Peter and Tony's Photography
People say, you know, 'What are the highlights of your life as a photographer?' And I think that the highlight, for me is being the editor of Better Photography Magazine, because I've had an excuse to basically ring up all of, or visit, or interview all of my favorite photographers. So if I've seen their photographs, I've said, 'Look, I want to make you famous in Better Photography Magazine.' 'Oh, yeah, yeah, wha, in Better what?' You know, cause it's a tiny little country down in Australia Um, and I get a one-on-one interview with them and some of the stuff they say, they ask me not to publish, et cetera. But, you know, it's been just a fantastic education.
And that's given me a huge database. And we'll talk about, you know, ideas and databases, et cetera, how you develop that later on. So that's, that was my starting point. And one year, around about 1994, I got sent a book by Eddie Ephraums, "Creative Elements". Now, Eddie, this was black and white, in the dar...
kroom, so using black and white film and then printing out, in those days the, I guess the starting point for everybody was Ansel Adams. Now, Ansel Adams is rightly revered. I think Ansel was an amazing technician, no question. Wonderful conservationalist, very good politician in his own way. And for people that I know who have met him a really genuine human being. So please don't take it negatively when I say that I think he as a relatively average photographer. You know, we look at Edward Weston, who he was contemporaries with, well, he sort of followed, I mean, he always bowed to Edward, as I understand it as being the more creative photographer. And there have been many other, you know, great American photographers who I think are more "creative" than Ansel. But Ansel, we owe him so much because he is started us off on what makes that perfect, beautiful, black and white print. When we say, 'black and white,' who do we think of first? I mean, for me, I think of Mr. Adams.
Now, so, in that time I was trying to become like Mr. Adams, I wanted to create those beautiful prints. In Australia we had Doug Spowart as a photographer, and he was perhaps our master craftsman of the time. How he shot on little Leica cameras, and produced beautiful black and white prints, which I would look at in exhibitions and just drool over. How could I create them? But I still felt there was a little bit of something missing and, you know, I thought that when we're looking at these black and whites, they are, like Mr. Adam's photos, but, you know, or there is Doug's work as well. Where do we go a little bit different? So Eddie Ephraums's book came along and he had a proof print and then he had what he had created. And this is one of my shots, but, he would do photos where it had been, you know, grainy film, very emotive. Had been toned, also is doing brushwork where he was getting bleach to lighten areas. What we do now, we've selective adjustments in, ah, Lightroom, Capture One, or in Photoshop, we're just lightening up areas, darkening down others. We were doing these with brushes, and dodging and burning in the darkroom. Little bit more roughly, and you'll see from the photos that I've got here that, you know, like this quite strong vignette on the top and the right there. Quite acceptable back in those days, but in today's day of pure, you know, complete control, eh, possibly not quite as acceptable.
And it's the visible-ness of it. When we talk about 'invisible Photoshop,'
Yes, that's right.
That sort of thing. Sometimes what people say they can see the vignette too much.
Yeah. So, I took this book from Eddie and read it. And in my magazine I sold it to a lot of photographers, well, I did a review. And I was right into this book and it helped me greatly. Because the following year, I'd been to a little trip to Italy and France, and I did a few photographs. Some black and white, this was one of them. And I won the Australian Landscape Photographer of the Year, and I was up there in my tuxedo, and I'd just received my prize and I was very, very proud. And Tim Griffith was next to me, he had won the overall Photographer of the Year, so there's the two of us having a little bit of a chat. And then Greg Hocking from western Australia, he bought the book from me and he'd got a gold award. And he walked up to me and I said "Greg, you owe me a beer." And he said, "How do you work that?" And I said, "Because I sold you the book, and I can tell from the print that you were heavily influenced by Eddie Ephraums." And he said, "Fair enough, that's exactly, I was heavily influenced by Eddie." And then Tim, who's the big winner, leans over and said, "Oh, you guys have got that book, too, have you? Let's keep that quiet." (Laughs) So it was a wonderful little, you know, I guess, Eddie, in many ways, had a big influence on a lot of Australian photographers, a lot of English photographers as well. And that was the starting point for me, in terms of exploring photography, not digital photography, but photography in a way that was, you know, so I feel that Ansel Adams has allowed us to stand on his shoulders to take a step further, and, you know, my greatest respect to Mr. Adams.
