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.
Of Books and Memories – Dusty
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 – interacting outside after the opening
Feet – moving through the shopping mall
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 – Tweed Heads Fish
Vertical – Circus Elements
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.
I find that a useful thing to do is to gather images on a theme. Whenever I am out with my camera some particular themes are in the back of my mind – as well as whatever else I am specifically looking at photographing on that outing.
I find that, in the same way we look at things like light to see just what it is doing and, so, recognise a good image that the light is creating, I will notice something that fits one of my themes and might be a worthy addition to my collection.
There are all sorts of themes that we can work on – shadows, windows, whatever is the set subject for a forthcoming Canberra Photographic Society competition. The list is really endless. One of the themes I have explored on and off over many years is Glimpses.
The dictionary definitions of Glimpse include:
1. A very brief, passing look, sight or view
2. A momentary or slight appearance
3. A vague idea; inkling
Storytelling is a very important aspect of much photography. If the viewer can weave a story around what they see in the image, then the photographer has succeeded in capturing their interest. I consider that the theme, Glimpses, provides an excellent vehicle for storytelling.
Here are some of my images on the theme of Glimpses. All of them were taken when I was traveling to other parts of Australia or overseas, times when my main focus was on gathering travel images. The concept of what constitutes a glimpse is interpreted variously, but each image shows a glimpse of one or more persons and, I feel, allows the viewer to invent a story about what they see.
Glimpse – Boy
In the image above we see just a glimpse of the young boy as he plays his own game, blissfully unaware of the scene behind him. It is a passing look of him as he moved quickly across the view through my lens. But what is it about? What was he actually doing? What is the setting? Why was he doing what he was in that setting? What were the other people behind him doing?
Glimpse – Legs
Here we glimpse only the lower half of a person and can do no more than speculate as to what the other half looks like. Do we have an inkling of what the upper half might be like? Is it definitely a woman? What was she doing?
Glimpse – Dance Reflection
This is a glimpse of my reflection between two glimpses of human forms holding stylised poses – for my camera? The viewer sees only a vague idea of me, the photographer.
Glimpse – Stall Holder
As she is hidden behind one of her wares on her stall at the markets, we only have a glimpse of this stall holder and need to imagine what she really looks like. Without the title, would you know she was a stall holder? What story would you attach to the image with no written information to accompany it?
Glimpse – who is watching?
The woman on the bench appears to be taking a passing look over her shoulder at the people in the mural, who are not looking at her. Is she glimpsing them, whilst we are glimpsing her? Are we certain she is real, or is she a sculpture? Indeed, are the bench and her also part of the mural?
Glimpse – Self
This image provides a glimpse of me and another person, both in the form of reflections. You can make out my camera. Was the other person also taking a photo – or watching what I was doing – or just there?
Glimpse – Couple
This couple was seated together against two separate reflective surfaces which created this image. For me, the glimpse of them, via their reflections, poses questions about their relationship.
Glimpse – Prayer
Dressed smartly and possibly on her way to work this woman paused briefly at a public shrine. The blurred image seemed appropriate for the speed at which she made her offering and provides just a glimpse of her.
Glimpse – Le Mythe de Sisyphe
We gain an inkling of something about her from this glimpse of a young woman in a Champs-Elysées café. Her taste in books incudes at least one classic. Does it include more of the same, or was she only reading it because it was a set text for a course of study she was undertaking?
Glimpse – Pool User
On the roof of a 56 floor hotel/shopping mall building in Singapore there is an edge pool for hotel guests. Other visitors to the building can glimpse users through screens (and the gaps between them) – voyeuristically? here we see a momentary view of this man as he passed the gap where my camera was positioned.
Glimpse – Curtains
We can do no more than glimpse all these people through the translucent curtain fabric. We can only speculate as to who they were and what they might have been doing.
Glimpse – Family
In this passing look at them, we view enough to learn about this family’s faith and that they have at least one child, but little else about them. It is merely a glimpse of this family.
