The art of photographing strangers on the streets of Sydney

Posted February 12, 2018 08:00:39

Everyday photographer Jon Lewis hits the streets to document the ever-changing cosmopolitan face of Sydney.

“What I’m trying to say in it is everybody is important, it’s not just us long-legged white fellas,” he said of the purpose of his work.

“It’s also Asian people, it’s also Indigenous people, it’s also religious people, it’s all that.”

Over the past four years his daily ritual has involved pulling up strangers to make impromptu portraits with the available light.

Lewis can’t predict who he will encounter or what will attract him to certain characters on his journeys.

“I have no idea until I see it, but up until that stage it’s always been a time of wondering what’s going to surprise me or indeed talk to me.”

Last year the State Library of NSW acquired a selection of 50 images from his growing street portraits series that currently includes more than 750 pictures.

Lewis’s portraits appear compositionally straightforward, but it’s a technique he has worked to perfect over a career spanning five decades.

“I’ve always loved [photography] through my adult life.

“Anything good is a gift in this world because the world is so buggered.”

Born to an Australian father and Jewish-American mother in Maryland, USA, Lewis came to live in Australia in 1951.

In the 1970s he co-founded Greenpeace Australia and rubbed shoulders with other prominent creatives as part of the Yellow House art collective in Sydney’s Potts Point.

The profession took him to Europe, Asia, the Pacific and outback Australia, and led to his documentary-styled images being acquired by cultural institutions and private collectors around the globe.

“It’s nice to have the world seen in photographs, of things that actually happened and meant something to a great deal of people.”

Lewis’s assistant Sarah Barker plays a critical role in curating, exhibiting and highlighting the photographs through social media.

“I think it’s important work that needs people to see it,” Ms Barker said.

“It says a lot about society, our shared humanity and how we have more in common than we do different.”

In her opinion the best of Lewis’s images are the result of his friendly and transparent approach with the subjects.

“Most street photography is done with the people unaware that they’re being photographed, whereas he really wants them to be an active part of what he’s doing,” she said.

“So that’s why he seeks permission; engaging with them, it makes them a very interactive part of the photograph.”

“I think it’s dignified and the way to get good work is to acknowledge the person that you’re photographing,” Lewis added.

Although he’s a veteran behind the lens, Lewis admitted that approaching people could still be a challenge.

“Every time I make a photograph I get a little frightened; I’m not particularly comfortable.

“But generally speaking people are wonderful and they’re most accommodating, and if you’re correct and happy with them they will usually be easy to photograph.”

While he always carries a light camera kit, Lewis let in on one tip for making engaging portraits of strangers.

“Humour is a wonderful thing to bring along when you photograph people that you don’t know.”

His exhibition Perfect Strangers is on display at The Photography Room in Canberra until March 4.

Topics: fine-art-photography, photography, human-interest, people, multiculturalism, community-and-society, sydney-2000

How to spot a fake image from the real deal

A shark swimming down a flooded road. A bunch of missiles blasting off in unison during an Iranian missile test.

At first glance they might seem reasonable, but digitally altered images are everywhere, spreading like wildfire on news sites and social media.

So how can you tell if that photo your uncle shared on Facebook is authentic — or has been manipulated?

Image forensic experts have a few tools to spot images that have been tinkered with.

Algorithms can spot cloned areas, like the extra Iranian missile inserted into a launch photo (although, just looking at it, that one is pretty obvious).

Other techniques include building a virtual 3-D model from scratch to analyse the way light falls on a scene.

But for the average person without access to these tools, nor the skills or time to properly pick apart dodgy-looking images, there are a few basic things we can do, said Hany Farid, a computer scientist and digital forensics expert at Dartmouth University in the US.

Reverse image search

Let’s start simple. When he sees an image pop up on Twitter or Facebook, Dr Farid likes to see if it’s been on the internet before by doing a reverse image search, using Google Images or TinEye.

“Every time there’s a natural disaster, people circulate the same silly images of sharks swimming down the street,” Dr Farid said.

If an image has been recirculated from another website, or repurposed for whatever disaster has most recently struck, they’ll can be discovered with a reverse image search.

Better yet, you might find the image debunked on Snopes.com or another outlet.

