Reservoir Hill

Reservoir Hill is in the Canberra suburb of Lawson, where I live. It has quite a few features that make it worth a visit.

It has a trig point (more correctly known as a triangulation pillar). They were regarded as valuable to surveyors, providing reference points for measuring distance and direction, and assisting in the creation of maps. They can still be used for mapping and triangulation.

A trig point typically consists of a black disc on top of four metal legs or concrete pillar, resembling a navigation beacon. It is also accompanied by a metal disc, which is located directly below the centre point of the tripod or on top of the pillar itself.

Trig points are generally located at the top of hills or points of prominence in the landscape. Many provide unique views and challenges, with some being difficult to get to.


The trig station silhouetted against the setting sun

This historic Reservoir Hill trig is easy to get to. It sits atop the hill in an area that has been reserved as parkland in the newish suburb. It is simply a matter of walking up the hill on a paved pathway that has been constructed as part of the parkland’s landscaping. Even better, it is possible to continue down and around the other side of the hill on the same pathway to your staring point, or to branch off and emerge at a different point.

Reservoir Hill trig station was part of the national network of triangulation pillars providing reference points for measuring distance and direction and assisting in the creation of maps.


My own shadow on the path around the hill

The parkland is formally known as Lawson South Open Space. It is the habitat of the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth (GSM). I have discovered that a biologist and environmental consultant that I happen to know, Alison Rowell, has undertaken monitoring of the GSM and its habitat in this area during the very short lifespan of the adult GSM.


A sign with information about the GSM life cycle

A fact sheet appended to a report by Alison tells the reader:

“The Golden Sun Moth is protected under Commonwealth legislation as a critically endangered species. It is a medium-sized moth that is active during the day. Its wing span is about 35 mm, and in flight the males appear dark brown or blackish, with a rapid wing beat. At rest the wings of the male appear dark bronzy brown with silvery lines. The female has forewings similar to the male, and also has bright orange-yellow hindwings that can be hidden or revealed by moving the forewings.

The larvae are present in the soil at all times, living underground for two or more years and feeding on the roots of particular grasses. Adults are only seen under suitable weather conditions during a few weeks in spring and early summer, when they emerge from the soil to mate and lay eggs. The reddish brown pupal case is left protruding from the soil after the adult emerges. During periods of warm sunny weather, the males fly low and rapidly over the grassland searching for the females, which sit in areas of short grass displaying their golden hind wings to attract the males. The females are not as easily seen as the males, as they tend to remain on the ground. Males usually turn back if they fly out of their habitat, but both males and females may rest on bare ground such as paths to bask in the sun.

The moth larvae live in the upper layer of the soil, and can be killed by disturbance or compaction of the soil, or any activity that damages the grasses on which they feed. This includes vehicle movements, chemical or fuel spills or changed drainage. Adults can be killed by trampling, vehicles or chemicals.”

Near the lower end of the path to the hilltop, there is a playground enjoyed by many neighbourhood children and their parents. Some elements of the playground are very useful for framing images of the hill. Others make interesting subjects in themselves because of their vibrant colours and angular shapes. Of course, images of your children or grandchildren enjoying the play equipment can also be captured.

Riley and Lawson 0060

Sails at the playground


Sunset behind the lone tree framed by a playground sail

Riley and Lawson 0048

A grandchild enjoying the playground

As people make their way up the hill, they pass by four installed large rocks into which have been set the verses of Henry Lawson’s poem, Rain in the Mountains. You can read it here: Rain in the Mountains.

Lawson walk_0014

Verse 3

Depending on the weather and time of day when I go for a walk, I can photograph images on and around the hill reflecting phrases in that poem. Misty cloud. Frowning mountains. Leaden grey sky. Night coming early. Rain passing. Golden afternoons.


Frowning mountains


Golden afternoon


Night coming early

Towards the top of the hill is a lone tree which makes a great focal point for images against the changing cloudscapes and moods of the sky.