Glimpse – Darkness
In the darkness we barely glimpse a figure or two. We learn nothing about them. Are they men or women? Where are they? Is that a boat they were on? If so, where was it – and they – going at this apparently late hour?
Glimpse – Spectacles
In this glimpse through a wet window we see that the man wears spectacles and, probably, sufficient of his head to take a reasonable guess at his race. But what more can we glean or invent from the image? What was he doing? What is the pink shape? What is the bright light? Was there anyone else with him? Write your own story.
Glimpse – Tea
In this glimpse of a woman we see just enough to tell us that she is being served tea by a waiter in a smart-looking venue. We do not know who she is, why she was alone or why she was even there.
Each of the Glimpse images above may conjure up quite different stories for you to what I have briefly suggested below them, and different ones again for each other viewer. That doesn’t matter. The important thing is to explore themes for yourself and, so, look at everything around you when out and about with a camera (or even when you don’t have a camera with you). When we observe we substantially improve our prospects of capturing interesting imagery.
– Brian Rope
After years of listening to other people talk about it, I eventually went to New Zealand. It was a long time ago and it was during one summer. I was there for twenty four days altogether and saw a great deal of both the main islands. I’ve returned to the South Island since and seen places I missed on my first trip. But I’m sure I could return to the Land of the Long White Cloud for as long again and still not have seen anything like all of it. Most of you who have been to New Zealand would, I’m sure, agree.
Which was your favourite island – the North or the South? That question has been asked by so many, seemingly wanting confirmation of their own views. I find it difficult to answer. The South Island has its wonderful mountains and rain forests. The North Island has its magnificent thermal areas. And yes, both had their disappointments for me, because expectations had been built too high by some of my friends. You probably already have your own favourite parts of New Zealand, perhaps even if you haven’t been there in person!
So, let me tell you something which you may not have seen or heard about. It is almost certainly not still there, because so many years have passed since I saw it. It was a horse named cow. On one side anyway!
Along the stunningly beautiful road to Milford, where the rain forest makes you drool, there is a great deal to see. Water cascades down its twisting and turning and plunging courses, through chasms and gullies, over rocks, sometimes meandering more slowly along more tranquil landscapes. Mountain peaks soar high above, today piercing fluffy white clouds, tomorrow shrouded in forbidding grey swirls of precipitation which makes the fungi, lichens and tree ferns shine with life. A cheeky and inquisitive Kea bird in a roadside car park uses its unbelievably strong beak to vigorously attack a plastic grocery store bag which a thoughtless tourist has left hanging from a tree.
Along this magical route there is a turn-off. Eleven kilometres after emerging from the one-in-ten gradient downward run through the solid rock 1.2Km long Homer tunnel, there is another road leading into the Hollyford River. It took me to Gunn’s Camp five hundred metres above sea level with its old cabins and signpost proclaiming “NZ’s MOST IMPORTANT PROJECT – HOLLYWOOD-WESTLAND ROAD 80K”.
This was a political message far away from the eyes of New Zealand’s then leaders in Wellington. And, since they tend to stick to the major routes, it was also a message unseen by most tourists travelling to or from Milford. Not everyone would have shared the view that a road should be constructed through from here to the Westland region, and it was a somewhat surprising message to find at a place where trampers – hikers, walkers, trekkers, bushwalkers if you prefer – could camp. But, no doubt, the proponents had expressed their message in other ways as well as on this little seen signpost.
But I hadn’t come to see this signpost, or to consider the merits of a new road. I had come looking for a horse, supposedly called “cow”. I had read a throwaway comment in my 1991 Lonely Planet Guidebook and thought I may as well take a look, as I was so close. And there it was. Not close enough to get a decent photo and, seemingly, camera shy as it kept moving and hiding each time I pointed my camera lens in its direction. But I did get one image which proves the key part of my story to be true. Painted on one side was the word “COW”. On the other side, of which I did not manage to get a photo, it read “HORSE”.