Get image metadata

So a photo has passed the reverse image search. Next, try burrowing into its metadata — the swathe of information that’s added to the photo by the camera.

“There are many websites where you can upload an image and it will strip out the metadata and show it to you,” Dr Farid said.

This includes the make of the camera, time of day the photo was snapped and GPS coordinates, if that’s enabled.

Better yet, if the image was opened in Photoshop and re-saved, it will tell you that too.

“When you edit an image, it adds its own little bit of metadata,” Dr Farid said.

You might also find a thumbnail — a small version of the original photo — saved with the image, said Richard Matthews, a PhD candidate researching digital image forensics at the University of Adelaide.

“All this happens in the background with you press the shutter,” he said.

This won’t work with all photos. Anything uploaded to Twitter and Facebook will have its metadata automatically stripped, which the companies say is for users’ privacy.

Light and shadows

Time to crack out the ruler and a pencil: the next method is super low-tech.

Shadows and light can reveal objects that have been moved or popped into a photo.

Dr Farid, who studies the human visual system, found that if he showed people images with shadows that were not physically possible, they rarely noticed.

But this also means forgers are also unable to see inconsistent shadows too.

“They don’t notice, but the simple geometric construction is able to uncover it.”

Basically, you rule a line from a point on an object to the corresponding point on its shadow. Do this for a load of points and the lines should converge on the light source.

For an outdoor scene, the lines should be pretty much parallel, as the Sun is 150 million kilometres away.

Take the photo below on the left and the altered image on the right.

The person on the steps and her shadow were snipped out of a different photo and dropped in.

It doesn’t look too bad — until you use the ruler method.

Red lines, joining her and her shadow, aren’t parallel with the green lines drawn between objects and shadows in the rest of the scene.

Use photo or imaging editing software

If you suspect an object has been deleted from a image, software such as Photoshop or Pixlr can uncover telltale signs.

It relies on exaggerating very subtle differences that aren’t usually visible. Even deep blacks contain a whole range of brightnesses, Dr Farid said.

“If someone goes in and erases something, you’ll see a chunk of solid black, everything’s missing,” he said.

Check out this lovely summer Melbourne landscape. It’s missing a couple of buildings on the right.

Play around with the contrast, brightness and exposure, and you start to see these solid colour blocks, suggesting something’s missing.

What not to do

You might be enticed by online tools which claim to identify hoax images. Don’t be sucked in, Dr Farid said.

“The fact is this stuff is pretty complicated and you really have to have a deep understanding of physics and optics and how cameras work and how compression works,” he said.

Ah yes, compression. Most images online are compressed by JPEG — a “lossy” compression method.

It shrinks a file size by taking each eight-by-eight-pixel block in an image, processes them, and discards some of the information.

“The thing with JPEG is it introduces artefacts into the image and in particular, if you notice you have a particularly low-quality jpg image, you get what are called blocky artefacts,” Dr Farid said.

These blocky artefacts — strong horizontal and vertical lines — can look a little like something’s been added to or removed from an image.

On top of these, JPEG compression can produce colour distortions and blurring.

The eyes can also tell a story, Mr Matthews said. Zoom in on someone’s pupils and they should reflect the light source.

“If it’s a flash in a studio, you can see it in higher resolutions,” he said.

If a group of people have been photoshopped together, reflections in their pupils might not all be the same … but Dr Farid exercises caution when it comes to eyes.

“It is possible that in a room there are different light sources,” he said.

“If they’re all consistent, that can tell you something useful. If they’re different, though, the are other possible explanations,” such as multiple flashes.

What about video?

Dr Farid’s “a little worried” about realistic computer-generated videos.

“But when you dig in forensically, they’re not even close to being able to fool a scientist,” Dr Farid said.

Incredibly, an algorithm developed by computer scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology can pick up the subtle colour changes in a person’s face as their heart pumps blood.

“A computer-generated person doesn’t have a heartbeat. So when you do this to them, it’s a literal flat line,” Dr Farid said.

Of course, he added, this blood flush will be added to computer-generated videos in a few years, “but that’s going to be the game”.

But he’s confident that he and other digital forensics experts will be able to stay ahead of the game.