Lone tree at sunset

At the very top of the hill is the historic trig station as well as recently installed features, pointing to the various high points in the surrounding landscape and providing artworks for contemplation.

Lawson walk_0034

Pointing to Mt Rogers

Lawson walk_0031

Artwork circles


Sculptural seating

From the slopes of the hill you can see an historic building in the surrounding paddocks that have not yet been developed with townhouses and apartments. In the right late light, the building sits amongst golden glowing grasses. The building was part of Bells – the most powerful naval wireless base in the British empire and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.


Bells in golden glowing grasses

Along the paths that go around the hill as well as up it, there are information boards providing knowledge regarding some of these things, such as the trig station.

Lawson walk_0023

Sign about the trig station


The trig station standing sentinel beneath a cloudscape

Take a walk on Reservoir Hill some time. I may see you there.


Contemporary Photography

Every quarter I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the March 2018 issue now in newsagencies.

As published:EPSON MFP image

What is Contemporary photography?

That is the question that I get asked more than any other in my role as Chair of the APS Contemporary Group.

There is no simple answer. Indeed, it generates an incredible amount of discussion amongst the Group’s members and, particularly, amongst members of the Friends of APS Contemporary Group Facebook group. The debate flares up again seemingly every time we get a new participant in that Facebook group who asks for advice. The discussion that ensued following the announcement of the 2017 Olive Cotton Award was incredibly vigorous, but most worthwhile because it opened a needed conversation.

Roger Skinner was behind the creation of Contemporary Group in 1993 and he was its inaugural Chair. His idea was that the new group would extend beyond the realms of art photography and promote the appreciation of photography as a communication medium. In his 2002 annual report, Skinner wrote “The group are quite happy with the definition of Contemporary as basically anything they don’t see in Image magazine.” Image was then the Society’s monthly magazine.

In her preamble to the Contemporary Group presentation at APSCON 2003, the next Chair, Kay Mack, said “It is difficult to find a neat phrase to cover the subject as Contemporary photography encompasses such a wide range of photographic media and concepts. If you visit any of the Contemporary photographic galleries in our major cities you will see anything from photograms, to images made with a pinhole or toy camera, to the older processes like cyanotype, to huge digitally-produced prints, to video clips and interactive computer-based programs. You will find straight documentary work, often supported by the written word, abstracts, collage, and illustrations of concepts as far “way out” as you might imagine. You won’t be alone if you admit to understanding and appreciating only some of what you see. But that’s always been the way with contemporary or modern art of any era. There has to be someone breaking new ground who is out in front of public taste. Some of the work will survive. Some of it won’t.”

Responding in 2017 to a query by a new member of the Friends Facebook group, Mack said “For me the image … or preferably the group of images … need(s) to be an expression of an idea or a concept that is important to the photographer. This could be something of purely personal significance or of something that has global attention. The way in which the concept is expressed is secondary. The photographer is free to use any techniques in his/her repertoire. This includes titling and accompanying words to support the concept.”

This year, the Group’s members have been invited to submit works for an exhibition of Contemporary faceless self-portraits. It will be held during the 2018 annual convention of the APS at the Gold Coast Arts Centre from 11-16 September. At the time of writing twenty-one members have expressed interest in participating and most have commenced developing their ideas. The task, of course, is to reveal something of themselves. Responding to one query by a participant I said “the idea ….. was intended to make us all think about how we might represent ourselves in a self-portrait. My face, indeed my physical appearance generally, doesn’t tell anyone much about who I am. The clothes I’m wearing might say a bit – but what do I do, what do I believe, what are my opinions, etc.”

A selection panel will be set up to choose which of the submitted works will be included in the exhibition. I am looking forward to seeing an eclectic group of 2 and, maybe, 3 dimensional images and installations on display. No doubt some of the traditionalists attending the convention will be bemused or even think some participants have created very strange works. However, I am also hopeful that some more converts will join Contemporary Group and start working in the fascinating and challenging field of Contemporary photography.