Why? The answer was simple. The horse’s owner, one Murray Gunn, was worried that shooters aiming at “anything brown that moved” might mistake his horse for a deer, unless he labelled it. After painting “HORSE” in large white letters on one side of his favourite horse, he just decided to paint “COW” on the other side! Apparently if you walk the Hollyford Track from Gunn’s Camp, your guides might also tell you that this Fiordland character said “city slickers wouldn’t know the difference and sometimes he needed the milk”.
The horse called cow was just one of the many tourist attractions in New Zealand when I first visited. Not as famous as many others, but interesting nevertheless.
By way of a postscript, Murray Gunn is also famous for having presented New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Helen Clark, with a memento after she decided that, perhaps, free trade in nuclear arms with the USA may not be the most beneficial thing for her country after all. Murray Gunn died in 2014 at the age of 89.
– Brian Rope
No, this is not an article about those odd people who frequent sporting or licensed clubs playing sports or the poker machines, propping up the bar or feeding in the bistro. It is actually about some of the men who have been members of the Canberra Photographic Society (CPS) over the years – some are still members. Yes, photographic clubs have clubmen characters too!
Take Murray for starters. Now there is a real character. Murray hails from New Zealand. That makes him different for a start. He used to own and use a CAP 40 colour print processor and go bushwalking with a view camera. When he was CPS President he used to deliver delightful Presidential reports at annual meetings whilst stroking his long beard. He wore John Lennon glasses when he lost his contact lenses. And took pictures with a Widelux. Definitely a character.
I think this image of Murray and all the others below were taken by either Alan Chapple or Jim Mason on one CPS meeting night. Jim is 90% sure they were all taken by Alan.
What about Orlando? We were amused when he first showed us a picture and told us the exposure time was “two cups of coffee”. Who else would put their camera on the still warm bonnet of their car to photograph a tree lit by a street light when the temperature was close to freezing? We used to wonder if he realised cameras worked by daylight too. He became a complete expert on night imagery, had a one man exhibition of night photos and could even make night shots look like they were taken in daylight. Another bearded character he was.
Keith was the one who was most likely to enter into debate with the judges. When you’ve been involved with photography as long as he had, why shouldn’t you take the judges to task? “I know Mr Kodak has made it possible to record every colour of the rainbow, but do we have to have them all in the one image?” Keith was a most suitable subject for photographic character studies – grey hair and beard, glasses, pipe smoker, and a well-rounded figure. A good place to capture him was at the arts and crafts market at Gorman house when he was selling his own black and white prints. There was no such thing as colour in Keith’s photographic world!
Fred was another bespectacled and bearded character who had been around the game for a long time. He really liked to stir up judges too. Montages of numerous postcard-sized commercial prints joined together to create an overall impression of a place. Or why not a laser copy print rather than one produced using an enlarger? Anything for a stir.
Ian, on the other hand to Keith, was a colour worker only. Didn’t sport a beard either. Graduated tobacco filters warmed his cool skies. Speed filters made static objects move. Trees and people were known to grow during Ian’s exposures. Statues of athletes began to perform like the real persons they represented. Bold black shadows created patterns over colourful flower beds when Ian’s camera or enlargers worked their montage magic!
Maurie managed to capture his images in both colour and monochrome. He loved the high country, especially when it was covered by snow. And he didn’t mind whether it was in Australia, Switzerland, France or wherever. He loved it and that love showed in his photographs of it. Told us he was working on a ten year project to document the Kosciusko National park region in all of its seasons. Hoped to publish a book about it one day. Lectured for us occasionally – quite esoteric and moved well. Wore a beard too!
Bob’s main claim to fame was that he was the shortest, bearded member of the club. In terms of physical height that is. For some curious reason he was also interested in the Society’s history and was able to provide, or extract, odd snippets of information from our archives from time to time. Bob didn’t take as many photos as some of us and the unkind were known to make sarcastic remarks when a placing in the monthly competition revealed his camera had been used.
