In 1922 BBC started its first radio service, James Joyce’s famous Ulysses was published in Paris and Angus O’Callaghan was born. Today Angus is 93-years-old, lives with his wife Lynette in Langwarrin, and is about to publish his first book. Angus is a photographer, and perhaps Melbourne’s most-famous-not-so-famous photo documentarian.
Angus was born in the depression era in a family of 11 children. His keen interest in photography took shape early when he began taking photos as a child with a Brownie camera. As a young man he served in WWII, where he was tasked as a war photographer, simply because he was one of the only soldiers who knew how to operate a camera. Upon his return home, Angus began a long serving career as a teacher, always considering his enthusiasm for photography strictly as a side project.
In his spare time Angus would document the city of Melbourne on his Yashicaflex 635 medium format camera. ‘I had one for colour film and one for black and white,’ he remembers. ‘I bought them in a shop on Collins Street for $45 each and this is the camera I used to take images of Melbourne during 1968–1971.’
The year 1968 was a significant year in the life of Angus O’Callaghan and his story. This was the year that he began his self-initiated project ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, a photographic book that paid homage to the quirks of his hometown. It was meant to be collaboration between himself and his first wife Annette, who would write the prose. The plan was to find a publisher and use the book as a way out of the teaching profession and into Angus’s dream profession of working as a commercial photographer. The book featured photos of the city, shopping arcades, hippie youth, architecture, the suburbs, sporting culture, and arts and events. Sadly after many attempts, Angus and Annette could not find an interested publisher. They put the transparencies in a shoebox and got on with life.
The photos were forgotten and untouched for decades. Annette passed away in the ’80s and with her passing the project was abandoned. In the 1990s, Angus married again, and his second wife Lynette discovered this great unfinished project, squirrelled away in a shoebox. Now in his seventies, Angus was encouraged by Lynette to do something with the discarded transparencies. The pair transformed their garage into a darkroom, and held small exhibitions of Angus’s work. The photographic prints were popular, but Angus was still largely unknown.
Cut to 2008. While viewing works for an upcoming auction, fine art auctioneer and artist representative Ben Albrecht stumbled across an old photo of a Japanese woman looking into a Melbourne shop window. The photo stopped him in his tracks. ‘I asked immediately, who took this?’ he recalls. He tracked Angus down, and within the year the two men had become great friends, and together hosted Angus’s first proper solo exhibition. ‘The public gravitated to the work immediately! Three editions sold out within one month, which galvanized my belief that Angus’s work was being taken very seriously,’ says Ben, who now represents Angus.
After the success of Angus’s limited edition prints, Ben thought it was time to resurrect the ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ project that Angus had started in 1968. It was time to turn Angus’s time capsule of Melbourne into a book, ending the 45 year dream drought.
Around about this time, Melbourne artist, designer and enthusiast of all things ‘Australiana’ Eamon Donnelly also discovered Angus’s work. Eamon was just about to launch his website The Island Continent, which celebrates Australia’s unique cultural quirks. After coming across Angus’s work, he knew he had to meet the man behind the lens. ‘I had been collecting Australian photography and books of Australian life from the 1950s–1980s for a good 10 years, and had never seen or heard of this Angus O’Callaghan,’ Eamon says. What captured his attention immediately was Angus’s ability to ‘capture elements of a city that weren’t grand at the time…to show a different angle of the everyday, the commonplace, the changing city’. After an initial meeting, Eamon was enlisted to design Angus’s book.
The trio have been passionately working on the book for the last three years, with Angus as photographer and author, Ben as co-author and Eamon as designer. Though Ben and Eamon jokingly admit that ‘technically, the book has been in development for 45 years’.
Angus O’Callaghan’s Melbourne is the result of all their hard work, and is due for release in November. This June they raised $49,000 in a crowd funded campaign to publish the 256-paged hardback book – double their anticipated target. The book has reworked the impetus of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, and is part compendium of Angus’s photographs of Melbourne from 1968–1971, and part biography telling Angus’s story, interlaced with photos taken by Eamon of Angus at work today.
‘For many people, especially Melburnians, this book will take them back in time. It is a beautifully composed photographic narrative of a city before it changed forever,’ – Ben Albrecht.
It’s been 45 years since Angus set about his dream of one day publishing a book about his treasured Melbourne. At 93, he still shoots the streets of Melbourne today but has since upgraded to a Nikon DSLR. But a great picture comes down to more than just the hardware. It takes a unique point of view to capture a city in a way that inspires so many others. For Angus ‘a city is life’.
Angus O’Callaghan’s Melbourne is due for release in November. It’s priced at $95.00 and you should definitely pre-order your copy now!