In the meantime, Dr Farid said the best defence against fake images and videos is to stop and think about their source before sharing them on social media.

“Think about how fast people digest digital content. Someone’s rarely going to spend three hours analysing an image, even if they had the tools to do it,” he said.

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Farmers fed up with trampled sunflower fields for selfies

Farmers have expressed their increasing concern at seeing thousands of tourists stream onto their sunflower fields, destroying paddocks and crops.

The tourists are not just trespassing when walking into the golden fields, but also leave rubbish behind and have been caught stealing sunflower heads.

Sunflower grower Craig Smith from Nobby on Queensland’s Darling Downs said on some weekends he had to chase hundreds of tourists out of his paddock.

Mr Smith said it has been an issue for the last two seasons and he believed social media had got a bit to answer for.

“The tourists are encouraged to come and take photos, and we are happy to have them come and take photos, but we are not happy with them walking all over our paddocks and dropping rubbish and taking sunflower heads — which I witnessed first-hand on quite a few occasions,” he said.

Visits to the fields promoted

Many tourists travel hours to get to the fields to take selfies and photos, posing in the golden array of sunflowers.

Information centres in the area and social media promote visits to sunflower fields, providing directions on where to find the latest blossoming fields.

Southern Queensland Country Tourism’s photo competition offered a $2,500 holiday as prize for the best photograph taken traveling in the region.

As stated on their Facebook page in late January, selfies with sunflowers had taken centre stage in the competition.

The chair of the Australian Sunflower Association, Kevin Charlesworth, said that it was getting a bit over the top with tourists walking into the sunflower fields.

He suggested that farmers put up gates and start charging people to go in.

“The media has been doing a bit of a publicity thing on how pretty the sunflowers are, and they are pretty,” he said.

“As a farmer you can’t really blame people for wanting to take photos, but the people that are going onto that country need to understand they are trespassing.

“So people just need to be aware of that and try to take the photo from a distance and be conscious of what they are doing.”

Biosecurity risk small but important

Mr Charlesworth said although the tourists pose only a small biosecurity risk to the sunflower paddocks, it is there and something to think about.

“Most people are from town so they haven’t been walking around in someone else’s property or paddock where you are going to bring in weed seeds or diseases. But there is still a small risk,” he said.

Mr Smith said there was a need for more education as most tourists have no idea why farmers grow sunflowers.

“Most of them (initially) think that we just cut the flowers off and sell them to the cut flower market, but they are very interested to know what the sunflowers are used for,” Mr Smith said.

“There seems to be a need that perhaps there could be a market out there for the tourist to learn more about the sunflowers where we can encourage them to come into our paddocks, at a fee, and teach them a bit about the sunflowers and let them go home with a bit more knowledge.”

While sunflower growers have been battling the tourists’ impact they are facing tough times as the unstable Australian market leaves farmers in uncertainty.

Many have transitioned into growing mung beans, cotton and soy as a cash crop.

Mr Charlesworth said sunflowers have become a niche market as AWB Cargrill withdrew from the oilseed crush market in Australia two years ago.

Mr Smith said they had to be willing to store sunflower products and have the time to await price changes as they can be very erratic.

“It can be $500 a tonne this week and $1,000 a tonne in a week’s time,” he said.

The experts’ secret tips for getting the best photos of the super blue blood moon eclipse

Updated January 31, 2018 15:39:11

If you don’t get a photo of tonight’s super blue blood moon lunar eclipse, did it even happen?

The celestial event last took place more than 35 years ago in Australia, so it’s the perfect opportunity to capture some stunning insta-worthy photographs.

But it’s not just a matter of point and click. Expert astrophotographers Paean Ng and Michael Goh offer their tips for how to capture the perfect shot of tonight’s supermoon.

Planning

Both experts agree planning is crucial, and that starts with timing.

Mr Ng recommended stargazers find the local moonrise charts on the internet, so you can check exact times.

