captured in Cuba.

This is one of my own favourite photos of Malcolm.

Malcolm Smith by Brian Rope


APS Focus

In late 2016 I was invited to join the team of four people who take it in turns to write a piece for publication under the heading APS Focus in Australian Photography magazine. The purpose of this, and associated pages, is to promote the Australian Photographic Society. My first article, and accompanying image, was published in the January 2017 issue.

Here is the text of the article as submitted:

Telling the story

I commenced my learning journey as an enthusiast amateur photographer when given a Baby Brownie camera on my ninth birthday, over 65 years ago. The journey continues today. Along the way, I have learned about telling stories.

One of my strong interests is photographing events, whether they involve just a few or huge numbers of people. My grandchild’s football games, a demonstration, the opening of Australia’s new Parliament House, and the annual conventions of the Australian Photographic Society are just a few of the many events I have photographed.

The important thing is to capture as many aspects of the event as possible so as to tell the whole story and not just a part of it. Let me take the football game as an example. If you wish to capture the full story, then you clearly do not only focus on your own child or grandchild. You do not just focus on the team that you support. Indeed, you also need to capture sufficient off-field elements to complete the story.

So, if I photograph my grandson’s team playing in the Kanga Cup then I want to capture the on-field action by lots of players in as many of their games as possible, but also to photograph such things as the spectators, the match officials, the coaches, the warmup, the halftime pep talks, the team’s water bottles and clothes by the side of the field, signage identifying the tournament and the competing teams, and more.

Likewise, if I photograph an outdoor public arts festival, I need to get images of as many different elements of the event as I can. I need the performers getting ready and also performing. I need the spectators responding to what they are seeing and hearing. I need images of people viewing displays – and aspects of the displays themselves. If some spectators become willing, or unwilling, participants themselves then, hopefully, I am on the spot to capture that as well.

Why is gathering images of the whole event important? Well, it is all about storytelling. I learned many years ago that telling a story through our images is one of the most important aspects of all our photography. Sure you can tell a story in just a single image, but how much more can you share through a series of images that seek to capture an entire event?

Of course, the next question after capturing our storytelling images, whether they be of an event or something else, is what do we do with them? The ever growing popularity of photo books is one obvious answer. If you have gathered sufficient images what better way to tell the story than by putting them into a book in the appropriate sequence to enable everyone who later reads it to enjoy your story? I deliberately used the word read, rather than view, in the previous sentence because there is a great deal to be said for adding words to your images in your book. Not because, your images do not stand alone, but because story telling is about both words and images – and we all need the extra challenge!

When you have completed your photo book and a copy has pride of place on your coffee table, then all the visitors to your home will be able to enjoy the book, the photographs and the story. You could even enter a copy of the book in a growing number of competitions for photo books. The Australian Photographic Society introduced such a competition this year and delegates to its annual convention will enjoy looking at the entries.

Another option for your storytelling images is to put them into an audio-visual presentation – or slide show if you prefer that terminology. Again you will have something special to share with friends and family, your local photographic club, or anyone else who might be interested. The Australian Photographic Society has a group dedicated to the art of audio-visual making. It can provide assistance and, if you are interested, introduce you to the world of AV competitions.

Of course, you don’t need a specific event to photograph. You can create a story anywhere. On your next holiday you might set out to capture images that tell the story of your travels. You might just pay a visit to the main street of your town and gather photographs that tell the story of the people visiting the places on that street at that time. The possibilities are endless. So, let’s get out there and capture some stories.


World Photo Day

World Photo Day is an international photography event on 19 August that celebrates the passion for photography.
In 2009, a 21 year old Canberra resident by the name of Korske Ara thought about starting a World Photo Day while sitting on his bed at home. Now, hundreds of thousands of people around the world celebrate photography every August.
Korske describes World Photo Day as “a global photography celebration that’s uniting local and global communities in a worldwide celebration of photography. We’re using technology to connect with ordinary people that love taking photos and we’re using those connections to promote a passion for photography that positively impacts our communities.”
“Photography is a powerful method of communication that we can use to uplift people and initiate change in our world. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and those words can be in any of the 6,500 languages on planet earth.”
Korske says “I built World Photo Day for community, and I want to develop it together with community. Building out the World Photo Day vision requires a whole community of young guns, and I’m working on building that community of passionate young people as you read this.”
According to Korske, World Photo Day now has an established community with 47,000 Facebook fans, 4,000 Instagram followers and 4,000 Twitter followers. It also has over 11,000 registered participants on its Website from 111 countries.
I am one of the members of the World Photo Day community. Why? Simply because I am passionate about photography – and have been since I was given my first camera on my 9th birthday. It is a lifelong passion that has given me so much. I have made so many great friends who share my passion. I have had the privilege of meeting a number of internationally famous photographers and getting to know them personally. I have had so many opportunities to share some of my zillions of images with other people, through competitions and exhibitions, through my blog and my various Websites and, of course, just personally with family members and close friends.
So, on 19 August 2016 I will be capturing some images with a view to sharing something with even more people.
Here are some images I captured just out of Canberra on 19 August 2013.
Sunlight and Rainmist
World Photo Day Horses
World Photo Day Rainbow
And here are a couple that I took at Lake Tabourie on the south coast on 19 August 2014.
Lake Tabourie Dune
Lake Tabourie Seascape
You can read more about World Photo Day at