An interesting thing is, what do you think Ansel would think of digital technology?
I have no doubt that Ansel Adams would be right into it. I mean what we've seen, tend to forget is that when Ansel was at his, in his heyday, in his prime, he was pushing technology. He was going as far as technology would allow him to go. There is no doubt in my mind, and having spoken to a few friends who knew Ansel, Ansel would have said, 'Aw, jeez, when electronic imaging,' that's what he called it, 'electronic imaging, I wish I was going to be around to get into that.' I mean he did a little bit of color photography as well, towards the end, so, you know. He was, most of the photographers we admire were leaders of the time, and so when we sit back and look at what they have done, I think we're not necessarily understanding where they were coming from. If we try to copy the way that they did it, with, and ignoring where we, what opportunities we have today.
This photograph is a, ah, a shot done in Italy where I've hand-toned, you've got the little rocks down on the bottom left, they've been lightened up with bleach using a brush. And then I've used color over the actual stonework, and it was originally a sort of red-y, using a copper toner. And the print is in a friend's place at the moment, only two of these ever made. And it's behind glass, and the copper toner has reacted with the air and is now a bright gold color. So I talk about my photographs as constantly evolving. So, (laughs) So, these images are sort of a style that I've started with. Tony and I were chatting when we're practicing yesterday, this photograph scored a Gold Award, and the judge, one of the judges came up and said "I love this photograph." You know, "How did you get, just happened to be there at the right time and everything?" I said, "No, no, no, I darkened down the background mountains and I lightened up the foreground one, and created the light myself." "Oh," he was visibly disappointed that it wasn't real. And I, this led me to think, well, wait on, if I'm lucky enough to stand there and just photograph nature as it presents itself to me, click, that is of higher value to him than someone who photographs nature, interprets it in a way that is pleasing. And I think that the creativity is being, was being discounted in favor of the, I guess, just the technical ability of a camera to record something.
Yeah, I mean, part of that argument, of course, is intent. It always comes back to intent. Is the intent to deceive the viewer? Or is the intent to present to the viewer a expression? And I think as long as people understand where you're coming from, this is your expression of how you feel. I mean, I know where there's somebody else who's got a copy of that, won't tell you who. But, you know, that's your expression of a place and you have in no way given the intent or sent out the intent that this is exactly what it looks like if you stand there. But you've said, 'this is how it feels to me when I stand there.'
And I think that's the difference. People sometimes get worried about, you know, are you allowed to do this? Is that real, is that fake, are you cheating? I remember one of the Australian Photographer of the Year going back about ten years, they won and the next morning they were on national television in the morning. And it was almost a set-up, I felt for him. It was a friend of ours, Peter Rossi. And he got, he's sitting on stage in the morning, he's a bit nervous and the first question he got asked was, "So you create these pictures, put them together," he was a portrait photographer, he's a fine art portrait photographer, he composited pictures. They're stunning work!
One of the best post-producers you'll ever see. And the first question that came after was, "So, don't you think that's cheating?"
And it was just such an unfortunate question.
It's, I hope that we're going to mature over the next few years to understand that it's not cheating, it's an important, it's an essential part of the creative process.
It's an extenuation of the, what photography has done, since the day it started.
People exploring and pushing the boundaries. And you and I both love contemporary, or, sorry, classical black and white work.
And we both still shoot it. We both love classical color work, but we also like the other end of the spectrum, and we work all the way in between. And that's the invitation we share out.
I think that, ah, I'd like people to understand from my point of view, from both of us is that, it's not that, well, people talk about the post-production that we do indirectly. They say, well, let me rephrase that. They say that the photos that they take are pure. In other words, just straight capture. And they say, 'I take pure photographs.' Now, the only thing that I take away from that is that, therefore I must be impure. And that hurts, cause I'm not impure.
I don't find that impure at all. (Both laugh) But that's where I think that we've got a slight difference. So to me that's not a matter of being impure, that's a matter of pure creativity just like it is, you know, if you want to do straight capture, that's fine. And we do.
