I have been a photographer now for longer than I care to remember. My first fumbling, blurry images were produced on an Olympus 0M10. I was living in a Tertiary Institute Dorm in Sydney, Australia, and my room-mate had an Olympus camera. He took me into the darkroom and I was transfixed as I watched the image appear before my eyes – as he swished the developer back and forth. As they say – the rest is history.
I had a sales job for many years after that, then the mandatory wife and children came along. Whilst still working, I studied at university to become a high school teacher. With all the vicissitudes of life that beset us all, I was still able to reach for my beloved film camera – even through the busiest of times. Then as a teacher and father, I still shot for a Stock Library in Sydney called Austral International (now called Austral Press). I had the thrill of seeing my images printed in text books, advertising brochures, newspapers, magazines and one even won Nikon’s annual Australian photo competition. Back in the film days, not too many people had cameras, or were very good at what they did. Hence, Stock Libraries were quite lucrative and a very nice way of supplementing an income, or even full employment, if you took good pictures and were clued up on what to photograph. Alas, it is not like that anymore. Digital killed it, because now everybody has a camera – in their phone!
I remember at the time one of Australia’s largest banks (which I cannot name – here we call them ‘The Big Four’), lost one of my original images (being film, we had to send the original slide off to be printed). They were planning a National advertising campaign and were going to use one of my sugar-cane harvesting images. The Clowns lost the original slide and could never find it again. Austral International charged them $7,500 for their trouble (a lot of money in 1995 for one picture). I was thinking “go ahead and lose some more please”!
Then during the late nineties and early second millennium, I experienced a traumatic family situation. Sadly, I lost all interest in photography. When your body is hyperalert just to survive, there is no energy left to be creative. I sold all of my gear during this period and I thought my photography days were over. These were long, glum, ‘unmentionable’ years. Years where I had no way of interpreting the life unfolding before me, no way of giving it any context, because something had died inside. Something or somebody that I discovered later, I was destined to be.
Around 15 years ago healing finally came. With huge doses of Van Morrison and a deeper Spiritual awareness – a burning desire to hold a camera finally returned. I purchased a Nikon D700 (then changed to D3X), and spent years travelling Asia with my trusty Nikons in tow. I eventually ditched the heavy DSLR kit and settled for something much smaller and lighter. By chance or destiny or whatever, I ended up joining the Fuji ‘Club’. I had brilliant experiences recording street life in many Asian countries and I eventually settled for a year in HCMC, Vietnam, teaching at an International Language Centre.
It was there I met my current wife and we have been happily together now for over ten years. I returned to Australia where we settled and I have been teaching here ever since. Our last trip was back home to see her parents in Vietnam and then we went to China. We just arrived back from there by the ‘skin of our teeth’ and then COVID hit. Unfortunately, we have not been able to go overseas since, but as soon as borders open and flights commence, we are busting to head off on our adventures again.
I believe being a photographer has totally changed the way I view my world. It was years after I gazed into that hazy image at the bottom of the developing tray – in that university darkroom – that I discovered my grandfather, for many years, was the head photographer for the New Zealand Herald newspaper, in Auckland – wow. I still have one of his beautiful sepia tone images of a seagull flying over sailing ships. This passion for seeing the world through a lens was in my blood – one way or the other it was bound to escape. Come hell or high water I was destined to experience my world with a camera in hand. Suddenly I had some context to see what happened to me during those ‘glum’ years. Years where I was unable to express what was happening within – all because I did not have a camera in hand.
It would be very easy for me to close this missive talking about gear and tech talk. My wonderful X-T3 with that gorgeous 16mm 1.4 ‘glued’ up front. I could further postulate at length how I find my two X-H1’s irreplaceable. One with the 50mm F2 ‘strapped’ on board, for street and portraiture. When I need to totally isolate my subject from the background – DSLR like – I reach for my other X-H1 with the 90mm F2 ‘glued’ on. I could go on at length about the image quality of my Fuji X cameras. How when I compare images from my former D3X full-frame, there is no discernible difference, that the images from the Fuji crop-sensor hold up remarkably well. That when I want to just go light and not have to carry several cameras – just a walk with my wife or to look real low key – I ‘strap’ the lovely little 23 f2 to my X-H1 and I’m good to photograph just about anything.
Or I could tell my story about how in 2017 I fell fully clothed into Inle Lake in Myanmar. It was 4am and in the darkness I missed the canoe and landed in the canal. I went ‘fully submerged’ and the hapless boatman dragged me – like a half-drowned rat – and deposited me in my hotel room. My two X-T2’s with lenses attached were sloshing around in inches of water in my camera bag. I dried everything out on my windowsill and I had those two cameras and the 18-135 and 35 f2 for over two more years – and thousands of more images. They worked flawlessly and had zero water penetration, mist, mould or damage.
Notwithstanding all of these things – it is much more than just gear. I feel the world around me, I experience my ‘dailiness’, interpret and then re-exam life, and the people around me – all through the beautiful images that I am able to create.
The last ten years – the happiest and most blessed decade of my life – I have been able to experience and then share with the world around me – all with a camera in hand. By God’s Grace, there will be many more images to come, countless more experiences to document and share and I can resoundingly proclaim that in those moments, you will find me grasping a small Fuji ‘black box’ in my hand. Thank You Fuji!