Partial eclipse begins Total eclipse begins Maximum eclipse Total eclipse ends Partial eclipse ends
Adelaide 10:18 PM 11:22 PM Midnight 12:38 AM (Feb 1) 1:41 AM (Feb 1)
Brisbane 9:48 PM 10:52 PM 11:30 PM 12:08 PM (Feb 1) 1:11 AM (Feb 1)
Canberra 10:48 PM 11:52 PM 12:30 AM (Feb 1) 1:08 AM (Feb 1) 2:11 AM (Feb 1)
Darwin 9:18 PM 10:22 PM 11:00 PM 11:38 PM 12:41 AM (Feb 1)
Hobart 10:48 PM 11:52 PM 12:30 AM (Feb 1) 1:08 AM (Feb 1) 2:11 AM (Feb 1)
Melbourne 10:48 PM 11:52 PM 12:30 AM (Feb 1) 1:08 AM (Feb 1) 2:11 AM (Feb 1)
Perth 7:48 PM 8:52 PM 9:30 PM 10:08 PM 11:11 PM
Sydney 10:48 PM 11:52 PM 12:30 AM (Feb 1) 1:08 AM (Feb 1) 2:11 AM (Feb 1)
Note: Full moon occurs at 12:26 AM AEDT Feb 1 (and equivalent time zones).

The view of the moon will be best in Western Australia, where tonight’s moon will rise about 7:00pm, while the peak of the eclipse should be between 9:00pm and 10:00pm.

Mr Goh recommended downloading a smartphone app such as SkySafari, which allows you to slide forward the time to see the moon as it gets more eclipsed or where the Milky Way will be, or Photo Prills, for general astrophotography planning.

Location, location, location

The moon will be in the sky wherever you are, but where should you be to get the best vantage point? Whether in the city or country, both experts agree your geography does not matter.

Mr Ng said the best shots often came from the right vantage point, so a lookout over a city worked well if you want the moon and a city skyline in a single frame.

In the west, Perth’s King Park is a popular spot, while the eastern-most point of Australia — Byron Bay on the NSW north coast — offers an iconic shot over its lighthouse.

Mr Ng said people should try find a nice foreground interest, such as hills or a city skyline.

If your backyard is your only option, Mr Goh said to try include something for scale.

“Find something in the foreground to show the moon, because if you just have the moon by itself up in the sky it just looks like a moon. You don’t see a large moon”

He said people should position themselves towards the west, pointing towards the eastern sky.

Light up the sky

If you’re shooting in your backyard, turn off all the lights as the moon will be extremely bright.

“The supermoon means the moon is 10 per cent bigger than usual but also 10 per cent brighter than usual,” Mr Ng said.

“When the moon rises (about 7:00pm WA time), it’ll be brighter than normal but at 9:00pm-10:00pm it’ll be darker than normal so you get two hours to play”

Mr Ng said as the moon will be bright, “light pollution” from surrounding light sources, particularly in cities, would not be an issue.

Using a smartphone?

For the average Australian using their smartphone, a really good moon shot will be a tough task.

Mr Goh said it would be difficult to get a good shot as mobiles are automatically a wide-type lens, which will make the moon look small.

“It’ll only look slightly larger if you have it with some juxtaposition … so you actually have a building there or tree that basically makes it look a little bit larger,” Mr Goh said.

“A smartphone will struggle to make [the moon] look like anything you’ll see in the professional photos.”

He said one alternative would be to attach your smartphone to a telescope, as you should be able to take a photo through it in theory.

If a smartphone is all you have, Mr Ng recommended zooming in as much as possible as the moon will otherwise be very small.

For DSLR and professional photographers

Both experts agree the longer your lens, the better.

“You want to use the most telephoto lens that you can use, something with 200 millimetres and above would be able to get the moon to a significant size in your frame,” Mr Ng said.

“If you have a 600mm lens, that’s going to produce much better results.

“However the moon is going to be pretty high during the eclipse so you want to use somewhere between 200mm and 400mm.”

But Mr Ng said make sure you have a steady tripod, as the longer your lens, the more shake you will get from wind. He also recommended finding a windbreak, such setting up behind as a wall, to avoid shake in photos.

As for shutter speed, Mr Goh said that was a very tricky topic.

“When the lunar eclipse starts happening, the light on the moon will start changing quite rapidly so you’ll therefore actually be exposing a little bit more as its gets darker,” Mr Goh said.