Denis was a lawyer so I must be very, very careful with what I say about him. He didn’t have a beard, loved cats, had raced bicycles and had a habit of putting captions under some of his prints. Once he even did a photo series illustrating the adventures of a toy exploring parts of Canberra. Reminds me a little of that other member who photographs a spoon in odd places. I hope I’ve avoided a lawsuit.
Trevor was another member, with a touch of what one might call rotundity. He liked to photograph cars and planes. Fast cars, fast planes. On display and static. Or doing their thing. Trevor only ever sported a moustache. Does anyone remember his surname?
Colin was a dentist. Not that that has anything to do with his photography. Except that he had been known to photograph the shadows of his dental equipment on the wall of his surgery. Actually Colin was quite keen on photographing shadows generally. Perhaps it came from having x-rayed shadows in teeth? Another clean shaven member.
I could go on for ever. There was another Peter and a couple more Johns. There was Ross, Bruce, Brendan and yours truly. I don’t know all the names to go with the images, so if you can help with identifying someone please let me know.
As you can see all these men made quite good character studies when cameras are trained on them by other members. And, yes, I know we have women members too in the club – and none of them have beards. But, as they say, that’s another story.
– Brian Rope
All around Australia in 1988 people celebrated in thousands of different ways. The images were there for the taking.
To help Aussies celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary our various levels of government poured many of our tax and rates dollars into a myriad of projects and events. Through one arrangement, known as the Local Government Initiative Grants Scheme. A group of Canberra Photographic Society (CPS) photographers were given an opportunity to record our city’s celebrations.
The Australian Bicentennial Authority and the ACT Administration funded the CPS project. Members of the CPS photographed as many as possible of the Bicentennial events in Canberra. The ACT Administration bought the film and paid for all processing. The CPS members shot the film and did much of the processing. They were not paid, except for the processing costs. But retained unencumbered rights to use and market their own pictures.
There were something like 500 endorsed or funded Bicentennial events and projects, and many other private celebrations, in Canberra.
At the small event end of the scale we had a lady who painted a fire hydrant outside her home in green and gold – only to become the immediate target of some protestors opposing the Bicentenary and some neighbours who didn’t like the end result. The major event, perhaps, was the visit by her majesty Queen Elizabeth II, to officially open our stunning new Parliament house. In between, there was everything from the establishment of a heritage trail around Lake Burley Griffin to a massed display of one million flowering bulbs and annuals in Commonwealth Park from 17 September to 9 October – the inaugural Floriade. There was even a photography convention, APSCON’88, conducted by the Australian Photographic Society.
Events photographed by the CPS members included the Street Machine Summernats, a Friendship Cycle Ride, several festivals, a visit by cadets of the Japanese Tall Ship (the Nippon Maru) and the unveiling of an enormous three part painting. Over 4000 images had been produced by early May 1988. Some had been published, some had been sold, copies had been requested by and given to politicians, and some had been entered with success in CPS competitions.
The major objective was for the ACT Administration to mount an exhibition of 100 prints in early 1989, at first in Canberra but, hopefully, to then go on a tour throughout Australia and, even, overseas.
By the end of 1988, six thousand images had been created by seventeen different CPS members during seventy different Bicentennial events, with some events covered by more than one of the photographers. Only one of the photographed events took place outside of Canberra. That was a voyage on the Young Endeavour sail training ship in Sydney harbour by a group of young Canberra people with disabilities or terminal illnesses.
One hundred of the images were selected for the exhibition, sixty seven in colour (half from negatives and half from transparencies) and thirty three in black and white. Forty of the images were printed for the exhibition by the photographers themselves. The others were printed by a professional laboratory. There was a concentration in the images on the people of Canberra participating in the celebrations, which happened to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the City of Canberra.
Of the seventeen CPS members who participated just one was not represented in the exhibition, which took place at the then Link Gallery in the Canberra Theatre Centre in March 1989.
Keith Bogg took 900 photographs at fifteen events. These included a senior Citizens Garden Party and Concert, the Australia Day Shooting Championships, the Multicultural Australia Day Jazz Festival, the launch of the History of Canberra and Lifeline’s Book Fair.