I am planning to lodge one or more works for consideration for the exhibition, but right now have only just commenced thinking about what I might create. The image accompanying this article is not a self-portrait; it is a portrayal of the sense of crowdedness I felt at an exhibition opening.

Readers who would be interested in seeing the exhibition or joining the APS Contemporary Group can find more information about both on the APS Website. Those interested in joining the Friends of APS Contemporary Group Facebook group need to be registered on Facebook themselves then search for the group and lodge a request to join.

A Crowded Opening by Brian Rope

A Crowded Opening


No Go Zones

Every quarter I write a piece for the APS Focus page in Australian Photography magazine. This is my latest piece, published in the December 2017 issue now in newsagencies.

As published:EPSON MFP image

Are there no-go zones when it comes to what we photograph?

My local photographic society recently held a most interesting discussion regarding the ethical questions that need to be considered when taking, or perhaps more importantly, publishing street photography. We talked, and shared views, about such things as our whether photographing children in third world countries that we visit was the same as international tourists photographing Australian kids. We debated whether photographing homeless people is appropriate. We considered whether street photography involves a different set of ethical principles to other areas of image capturing. We compared what we might do with the practices of the paparazzi photographers who have come under fire.

But the area I want to discuss here is somewhat different to street photography. It relates to a much more personal, or intimate, time for most of us. We photograph most of the major events in the lives of our family members. We capture images of our children from very soon after they are born, at their baptisms, each time they have a birthday, at times like Christmas, during their involvement in sports or other activities, appearing in school concerts (provided the school allows it), and arriving at their Year 10 or 12 formals.

Later in their lives, we photograph people when they graduate from secondary school or university, when they get engaged or married, when women are “heavy with child”, and even at the time of birth. All through our lives we capture images of family and friend gatherings. We photograph our parents as they get older. Occasionally other people even photograph us when we aren’t behind our own cameras.

Nowadays vast numbers of images of ourselves, our friends and our family members are captured on the cameras built into our smart phones.

But it seems there is at least one area of our life journeys that we generally do not photograph in my culture. I’m thinking about funerals. Yes, we photograph our friends and families at the wakes or other gatherings that follow the celebration of the departed one’s life – because we must take the opportunity presented by the fact that we have all come together. After all, it is so often at such occasions that we catch up with others that we rarely see in person!

However, in my experience it is rare to see photographs taken during the funeral service or, indeed, afterwards until that family photo opportunity is taken at the wake. I wonder why? Is it just my personal experience and you are saying to yourself that I must move in very different circles to you? Or am I right and it is also your experience? As an aside, I note that I have seen videos made of funeral services much more than I have seen still photography taken at them.

I recall seeing, and photographing, funeral processions when traveling in Europe – largely because the “hearse” was ornate and seemingly from another era. I have seen images of funeral occasions in some exotic overseas locations published in newspapers or magazines. Because the locations are exotic to us?

Of course, there are always photojournalists at the funerals of people in the public eye for one reason or another. And, obviously, they photograph the funerals – at least the crowds outside that include other celebrities.

But how often have you seen photos taken when you have attended the funerals of ordinary folk? How often have you taken images yourself at such events? If, like me, it is rare for you to have taken shots at such funerals, why is that?

If we photograph everything else in a person’s life journey, why do we leave out the final step? Is it because we are grieving ourselves? Is it because we feel the immediate family would be offended? Does it just not occur to us? Am I in error? Are there other significant markers in the journey that we omit to photograph?

A search of my own digital or digitised images reveals just a few taken during funeral services. Only one of them is in a category that I would call personal, showing a mourner with head bowed just beyond his mother’s casket. Others are of the scene inside the chapel prior to a cremation, and of the flowers in the church or inside the hearse before it leaves for a cemetery. There are a small number showing mourners at the graveside gathering around the casket before it was lowered into the grave.

And there are a few taken as a funeral cortege assembled at the celebration of the life of the wonderful Australian photographer, Robyn Beeche. I think she would have been pleased that this near to last step of her life journey was photographed.