“You’d still keep the shutter speed fairly fast, it might even go to 1/50th of a second to avoid the motion of the moon moving through your scene.”

Mr Goh recommended DSLR users shoot on mirror-locker or live view modes to avoid shake from the shutter moving.

“You’d be underexposing slightly on the moon … if you were to shoot on what the camera thought was a normal exposure, it would overblow what the moon actually looks like so you lose all of the details on the moon.”

Mr Goh expects he will likely use a tracking mount, which rotates with the rotation speed of the earth — allowing astrophotographers to take superior photos.

They cost around $500 but he said it is possible to make one yourself.

Photo, time-lapse or video?

You’ve got your location, lens and watch set — but what do you actually do when the moon appears?

Mr Ng said taking a time-lapse is preferable over a video, as you would otherwise need to film and track it for an hour to capture the entire eclipse.

He said he preferred to take a still-shot.

“Get the highest clarity, the best image quality and after that you can do significant post-processing on your photos,” Mr Ng said.

Mr Goh is considering doing a time-lapse of the moon changing colour, which could see him take anywhere from 400-1000 photographs.

He said modern cameras meant there was no limit to how many photos you could take, so be creative and experiment with settings — especially given the two-hour window.

Post-processing and beyond

Once the supermoon is over, there are plenty of post-processing options — but some you should avoid.

“Tonight is the blood moon, we expect the moon to turn dark red, so don’t use black and white,” Mr Ng said.

“I would recommend shooting in colour, just don’t go overboard with post-processing and too much saturation or anything like that.

“You want to make the moon look as natural as possible. This is a rare event — try to get it scientifically accurate.”

Mr Goh said “stacking” was one technique to improve quality of an image.

“Some people also take a wide landscape and do another with a long-zoom,” Mr Goh said, but this technique can appear quite fake.

“You can play around and shift sliders back and forth, and whether you’re using a light room or Photoshop, or another software program, there’s an awful lot of opportunities.”

If you think you have a winning shot, Curtin University in Western Australia hosts the annual Astrofest photography competition next month.

Otherwise, Mr Ng said photography is also a personal hobby — there is a lot of satisfaction in just capturing the moment.

Topics: astronomy-space, photography, perth-6000

First posted January 31, 2018 15:21:15

Looking back on life through a lens

Posted January 24, 2018 08:41:00

Many of us might recoil at the thought of trawling through the holiday snaps of friends or old family photo albums, but not Robert McFarlane.

The 75-year-old is one of Australia’s most distinguished documentary photographers and remains a great believer in the value of the fleeting and the ephemeral.

“I love looking at people’s snapshots because if you go through enough of them, you’ll find an absolute gem,” he says.

“The Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov used to say to his students ‘Nothing is trivial. Caress the divine detail and you’ll find something’, and I believe that.

“It’s not about the big picture — it’s quite often about the small, seemingly insignificant, moment.”

Taking a photograph has never been easier than it is today, and the world is awash with images. McFarlane reckons he has clicked the shutter hundreds of thousands of times in a career spanning more than five decades.

But there is still something mystical about the process.

“I’ve always said that photography is a magical, powerful medium that’s as common as dirt, and that’s what I love about it,” McFarlane reflects.

“I’ve got probably a million pictures in my archive. I haven’t counted them yet.”

McFarlane has been recognised for his contributions with a $50,000 award named in honour of philanthropists Dr Jim Bettison and Helen James.

The grant, presented by the Adelaide Film Festival, will help McFarlane impose order on his vast archive, and to “prepare a definitive monograph”.

‘Prime ministers and go-go dancers’

McFarlane was born in Glenelg in beachside Adelaide in 1942. One of six children, he had what he describes as a “free-range childhood”, spending long days playing in the paddock that was part of his home.

Looking at life through a lens came naturally to McFarlane, who possesses a keen eye for the subtleties of human body language.

But it was an encounter with the famous travelling photo exhibition The Family of Man, including the works of photojournalists W Eugene Smith and Robert Frank, that converted the teenage McFarlane into a shutterbug.

Over the years, McFarlane has walked with kings without losing the common touch; he has captured the behind-the-scenes moments of the rich and famous, as well as the down and out.