Jack Clarke took 324 photographs at 13 events, including Australia Day in the National Capital, the National Food and Wine Frolic and the recommissioning of the Paddle Steamer “Enterprise”. John Coen took 36 photos at just one event. Peter Dawson took 144 photos at the Royal Race Meeting. Fred Doutch took 360 photos at 10 events, including Lunch and All That Jazz, and the Official Opening of New Parliament House.
Murray Foote took 252 photos at five events, including the Canberra Festival and Versailles in Canberra. Murray was also involved in the Bicentenary in other ways. He produced colour images for the Bicentennial History of Australian Lighthouses “From Dusk to Dawn” and an exhibition of his prints from that project appeared at the Link Gallery (1988) and Parliament house (1989).
Trevor Gilbert and Denis Jessop each took 144 photos at two events. Bruce Harriott captured 360 images at four events. Bob Legge produced 72 images at the Great Australian Balloon Gathering. Ian McInnes captured 288 photos at three events, including Anzac Day and the Australian National Eisteddfod.
Brendan Mulhall took 360 photos at the National Capital Motathlon and the family fun run. Peter Paseka took 756 at nine events, Colin Rickard 72 at two events, Maurie Weidemann 432 at six events and Ross Yarnold 144 at four events.
I took more images than anyone – 1040 images at twenty eight events, including the Young Endeavour voyage on Sydney harbour on a wet and windy December day. Just a few of them are included below. I was also involved in the Bicentennial in other ways; one being that I co-ordinated the community photography project “Personal Views” for the Australian Bicentennial Exhibition – and some of my own works were included in that touring exhibition.
Cutting the cake at Launch of Australopedia by PM Hawke
Young Canberrans with disabilities hauling on the rope on board the Young Endeavour on Sydney Harbour
Proudly displaying his certificate of participation on the Young Endeavour voyage
Royal Visit “Flags” on display. (The “flags” were designed by yours truly and not well received. The protocol people strongly objected to pennants being flown from flagpoles, and some people thought they looked like the silks worn by jockeys! One of them was presented to me at my farewell from the public service!)
Cross at National Gathering (of Christians)
Media photographers lined up at the Royal Race Meeting
The Queen being escorted into the enclosure to present a trophy at the Royal Race Meeting
Our group of seventeen photographers were given a great opportunity to document the whole year of celebrations in our own city. CPS demonstrated the skills of its members when the 100 selected images were displayed in the Link Gallery exhibition, “Bicentennial celebrations in Canberra” in March 1989.
Cover of program for “Bicentennial celebrations in Canberra”
After the exhibition concluded the 100 prints were placed in safe storage by the ACT Administration. The hoped for touring exhibition did not eventuate, but it was intended that appropriate prints from the collection would be put on display again at appropriate future times and events. That has never happened. Even worse, enquiries suggest that the collection of prints has disappeared; certainly nobody within the ACT Administration seems able to ascertain what happened to them. At least I have my own negatives and transparencies.
– Brian Rope
My involvement with the camera club and amateur enthusiast photographer movement within Australia and overseas has brought me into personal contact with some remarkable photographers. I’ve been a member of camera clubs since 1971 (Queanbeyan-based clubs from 1971 to 1985 and the Canberra Photographic Society in 1971 and then again from 1986 until the present). I have also been involved extensively with the Australian Photographic Society and the International Federation of Photographic Art since 1976. However, my introduction to Hedda Morrison came about as the result of someone I met outside of those involvements.
I only met her in 1988. This small woman who contracted a severe bout of polio at the age of three. She died peacefully on 3 December 1991, almost eighty three. It was such a short part of her extraordinary life in which I came to know her. But I am grateful to have personally met, and shared some time, with Hedda Morrison.
My experience has been that few in the Australian photographic industry seem to be aware of this remarkable photographer’s story and achievements. Hedda’s modesty is part of the reason for that, but she and her images deserve to have been better known both in Australia and elsewhere. Let me share just a little with you.