And clients ask us, 'Oh, I'm doing a shoot for a strange-geographical-something like that, on a nature competition,' you don't do this sort of stuff. Because the people who are looking at your photographs have an expectation that that is real. And I don't want to mess with that. But in an art gallery, in a photography magazine, hey, when has it ever been real? But anyway. (laughs) So, the final shot that I've got up there is a similar, yeah, going a few years and ah, in Prague. The grain, we talk about the noise of the photograph. There's a heap of it there. And then just lightening up those windows there, just to see what would happen, and that was done in the darkroom. So each iteration took about 10 to 15 minutes, and I might spend eight hours to get one print. Oh, I love digital! (Both laugh) So Tony, that's my dark, my background, but yours,
You said yours in your darkroom,
In my darkroom, yeah, that's my history all revealed now. (Tony laughs) Yours was quite different, wasn't it?
I had a completely different start, you know, as I mentioned, I started off in weddings. Walked into a church and met a photographer who was the photographer for my sister's wedding. And carried her bags and ended up, um, yeah, taking her out on a few dates and the rest is history. So, I followed her into that field of photography not because I hadn't had an interest, but it was certainly an opportunity to get into professional photography. But very quickly, with weddings, I discovered that, I wasn't satisfied just recording the event, I wanted to find ways to present pictures slightly differently. Back, this first shot here, you see was shot in the days of film. So you had the advantage straight up, Peter, that most other people in the room can't capture it anyway. There might be 3 or 4 cameras, maybe a dozen. But there wasn't like, everybody had a phone. Which is totally different, so, back then, most photographers could get away with just recording the event, and a couple of nice pictures with good light. But I still wanted something different, and something more. And I started to discover, probably ten years after I'd been in the wedding industry, and as I was starting to move into landscape and commercially illustrative work, if I look back over those images, I had a real passion for simplicity, I had a real passion for design. So if I look at that shot, it's not that dissimilar to the techniques that I use in my fine art landscape, because I like to distill the image into its simplist form. I like to put a frame around just a small part of the image. Here, this focuses entirely on what she's thinking. Cause she's not even looking at us. And I want people to look at that picture and, particularly somebody who is getting married, or a bride, that can look at it and think, 'I remember that moment.' 'I remember that moment when I was sitting there and I'm thinking about the day.' I want that bride to look at that picture and go, 'Yes, that was the moment I stopped and took a breath.' So, everything about that picture is designed to share that story, about simplicity.
But there are other stories as well.
(Coughs) Absolutely, excuse me, so, this picture here, the client came to me with a painting. And it's amiss of me, I can't even remember the artist, or the painting, but I vaguely remember it was a picture of a guy on a beach with an umbrella, and there was a bride, or a couple of girls bending down to clean their shoes or something. And he said, "we love this painting, we'd like something on our wedding day like this." So, of course, their vision was, 'We're gonna go down to the beach, we're gonna have a sun brolly or a sun parasol, and we're gonna take a photograph of the bride or the groom holding the sun parasol.' What sort of day did they get, Peter? Pouring rain, torrential rain. I said, "Look, I think I can still use that idea to create something else." So the simplicity of this, the magic of this image is in the reflection with a guy, ah, there is a copper plate on the wall, he can just see his reflection. But we're not seeing their faces, and it's all about the protection that a husband can provide a bride. And I don't, you know, it's not about chauvinism, it's not about man-can-look-after-woman, woman-can't-look-after-herself, it's not that. It's just a romantic gesture. And this image is about that romantic gesture. And even in the worst conditions, the idea can still come through. And often, that translates to even when we're out shooting landscape, we get up, we think, 'I'm gonna get beautiful light today' and it's overcast. We spent time in The Rockies, and, 75% of the time, it was pretty flat light, pretty overcast. But we still found the ideas we were looking for, we found other ways to express them. So, weddings started to teach me that no matter what's in front of you, there is always an interesting way to share that picture. I then moved into portraits.
Portraiture, yeah. This was back at the beach time.
Well, it was a river actually.