“I’ve been privileged to observe prime ministers and go-go dancers and all sorts of people, criminals in some cases,” he says.

“It’s visual history and we never had that before 150 years ago. Can you imagine if we had photographs of Napoleon and Wellington and the Romans? We just have to work from words for that sort of history.”

Among those to have caught the eye of McFarlane was a young Charles Perkins.

His 1963 shot of the Aboriginal activist travelling to his family home on a late night Sydney bus is one of McFarlane’s most recognisable images, and has today lost none of its power or subtlety.

‘Photography is about elegies’

“All photographs are memento mori,” wrote American essayist Susan Sontag. “To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability.”

Sontag’s 1977 essay collection On Photography is considered one of the most thoughtful books about the subject ever written. It is filled with richly ponderous ruminations such as these:

  • “Photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction.”
  • “[They] group together people and things which a moment later have already disbanded, changed, continued along the course of their independent destinies.”
  • “Photographs turn the past into an object of tender regard.”
  • “Photography is the inventory of mortality. A touch of the finger now suffices to invest a moment with posthumous irony.”

This haunting link between photos and death is a deeply personal topic for McFarlane, whose son was killed in a car accident in Sri Lanka in 1994.

“I’ve got his life on film and it’s the most extraordinarily vivid documentary of the life of a very conscious, talented young man,” McFarlane says.

“I’ve photographed a lot of people who are now no longer with us and it’s very sad. It’s a bit like when you go through your phone and you see half a dozen numbers of people you can no longer call.

“Photography is about elegies — that’s one of its great strengths. We can look at photographs and have a feeling for who that person might have been.”

That is certainly the case with McFarlane’s famous image of Charles Perkins, who died in 2000.

There is something slightly prophetic about that shot. It was captured just as Perkins was starting to emerge as an outspoken Aboriginal activist, but before he became a household name thanks to the 1965 Freedom Ride.

The photo is a study in the ambiguity of human facial expression — is Perkins biting his thumbnail nervously, or is he lost in thought? His left eye is narrowed slightly, as if focusing intently on a distant dream, but there is a touch of quiet confidence about the man.

McFarlane said the photo had come about because he was “looking for subjects that were sociologically interesting”.

“I’d read quite a lot about Perkins,” he explains. “He’d started to make waves.”

The two men met in Sydney and McFarlane accompanied Perkins to take photos.

“He said to me ‘What do you want me to do?’ because he’d been photographed by a lot of newspaper photographers and they’d have him raising his fist in the air,” McFarlane says.

“I came from a different tradition where I just wanted to observe him, I didn’t want him to pose, so I said ‘Just ignore me’.”

After spending time at the Tranby Aboriginal Co-operative College in Glebe, the pair caught a late-night bus from Castlereagh Street to North Bondi, where Perkins lived with his wife.

“I was just struck by his presence,” McFarlane says.

“There was a drunken man right at the back of the bus, and Charlie had a kind of look of fate — he looked like he knew what his fate was and that he would make a difference, which is certainly what he did.”

‘The challenge is still there’

Today, we tend to take photos unthinkingly, sometimes without pausing to notice what is right in front of us.

Five years ago, it was estimated that Facebook users had already uploaded 250 billion images to the social media site. That quantity grows by 350 million every day.

Given that the number of dead people with accounts will outnumber the living by 2098, Facebook is arguably the world’s biggest digital mausoleum.

McFarlane’s attitude towards this is ambiguous. “There are a lot of photographs that are very indulgent,” he says. But he also thinks of selfies as somehow life-affirming, as a playful protest against the march of time.

His philosophy brings to mind Stephen Poliakoff’s two BBC dramas Shooting the Past, about a vast photo library facing destruction at the hands of developers, and Perfect Strangers, about a young man haunted and captivated by a single black and white shot of himself as a child.

Now almost 20 years old, both shows are about the enchanting paradox of photography, about its ability to bring us closer to the past but also push us further away from it.

Photographs are strange artefacts — without context, an individual photo might seem like mere detritus. But it is this very lack of context that can also make photos special.

As Susan Sontag wrote, “time eventually positions most photographs, even the most amateurish, at the level of art”.