Hedda was born Hedda hammer and her home town was Stuttgart in Germany. After undertaking studies at the Munich State institute for Photography in Germany, Hedda worked with a photographer named Lazi. She described him as ‘distinguished and demanding’.
Hedda saw an advertisement in a German photographic journal seeking a qualified woman photographer to manage a studio. The woman was required to be able to speak French and English and to be from the region of Swabia. A woman was sought because they were paid less, a Swabian because they were considered hard workers. Hedda realised that the job was tailor made for her.
The vacancy was with Hartungs Photo Studio in Beijing. Hedda obtained the position and travelled to China to take it up in 1933. She had been anxious to work overseas and the idea of going to faraway Beijing greatly appealed to her. This was to be the start of her great photographic adventure. Her family was not so enthusiastic and gave the twenty five year old a pistol as a parting gift. She dropped it overboard from the ship on the way from Trieste.
Despite her ability to speak French, English and German, it was necessary for Hedda to learn Chinese as soon as she arrived. An old gentleman taught her colloquial Chinese using sign language. He had never learned to read or write his own language.
Hartungs’ owner was a demanding businessman who required Hedda to work six days a week for him, managing a staff of seventeen men. Each working day was thirteen hours, plus unpaid overtime as necessary to meet urgent requirements. Nevertheless Hedda found many opportunities to capture her own images in Peking and throughout many other parts of China, mostly travelling alone. When her work contract was not renewed in 1938, Hedda opted to stay in China rather than return to a Germany preparing for war. Throughout the years of World War II, she worked primarily for a jewellery business.
During the period 1933 to 1946 Hedda captured some most remarkable images of China, including pictures of camels during a rare fall of snow in Peking and sense of Nanking Just after it had been ravaged. Those years encompassed Japanese occupation. Most images were made on Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras – in Hedda’s view “there has never been a better camera”. She also used a 9 x 12 cm Linhof Satzplasmat and a Makina 6 x 9 cm.
After leaving Hartungs, Hedda used her life savings to order photographic materials from Germany in 1941. They arrived by railway – just before the German invasion of the USSR. Hedda worked without electricity and had no running water. A portable car battery charged up by the local post office was used to operate her enlarger. It was a visiting Cartier-Bresson who suggested this arrangement to her. Eventually Hedda’s supply of materials ran out.
Some images of this period can be found in two of Hedda’s several books – “A Photographer in Old Peking” (Oxford University Press, 1985) and “Travels of a Photographer in China”, 1936-1944 (Oxford University Press, 1987). In his foreword to the first of these books, Wang Gungwu tells how Hedda mentioned her China photographs to him years earlier. “In her usual modest way, she described them as a beginner’s efforts.” The superb images show the reader many views of Peking which few Chinese ever saw, leave alone photographed.
The latter book moves beyond Peking to reveal the countryside and the people of China. One review of the book, by Sue Ferrari in the Winter 1988 issue of Against the Grain, noted that the majority of the 230 photographs “are of outstanding technical and compositional standards” and that “Hedda is printing from negatives that are 40 to 50 years old”. The review also expressed the hope that there would be more books of photos yet to be printed by Hedda. This book includes many images from an earlier one – “Hua Shan – Taoist Mountain in China” (1974), which unfortunately used inferior paper stock.
In 1940 Hedda met Alastair, a son of the famous Australian-born Peking correspondent for the London times and subject of Cyril Pearl’s biography “Morrison of Peking”. Alastair had gone to Peking to recuperate from illness and took over the house where Hedda was living. After the war, in 1946, she married Alastair Gwynne Morrison and together they left China for two years in Hong Kong.
The Morrisons moved to Sarawak in 1947 to allow Alastair to take up a position with the British administration there. Hedda took the opportunity to photograph the Iban (Sea Dyak) and people of other racial groups in their changing worlds. Sarawak also became the base for extensive travels throughout Asia and the Pacific. Those travels included visits to Australia. One visit took them on a five month journey right around the continent in a kombi van. One outcome was the book Sarawak (Federal publications, 1957) containing a remarkable collection of images taken with Rollei cameras on Kodak materials.