Oh, okay. (laughs)
And one of the things I started to learn from photographing people in portrait situations, particularly children, is to be in the moment. You know, you can plan everything you want to, but when you photograph kids, it's happening in the moment. If they're happy, they're happy. If they're not, they're not. And all the amount of, 'Can you pretend to be happy?' is never going to translate into something real. When you're out in the landscape, it's the same thing. You can think about, we're late, we're early, the clouds aren't here, the lights not gonna come up. There's still a picture. There's still a picture unfolding in front of you. So portraits taught me that, that these kids didn't want to sit still, so why fight it? You know, why fight it? They wanted to run through the river, I looked at Mum, "Do you mind if they get a bit wet?" "Yes, there's a towel in the car." "Beautiful." So this little kid that wasn't really that interested in his sister, I said, "See how fast you can run through the water in a race with your sister," bang, got it. Emotion, connection, impact, moment, Mum loved the shot.
But I think you can say that same thing there, with that little face.
Well this is is about connection, this is about actually looking at something.
Often when we photograph people, or even when we just communicate with people, there are a lot of us out there in the world, unfortunately, that struggle to look someone in the eye. You get a little kid like this, looks you in the eye, you are there, you are right there and then. And, you know, Dr. Les Walkling, our very good friend, sometimes when you watch him in the landscape, when we're photographing as a project, he would take time to stop and just become part of where he's at. And often as photographers, we get out there and we're too busy shooting, what technique, what lens, what filters can I put on? We're trying to grab as much as we can, and we never stop and just take a moment to connect with whatever it is that we're actually wanting to take pictures of. Or even better, stand there and go, 'What's going to connect with me?'
So Tone, in this next image, there's a lot space around it but it's beautiful colors,
Yes, so portraits taught me other things, they taught me that you don't have to put things in the middle. That often, the placement of the major part, or the major subject, the placement in the image contributes immensely to the narrative. If she was on the other side of the frame, looking out, this would be about what's behind her. But this is about a young lady, and what's coming up. It's about thoughtfulness, it's about almost an innocence, or a vulnerability, so the gesture. Every little part of that picture, tells something and contributes to a narrative. And that's the same if you shoot landscape, or travel, you shoot people, where they are placed in the frame contributes to the story.
So this one's right, well I mean, it's off-center.
The next photo we've got is bang in the middle.
This is about her being proud of who she is, this is about, her being in the middle says its all about her.
The background is fairly neutral, there's not, there's a color shift there, of course it's a color background, but, there's nothing interesting or distracting about the background, it's just there to provide a platform to her. This is about this young woman. Again there's a sort of you know, there brings a knee across there's a little bit of an intent toward one angle, one side but she's placed central to allow the viewer to look at, and go, this is entirely about her. And we start to look at her, we don't start to explore the rest of the frame too much. It's a softness that I like.
So, you're using walls quite a lot.
Like you've got these young boys, is that to simplify the composition, or?
Certainly, and, you know, when we talk about our landscape work, contemporary landscape that we do, for me and a lot of my fine art work, it is as I've mentioned several times now, it's about the simplicity of composition. So with my portraits I've found, and I, a lot of it, I've discovered in hindsight. I'd look back at the images I took for me, so you'd go in and take the shots that they said, 'We want this, we want that, we want that.' Then I'd say, 'Well, can we try this? And I like this, and what about this wall over here' and 'yeah, but that's the side of the washroom.' 'Yeah, but it's a cool wall,' and we know it's a washroom but no one else does. This is a carpark, these were two young guys who's parents had, were getting married, and they were second marriages. These boys are six weeks apart, and when I look at these two boys, one of them an athlete, he actually did that off one step. And one of the sad parts about photography today, Peter, is they look at a shot like that, and a lot of people say, 'Ah, you've cut and pasted and composited.' No, this is one shot. The only extra stuff that I put in is a little bit of texture to give it a gritty feel. And there was a reason for that as well, the gritty feel is to make it a little bit more masculine. The other guy, who is leaning against the wall, well, he's kind of the computer guy. He's the more of the cool, laid back, 'I'm not gonna jump anywhere for anybody.' And I wanted to tell the story between the two of them. So it taught me, with portrait and landscape, it started to teach me that, what's in front of you can be simplified to tell a story the way you want to tell it,
Rather than, 'There's this beautiful picture.'