Freeing Ourselves From The Constraints Of Competitions

Most of us have at least something in us that makes us competitive and, so, we want to compete against each other and seek to win (or at least do well). And we get a buzz when we do succeed. So we photography enthusiasts enter photography competitions – at our local photography clubs, in the ever expanding number of Web-based opportunities, in so-called salons or exhibitions given approvals by our national photographic bodies such as the Australian Photographic Society, or by international bodies such as FIAP.

The judges of competitions vary in their personal photography skill levels or ability to assess images. The local newspaper where I live in Canberra conducts quarterly seasonal photography competitions for readers where the final judging of a group of selected images is done on Facebook by anyone who cares to vote. This means the eventual winners of modest cash prizes are the authors who have the most FB friends or the best social media skills to self-promote.

Judges at our photography clubs and in National and International salons are generally well-credentialed and experienced photographers who have themselves succeeded in such competitions and may well have completed a judging course. So, when we enter these competitions we submit images that we hope will please the judges. Whilst we learn from these experiences and, hopefully, improve our photography as a result, I wonder whether we also put our imagery into something of a straight-jacket at the same time.

At last year’s Australian Photographic Society Convention (APSCON 2015), some of the presenters introduced us to approaches that may not produce images that would succeed in competitions. I think that is a good thing as it helps free up our photography. Not every image we take needs to be aimed at competition. We should enjoy making images that will simply bring a smile to the face of a friend, or cause another person to ask “why on earth did you take that?”

The Society’s Contemporary Special Interest Group does not conduct any competitions, preferring instead to encourage its members to focus on exploring their own personal approaches to photography and to illustrate concepts. Members break “the rules” and seek to stretch the boundaries of their photography. I am not trying to make a case for joining the Group, simply suggesting that it is well worth exploring our own personal approaches by pursuing personal projects.

Last year I began working on a specific personal project which I now refer to as “Of Books and Memories”. I not only construct images relating to particular memories associated with particular books, I also write words about those memories. The possibility of a book of both the words and the images is not yet resolved in my mind. Here are some examples of the images that I have been constructing for that project.

Small - Dusty

Of Books and Memories – Dusty

Small - The Power of Positive Thinking

Of Books and Memories – The Power of Positive thinking

Like many others I also explore themes. Sometimes those explorations last for years, often lapsing and later being revisited. Others become the focus of intense activity for a relatively short time. One I have been exploring for the last few months has seen me grabbing quick images of the feet of people as they go about their activities in shopping centres, art galleries and elsewhere. I am wondering whether or not it has the potential for an exhibition in a gallery.

Feet - Tom Roberts at the Gallery

Feet – Tom Roberts at the Gallery

Feet - interacting outside after the opening

Feet – interacting outside after the opening

Feet - moving through the shopping mall

Feet – moving through the shopping mall

Feet - viewing the exhibition

Feet – viewing the exhibition

After having had the opportunity to learn from the Canadian photographer Robert Walker, firstly in Times Square, then at APSCON 2015 and finally by studying one of his books, I have explored imagery using something of his approach which often involves abstract shots with a limited colour palette and comprising geometrical shapes – perhaps where the same colours appear in diagonally opposite quadrants. I do not wish to simply imitate Robert, but rather to explore my own possibilities using his style as something of my inspiration. My explorations have already resulted in a photobook for home coffee table in which every image is a vertical.

Vertical - Tenterfield shop entry

Vertical – Tenterfield Shop Entry

Vertical - Tweed Heads Fish

Vertical – Tweed Heads Fish

Vertical - Circus Elements

Vertical – Circus Elements

Vertical - Sunshine Coast Coffee Shop

Vertical – Sunshine Coast Coffee Shop

I will continue to enter competitions at my local club, primarily because as a member I want to participate in as many of its activities as possible. I might even enter some of my freed up images! I will also continue to enter into a few select other competitions. But my principal focus is on creating new images for projects that I embark on; images that mostly will never be entered in competitions but will be shared with anyone who is interested – like those of you who have read this.