And despite the advances in camera technology over the decades, McFarlane believes his beloved art hasn’t changed all that much.

“There’s no question that digital photography surpasses film photography, but the challenge is still there,” he says.

“The challenge is to make poetic observations of subjects that matter.”

Topics: fine-art-photography, visual-art, photography, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, australia, sa, adelaide-5000, sydney-2000

Lost and found photographs give rare glimpse into working class Australia

Posted January 22, 2018 14:50:32

A collection of striking and candid images of life in a remote mining town in the 1900s has survived time, heat and disappearing into obscurity in a dusty old shed.

The photos were taken by James Wooler, who migrated from Yorkshire, following his wife’s family to Broken Hill.

He was in the town only three or four years, between 1908 and 1911, but in that time was a prolific photographer.

The photographs he took were distributed to universities and libraries around the country, and a selection was retained in the town’s gallery and mining and minerals museum.

Senior museum officer John Fadden said the photographs were unique for their time.

“They show the working-class culture, whereas traditionally during this period the people who were photographed would have been dignitaries, mine managers,” he said.

“What we’re looking at here is a snapshot of life in the Hill.”

Through the eyes of a self-made man

The photographs are a combination of candid snaps of daily life in a mining town and composed portraits of working class families, in the style associated with wealthier classes.

Mr Fadden said that perspective would have been helped by Mr Wooler’s own working-class roots.

“He shows these people with a dignity,” he said.

“The photographer himself comes from a working-class background. His parents were both factory workers.

“He’s a self-driven person. He’s educated himself. He was taught the basics of painting and composition, and this new medium of photography has grabbed him.”

Early social media

Mr Wooler’s talent as a photographer landed him many private commissions, and he also produced candid shots as postcards, an early form of social media, Mr Fadden said.

“The way people shared things then was through postcards,” he said.

“The mines and the street parades were photographed and very shortly after turned into postcards and shared around; a very early social media.”

The subject matter is much the same as you would find on any social media account these days — weddings, children, young people coyly holding drinks at a picnic.

Six hundred photographs lost and found

Eventually Mr Wooler landed a job at the local newspaper, The Barrier Miner, where he became a pioneer of duotone image reproduction.

“This allowed The Barrier Miner to sell itself as one of the first pictorial newspapers in Australia,” Mr Fadden said.

Mr Wooler worked at the newspaper for two years before contracting typhoid, after which he moved his family to the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, leaving all his photographs behind.

“Whether it was to do with his ill health, whether it was to do with copyright with the newspaper, he doesn’t take any of his glass plates with him,” Mr Fadden said.

“It was not until the mid-fifties 600 of his glass plates were discovered in a shed in Broken Hill.

“The dry heat of Broken Hill actually probably helped to conserve the images. The plates would have disintegrated anywhere else.”

The images were split up at the time, given to various universities and libraries around the country.

Photographs from the era by Mr Wooler are still being unearthed in the town.

“Unfortunately, a local photographer, Douglass Banks, passed away quite recently. His wife when cleaning out his studio and came across 50 glass plates that were signed by Wooler.

“There are still more out there.”

Topics: art-history, history, photography, broken-hill-2880

Instagrammers beating destructive path to Tasmania’s natural gems

Updated January 22, 2018 07:29:57

The sharing of stunning photos on social media is becoming a destructive force as Instagram trophy hunters beat a path to Tasmania’s natural gems, warns professional photographer Jason Futrill.

Futrill said waterfalls and alpine areas were being trampled underfoot by Instagrammers seeking to claim their own version of shots they’ve admired online.

And, as he is the first to admit, Futrill has been part of the problem — some of the degradation he has witnessed has been a direct result of his own photos being widely shared.

In a blog post, he called for photographers, tourism accounts and travel websites to reflect on their own impact and take more responsibility for the conservation of the photos they post and share.

Futrill described a chain of events starting with ego-massaging reactions to a nice photo, followed by requests for the location, followed by a travel account sharing the photo with a multiplier effect, followed by a swelling number of people sharing it or adding it to their Tasmanian itinerary or weekend wish list.

Before long, a stream of snappers and bushwalkers will be beating a path to that (often fragile) location.