Canberra – Our Streets

A few months ago I was approached by a friend to be one of a small group of Canberra photographers to do an exhibition of Canberra street photography. In due course, three of us – Ian Copland, David Chalker and myself – agreed to put together an exhibition. A venue was arranged. We then set about capturing our images. Along the way we agreed on how many prints we each would provide, the size of those prints and the prices we would ask for them. The exhibition will be hung on 21 November 2017 and be on display from 22 November until 4 December at The Front Cafe gallery in Wattle Street, Lyneham (in Canberra). We will officially open the exhibition at 6 PM on 22 November. We have publicised the exhibition on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and by distributing this card through various channels and via email:


We have also sought to get publicity in various local print media.

Eventually I had gathered some 340 images to choose from. The task was not altogether easy, but the 14 A3 size prints that I eventually chose to print are below.

Busking - Jamison

Busking – Jamison

This image of a young busker outside the Jamison Centre in Macquarie was taken on 13 August 2016, before the exhibition idea was floated. I had to include it in the exhibition because I love the colours and the diagonal shadow. The seated man using his laptop seems oblivious of the busker’s performance, but may have been enjoying it.

White Goods - Belconnen

White Goods – Belconnen

This image was taken outside the door to a warehouse where I was waiting to take delivery of a new item that I had purchased for our new home on 24 March 2017. The woman in the image was standing a short distance along near these old white goods. I grabbed the image on my iPhone.

Wet Crossing - Manuka

Wet Crossing – Manuka

This image was also taken on my iPhone whilst waiting to be picked up on an extremely wet night in Manuka on 30 March 2017.

Bar Upstairs - Manuka

Bar Upstairs – Manuka

On the same wet night and using the same iPhone camera, I took this image of an older man in the Manuka shopping centre, doing his best to raise money to support himself close to a couple of popular nightspots.

Looking Inside - Lyneham

Looking Inside – Lyneham

On 6 April 2017 whilst Looking around the Lyneham shops near to our exhibition venue, I spied this man looking inside a storage space accessed from the laneway.

Thinking Music - Dickson

Thinking Music – Dickson

During a walk with my camera from Lyneham to Ainslie via Dickson, I captured this image in the Dickson shopping centre. I was attracted by the young man seemingly in deep thought whilst behind him a busker dressed in the same colours was playing his music.

Dumping Prohibited - Dickson


Dumping Prohibited – Dickson

On the same walk on 7 April 2017 and not far away from where the previous image was shot, I took this image of a seated young woman on her phone near this waste bin with its prohibition notice.

Laneway Conversation - Dickson

Laneway Conversation – Dickson

Also on 7 April 2017 in a laneway in another part of the shopping precinct of Dickson, I was attracted to this interaction between the brightly clad man and a woman and child walking past a faded advertising sign for the same company the man is employed by.

Looking at the screen - Dickson

Looking at the screen – Dickson

It was a most fruitful walk on 7 April 2017 because I also found this image in Dickson. Again the ubiquitous smart phone is in use, but it was the graphic elements that took my eye for this shot.

Taking a Break - Dickson

Taking a break – Dickson

My final offering from Dickson on 7 April 2017 depicts an older lady on a seat – not using a phone.

Marry Me - Dickson

Marry Me – Dickson

On another visit to Dickson on 18 April 2017 I grabbed this image of two cyclists near this large mural in a laneway. Again I used my iPhone.

Morning Paper - Dickson

Morning Paper – Dickson

On the same day with the same phone camera I was delighted to find this lady squatting low on the footpath reading a newspaper.

Communicating at The Front Cafe - Lyneham

Communicating at The Front Cafe – Lyneham

Back in Lyneham on 5 May 2017, I captured these customers of the exhibition venue communicating, not with each other, but rather with his music and her laptop. This time I was using my DSLR camera.

Passing the Hoarding - Woden

Passing the Hoarding – Woden

Visiting the other side of the city on 17 July 2017, I was attracted to this hoarding with graffiti in Woden and waited for someone to walk through to capture this image. Once again, my iPhone camera was utilised.


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.