Through My Eyes

Melbourne · Angus O’Callaghan

Angus O'Callaghan
Friday 27th May 2016

Today we continue ‘Through My Eyes’, our new photo essay series, in partnership with Olympus. We’re ESPECIALLY excited about today’s instalment!

Angus O’Callaghan is a living legend.  At 93, he’s been photographing Melbourne for over 50 years, making him one of our most important visual archivists.

Inspired by a ‘now and then’ theme, today Angus shares with us a new series of photographs of Melbourne, taken on the Olympus PEN-F.

I’m Angus. I’m 93 and I’ve lived in Melbourne all my life. I haven’t always been a photographer, I’ve done lots of things. But photography has always been there, I’ve always come back to it. It’s always been there waiting for me.

I first picked up a camera in 1936 at the age of 14. It was a 1907 Eastman Kodak box brownie. Then, in 1940 I enlisted in the airforce, and served in WWII. I went to Syria, and when I got there I was tasked as a war photographer, because I was one of the only soldiers who knew how to operate a camera. I toured around with my regimental commander, photographing objects of military importance, like bridges, tunnels, that sort of thing. I completed the assignment, but I never saw any of the photos.

After returning home to Melbourne, I worked as a teacher, although I always kept up my photography on the side. In my spare time, I took photos of the city of Melbourne on a Yashicaflex 635 medium format camera. I had one camera for colour film and one for black and white. I amassed quite an archive of photographs of Melbourne between 1968–1971.

I think nostalgia is part of the appeal of my photos. The photos I took in the 1960s and 70’s are quite popular now. I’ve had a few exhibitions. People seem to like them. It’s because the subject is familiar, but at the same time, it’s changed. Nothing remains the same.

ANGUS ON HIS PHOTOGRAPHIC STYLE 

I’m not a perfectionist. I’ve tried to take a perfect picture, but it’s not really my style. I want reality.

I’m pretty spontaneous. Sometimes I see a subject, and I might even walk away, but then something rings in my head and I go back to it. On second inspection, you find something. Something you missed. If you’re unsure, take a picture.

ON PHOTOGRAPHING PEOPLE 

Lots of photographers make the mistake of leaving the people out of the shots, but then you get a beautiful picture but with no soul. That’s what I’ve found.  A building without anything else is dry. It can be a bit boring.

My photos from the 1960s capture the people, they capture a mood. I like activity.

In these new photos I’ve taken, you see a tram, a bus, a man on a bicycle. There’s action going on. Something about that attracts your eye.

MELBOURNE TODAY vs THE 1960’S

The city was quiet back then. Less people, less cars. Less likely to get run over whilst taking a photograph!

The city to me now is sort of getting tired. Getting unkempt a bit. I do like some of the new things though. I like the National Gallery, that was a good acquisition.

Some people don’t like change. Some people like to live in the same house all their life. I’ve never really been like that. I’ve gotten used to living in lots of houses. I don’t get too attached.

ON DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY

I got my first digital camera in around 2003. In a dreamland I’d love to shoot on film, but it’s not easy. Digital is easy. You’ve got to be practical. I have old cameras there which take beautiful pictures, but for me, digital is easier. It’s gives me freedom. It’s a confidence. I can snap away, no heavy lens or a tripod. A tripod drives me mad. You miss the moment.

On digital you take more photos. But you can take half a dozen photos, and it’s almost always the case that the first one is the best. If it’s a straightforward shot, I just take one picture.

ON PHOTOSHOP 

A Photoshopped picture is beautiful, but it’s beyond reality. You might say ‘oh that’s beautiful’ but you don’t believe it. It never existed.

My argument is, if you’ve got the components of the picture right, the exposure, the aperture and all of that, you shouldn’t need Photoshop. If you have to edit a lot, there’s something wrong with your technique. You can’t make a bad picture a good picture just by editing.

HOW TO BE A GOOD PHOTOGRAPHER

Doing it. Just doing it. Don’t leave it aside for months, keep at it.

Also, you should always carry a camera. You’re seeing all the time. If you haven’t got your camera you’ll think ‘what a fool, you should have brought your camera’. You’ll miss an opportunity.

ON FLYING UNDER THE RADAR

People are used to cameras nowadays. No one asks me what I’m doing when I’m taking pictures. I’m unobtrusive. They would have back in the 70’s, because back then it was unusual. Most people didn’t carry a camera, and besides, they were bulky back then.

I remember once, in the past, I was in this laneway, and I was walking around taking pictures. Suddenly there was a voice, ‘what are you doing!?’. He really thought I was there for ill intent! I just apologised and moved on.

No one asks me anything now. People are in their own worlds more now. I don’t want to say they’re less friendly, just wrapped up in the modern world. When you talk to them they’re ok, or if I smile at them, they’ll smile back. But overall they’re not really interested in what you’re doing. They don’t pay attention.

ON THE OLYMPUS PEN-F

This camera was very good. It reminded me of some of the older 35mm cameras. I used a fixed lens, a 17mm. The lens is very good for its size. Very sharp, no distortion.

It’s quite a small camera. It’s got a lot of thoughtful features. You can switch it over to black and white right on the front, which is handy. It’s reliable. The pictures speak for themselves.

THOUGHTS ON THIS ASSIGNMENT

It was very interesting to work on this assignment. I have had the idea of doing a sort of ‘now and then’ series for a while. I’m not sure if people are interested or not.

I’m like anyone. You feel your talent wants to be used. Whatever talent you’ve got.

A photo is a story, it should tell a story. It can be quite humble, but it should have a meaning in it.

For the true camera enthusiast. The Masterpiece : Olympus PEN F.

Angus O’Callaghan on assignment in Melbourne. Photo – Amelia Stanwix.


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