The process prompted Futrill to ask:

“Are we slowly but surely causing some of the most beautiful, previously out-of-reach, unknown and hard-to-find locations to die a slow [or in some cases, a very, very quick] death?”

The awareness of his own direct role in the degradation of places like Chasm Falls in the Meander State Forest forced Futrill to reflect on the consequences of his photo sharing.

“I was the first to publish it [Chasm Falls] to a large social media profile and literally a week later a huge amount of traffic started to go into the area,” he told the ABC.

“I’ve been in recently and all of the moss has gone.

“The whole area had just become degraded now as a result of sharing that location.”

‘It will never recover’

At not-so Secret Falls in Wellington National Park near Hobart, Futrill said the toll of an Instagram-fuelled spike in visitation was alarming.

He said there were paths appearing that weren’t there just a few years ago.

“There’s just literally tracks that are just now mudslides. All of the ferns, the foliage, the moss — everything that used to be in there — has just been torn out because people just don’t respect the area, and the foot traffic that we’ve caused,” he said.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve done to it now from sharing that location is it will never recover.

“Everyone’s chasing their own unique compositions which leads to the whole area being destroyed.”

‘Conservationist message missing’

Once, before Instagram, before the internet even, the stunning landscape photos of Peter Dombrovskis sold the Tasmanian wilderness as a public asset to be protected.

In particular, his photos helped make Australia care about the fate of the Franklin River as the prospect of damming it loomed in the early 1980s.

Futrill said such a strong environmental conscience was missing from Instagram’s follow-me culture.

Added to that was a false sense of accessibility to isolated and precarious locations.

Futrill said he no longer posted photos of Lake Oberon in the Southwest National Park, which involves a multi-day round trip hike to reach, but “I still get asked about this location more than anything else”.

“Everyone wants to go to Lake Oberon and there’s a belief that it’s a day trip.”

Promotion of World Heritage areas questioned

Futrill said Tourism Tasmania’s Instagram account @tasmania, which has almost 380,000 followers, was part of the problem in its keenness to repost photos from Wilderness World Heritage Area (WWHA) sites.

While these areas are open to many recreational activities, they are not equipped to handle a steady stream of tourists like, say, the Bruny Island Neck Lookout or the Three Capes Track.

Tourism Tasmania’s posts do contain advisory messages about the difficulty of reaching certain locations, but Futrill said its marketing clout was helping to drive huge traffic into undeveloped areas of environmental significance and sensitivity.

“That’s the whole point of them being designated ‘World Heritage’ — so they’re protected forever,” he said.

“They’re [Tourism Tasmania] not thinking about the environmental protection — that’s not the message they’re delivering.”

‘We reinforce the leave no trace message’

The Tourism Tasmania social team scans Instagram photos with particular hashtags and shares about 18 per week to its followers.

Thousands of photos are tagged #discovertasmania or #tassiestyle, leaving Tourism Tasmania spoiled for choice when it comes to beautiful images to inspire someone to visit.

The images serve to promote the location as a destination while boosting the personal account of the source photographer — a promotional win-win.

When asked what consideration Tourism Tasmania puts into the environmental impact of increased foot traffic to areas it promotes, a spokesperson replied:

“We consider a number of elements when selecting images for reposting, that show a range of travel experiences to appeal to a broad range of travellers, interests and activity levels, including a spread of images from across Tasmania’s regions,” they said.

“Tourism Tasmania regularly reinforces the ‘leave no trace’ or ‘pack it in, pack it out’ messages when sharing images of wilderness areas.”

Ethical photo guide

Whether or not other Instagram photographers or tourism groups adopt a similar practice to Mr Futrill remains to be seen.

But as the hunt to capture Tasmania’s scenic treasures is not about to stop, one group has taken action to try and limit the damage.

Natural Resource Management South has published a guide to ethical nature photography in Tasmania.

The guide’s final section is devoted to “social media culture”.

Point three in their tips on the subject reads:

“If you are going to share images of nature online, consider using them as a platform to raise awareness about nature conservation and threats to the subject of your photos.”

Topics: social-media, photography, environmental-impact, tourism, lifestyle-and-leisure, travel-and-tourism, environment, tas

First posted January 22, 2018 06:14:08