In 1988 a friend of Hedda who had learned of my involvement in photography told me about her. Terry Colhoun explained that the Morrisons had lived in Canberra since coming to Australia permanently in 1967. He asked whether I would look at some prints because he felt sure they belonged in the national gallery of Australia or another appropriate collection. I gladly agreed to the request and took Canberra Photographic Society members Jim Mason and Keith Bogg with me. We were overwhelmed by what we saw. To sit in Hedda’s home and look through a sample of her prints was to go on a wonderful journey of exploration. Image after images of almost every country in the Asia-Pacific region was there for enjoyment.
Hedda was able to identify from memory the location of every picture. Not that she needed to – her entire collection of more than 60,000 black and white negatives was intact and comprehensively catalogued. We learned that there had been only a small number of public exhibitions of any of the work and they had been nearly twenty years previously – two at the Menzies Library in Canberra; one in Sydney. Something had to be done.
During her twenty four years as a resident of Canberra, Hedda had the opportunity to take photographs at numerous National Press Club luncheons. This gave her an opportunity to capture various well known people on film. The Club, sadly, was not able to locate any of those images for me when approached while researching this article.
There were more travels overseas as well, including return visits to a very much changed China in 1979 and 1982. But Hedda’s real pleasure came from exploration of the Australian bush. In a four wheel drive vehicle, Hedda and Alastair travelled to many places in Australia. They bush walked and bird watched, and Hedda sensitively recorded our natural landscapes. By the time I met her, Hedda had slowed somewhat physically and was no longer venturing so far on foot. But she as still looking at landscapes, appreciating them and making new images.
In March 1989 Hedda shared some of her images with members of the Canberra photographic Society and other interested people from Canberra’s photographic community. As always she described herself modestly, but she nevertheless related some lovely anecdotes. She told how in the tropics’ high temperatures developing of film was done at 3 AM – the coolest part of the day. Film and print washing had to wait until hours later when the heavens released their regular afternoon downpours. She told how she created artificial light by igniting magnesium powder, puffed over burning Meta fuel by the bulb from an old style car horn – until obtaining her first flash until in 1949, long after leaving China.
Society members were convinced of the need to act. In March 1990, with modest financial assistance from Canberra’s then Pro Foto business, a retrospective exhibition of fifty years’ work was held in the Canberra Theatre Centre’s then Link Gallery, covering all areas visited during Hedda’s continuing journey. It was not easy to select the images to include. Some old prints were displayed but, at the age of 81, Hedda made many new prints on her now favoured Ilford materials.
The ACT Government’s then Minister responsible for the arts (later Senator) Gary Humphries opened the exhibition and became aware of Hedda and her life’s work. Numerous representatives of the photographic industry, as well as relevant government and visual arts organisations, were invited to attend in the hope that the importance of the collection would be recognised. Few came. One who did was Brian Keil, who started and operated Pro Foto. This was the flyer for the exhibition and (below) the image on the flyer:
Below are are just three of the other images displayed in the exhibition, plus two captioned images I took at the opening:
Hedda Morrison speaking with Gary Humphries (centre) and a guest at the exhibition opening
Hedda Morrison speaking at the exhibition opening – CPS President Murray Foote (left) and Gary Humphries listening
The exhibition “Travels of an Extraordinary Photographer” was reviewed in The Canberra Times by Garry Raffaele who described her as an “extraordinary photographer” and wrote “her artifice-less pictures are shot through with rich undertones and rich social veins” and “She selects with a cutting eye and with great sensitivity”. Attempts to obtain sponsorship from the industry, so the show would travel around Australia, were not successful.
Arrangements were made for Helen Ennis, then Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, to view Hedda’s prints. She was keen to acquire some of them for the Gallery’s collection. We recognised that the entire collection of negatives would, ideally, remain intact as the photographs were an extraordinary historical resource which needed to be preserved. At the time a Japanese institution wanted them, but there was a chance they would remain in Australia.
