Saturday Evening Post #127 : Formidable Ancestors

I have been musing the past week over the horrendous floods that have swept through parts of New South Wales. Having lived and worked in the area around Newcastle and Maitland in another universe, I had more than a nodding acquaintance with what ‘High Water Mark’ means. 

What struck me even more were the visuals, both video and still photography, of the rescue operations, and the shattered lives that were saved from the merciless waters.

It took me back, to a photograph that had quite an impact on me as a young lad.  (I’ve searched across the web, and haven’t been able to locate a copy sadly). 
The photograph was taken around 1961 or 1963 as best I can recall.  I’m fairly certain it was taken in Newcastle, or perhaps Maitland, but I do know it was in that area.  I think also, and I’m trying to recall a young lad’s impression of the image, that it was a newspaper front pager. And because of the circumstances I remember the image, it was most likely a Walkley Award winner. 

The photograph showed a small child, and the mother being rescued into a boat from the surrounding waters, with a rescuer in the water with the pair.  What struck me, as a young lad, was, that the child could have been me. And of course the mother, my own Mum, and rescuer any number of people I’d known to help out folk in crisis. 

The impact of the image is important, because it is probably the first photograph I can recall that was more than a record of some event. It carried a personal story—an emotion of the agony of the family, the drama of the rescue and the concern of the man helping in the water. 

Up to then, my interest in learning photography was limited to photos of a cat called “Blackie” in the safety and security of our backyard.  Here in this one image was a world that outside of my childhood interest and I saw how powerful photography could be at storytelling.  So much so that it is probably at that moment the first spark of making photography my life passion was kindled. 

Now of course, as a blog scribe I have to be careful not to read a lifetime of experience back into a childhood lightbulb moment, but the point is that image is one that I can recall, and the magazine I saw it published in travelled with me for quite a few years of my youth.  Sadly one too many moves, and changes of interest, and now, I am bereft of the photo, but hold still the vivid memory. 
As I contemplate it now, it is to my loss, that I didn’t follow through with that initial enthusiasm, and I chose to work in fields other than documentary photography. Yet I feel that every time I press the shutter, something of that lightbulb moment is present. 
I also came across a quote from writer T. S. Eliot this week, he of The Waste Land,  in an essay from 1919. He was deploring the tendency of many critics to only be interested in novelty and difference from other’s work. 

He wrote, “… not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.’

So I muse, how much of that photographer of the moment of pathos influenced the work I’ve made over the years, and of course how much of my current, and future work.  Rhetorical, I understand.

Here is an image I found while I was searching that was taken several years earlier in the same area, and while not the visual impact of ‘my’ photo, it shows what dreadful impact the floods have on people’s lives. 

This is not the photo I have spoken about, but gives the idea of the work of press photographers at the time

copyright is Newcastle Herald

Now back to the present.
The weather has kept us home the past few days, and #kneetoo has been to a number of medical rounds as the foundation for her new addition.

I took the time to clean the camera, lens and kit, and was outside just checking the focus and things, when Tai Chi pigeon dropped by to see how my practice was going.  Seeing me otherwise engaged it moved to an outside fence, and for just a moment turned toward me against the rich dark shadows of the neighbour’s tree. 

Might not win a Walkley, however I enjoyed the company for just a few moments. As I pressed the shutter, I realised I’d left the exposure set for a much darker scene a few clicks earlier.  Overexposed! Oh dear. A quick twirl of the dial and I was back in the groove.
Which just goes to show, that like all good craft skills, photography needs a dedication to keep sharp for what may happen next. 

6 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #127 : Formidable Ancestors

  1. There are indeed some images we see that have a great impact on us. And stay with us for life. Often it is one from a press photog. I am surprised that the one you mention doesn’t seem like it is on line anywhere, it would an experience to see it!
    A lovely image of your pigeon, David. Our pair are very people/camera shy, I don’t have one even half decent image of them. As to this week, I was hoping to go for a wander today but looks like I am out of time and the rest of the week is pretty much booked out although I will get our eldest to take Di to some appointments so I might catch an hour here or there. Hope that #kneetoo/EE has her surgery soon and that both it and the rehab go smoothly and quickly.

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    1. G’day David, I obviously am not describing it correctly for uncle google. 🙂 I also have to conclude that over the years I’ve probably given it a life of its own in my mind. It also says much to me, I think, about the way we make those important career decisions. As you know with the exception of the dailies in Australia the smaller papers didn’t have space on the desk for a full time ‘press photographer’. One of the photographers I started working for used to do the weekly paper shots on an ad hoc basis. The glories of Clark Kent and Jimmie Olsen were for the comic heroes.

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  2. So true David how an image can capture or emotions and so stir us within and stay with us for a lifetime. This is the skill of the capturing the intensity of the feelings of human suffering and expression of that moment, that one off moment. Now you do this with the birds, and so well. It is good to feel the warmth of the sun again and see things drying out having siphoned water from the basement under the house for the last couple of days. One thing that I notice with darker photos is that the boldness and richness of the colour is more prominent as with Spotted Turtle-dove. Praying your wife’s surgery goes smoothly and for a fast recovery. Hope this week is sunnier.

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    1. Hello Ashley, hope that the water is as they say biblically, ‘And the waters returned from off the earth continually’ 🙂
      I have in this blog talked to a number of photos that had an effect upon me. Each one brings interesting understanding of themes and sometimes struggle. We live now in an age of visual overload and its hard for photos to hold more than a 30 second instagram effect.

      I think the wonderful low level light has draped over the shape, and melded into the colours on this shot. The advantage of the very dark backdrop is that jewel on black velvet effect.

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  3. Coming a bit late to the party … like others, I really like the dark background in your image, which sets off the delicate shades of the dove so beautifully. And I must confess it is heartening to know that even you take shots with the wrong setting on the camera! I’m glad the dove was prepared to wait for you to sort things out in order to get this lovely portrait.

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    1. Hi Eleanor, it has been said, a good photographer is to be judged by the size of their wastepaperbin, or in digital their Trash File. 🙂
      Tai Chi Pigeon is really quite people friendly, although when #kneetoo opens the door and the bird flies in she will quickly depart after a look around. We do it to see the effect sometimes. 🙂

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