Subsequently, all the prints were given to two Australian institutions: the National Gallery of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Helen Ennis was pleased with that arrangement. Hedda’s negatives, however, were to leave Australia. Alastair Morrison made the judgement that the negatives were of greater historical interest, rather than of specific photographic interest. Many institutions do not take negatives, being only interested in prints actually made by the authors. Alastair sought to ensure the negatives went to an institution that had the facilities to properly care for them.
In the few years that I knew Hedda Morrison I shared a number of wonderful times with her. Of course, Canberra Photographic Society had to invite her and Alastair to join in when it entertained two senior visiting Chinese photographers. We had two Chinese banquets with them – the best was the one when the Morrisons chose the dishes. When those two visitors saw some of her images at Hedda’s home in 1991, they were astounded and fund it difficult to accept that she had had access to such places as the private sections of the Forbidden City grounds. The Society was honoured to extend Honorary Life Membership to Hedda in 1990. It was a sad coincidence that she died on the day of the society’s 1991 awards presentation night.
In his obituary headlined “Photographic chronicler of pre-communist China”, The Canberra Times journalist Jack Waterford said “Hedda, a perky sparrow with a wonderful dry with and a touch of wickedness, practised her art to the last, and her passing is a great loss of a link to the past”. Anthropologist Professor Freeman brought a book of Hedda’s images to her funeral for all to enjoy. Many did and remembered her over a lunch which followed. We shared with Aaistair and each other what a privilege it had been to know this lady and see her unique images, which will be an enduring reminder of an extraordinary traveller and an inspiration to many. Her journey was over.
A new book “Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong, Photographs and Impressions 1946-47” was published in September 2005 and initially launched in Hong Kong, where it aroused great interest amongst both older and younger people. The Australian launch of the book was held at the National Library of Australia on Thursday 24 November 2005. Then Canberra Photographic Society President Jim Mason and his wife Loralee attended the launch. So too did members Marion and Rob Milliken, and myself. There was a story about the book and the launch in The Canberra Times Panorama lift-out of Saturday 26 November. In brief, the book (by Australian photographer and writer Edward Stokes) was launched by Dr John Yu AM, President of the Australia-China Council (and previously Australian of the Year). Alastair Morrison also spoke, as did Edward Stokes and Linda Groom from the National Library. Numerous copies of the book were purchased, and signed by the author and Alastair Morrison. All the Canberra Photographic Society members present were amongst the purchasers
The new book by Edward Stokes was a welcome addition to the available material relating to Hedda’s photography. The negatives of the images in the book are now housed at the Harvard University and had been unseen since filed away by Hedda. Interestingly, Edward Stokes had been unaware of the retrospective exhibition that Canberra Photographic Society had organised in 1990 until we told him about it at his book launch.
Edward Stokes (left) and Alastair Morrison at the book launch
L. to R.: Brian Rope, Jim Mason, Marion Milliken, Alastair Morrison, Rob Milliken
Edward Stokes signs a copy of the book
After Hedda’s death in December 1991, Alastair donated a number of Hedda’s items of photographic equipment to Canberra Photographic Society. The proceeds from the sale of those items were used to establish the annual Hedda Morrison Print Portfolio competition, now an important fixture on the Society’s calendar.
In 1993 the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney conducted a four month’s long exhibition of Hedda’s images and related materials, entitled “In Her View – the photographs of Hedda Morrison in China and Sarawak 1933-67. A number of Canberra Photographic Society members attended the opening by Mrs Kathryn Greiner. The invitation to the launch noted that Hedda Morrison had been described as “one of the finest photographers to work in Asia” and that her “extraordinary careers spanned three continents and more than half a century of social and political change”.
Invitation to Power House exhibition launch
Interested readers can view further material about Hedda at http://www.powerhousemuseum.com and http://hcl.harvard.edu/libraries/harvard-yenching/collections/morrison/. There is also some material on the National Library of Australia Website (http://www.nla.gov.au). That library also houses numerous prints of Hedda’s Australian landscape images.
– Brian Rope