An eye for detail
Thursday, 8th July, 2010
Renowned Australian photojournalist Robert McFarlane spoke last night about his ability to capture the still image.
With more than four decades of experience Mr McFarlane said the secret to great storytelling through photography was about capturing a moment in time.
"It's observation," Mr McFarlane said.
"Nothing is ever trivial.
"Respect the little things people do because that's where the interesting things are."
For 40 years Mr McFarlane has captured Australia's social issues and documented performance in film and theatre. He was a photography critic for 20 years and now is a commentator with his own blog.
His "Received moments - photography 1961-2009" exhibition is now on show at the Regional Art Gallery.
The exhibition uses known and ordinary Australians to relive 50 years of Australia's work, play and life.
McFarlane pointed to one of his photographs of a woman at work in front of a sewing machine. He said it was the detail that made the picture.
"(You're looking for) a picture with some sort of endearing truth," he said.
"Her jaw is set tight. It's a bugger of a job, sewing."
Mr McFarlane said people often failed to get a great image because they forgot about the simple things.
"They try to create professional portraits," he said.
"(But) actuality is too important to muck with.
"The divinity is in the details when the photography is ordinary."
He said gaining access to a private space to capture a person was a privilege that came with rewards if treated correctly.
"It's a privileged space; a privileged access to the subject," Mr McFarlane said.
"It's a moment when you have that ... it has to be respected."
The exhibition showcases a number of photographs of Aboriginal people, including the late activist Charles Perkins.
Mr McFarlane said he had no idea what photo he wanted to get of Charles, the first Indigenous graduate from Sydney University, but told him to "ignore me".
"I didn't know what I wanted. I just followed him," he said.
"I said 'I just want to observe you - just ignore me', which he did very well.
"You have to recognise what you've never seen.
"You have to understand, feel and simply observe the subject. That's where the pictures are."
Mr McFarlane could not make the opening of his exhibition early last month but appreciated the invitation to come and speak at the gallery last night.
"The idea behind me being here is that it's important that communicators or artists speak further," he said.
"One of the things when this exhibition was originally (designed) as a touring art show was that someone out there is going to say 'I can do that' or 'I can do that better', which is pretty much what happened to me."
Mr McFarlane said photography still challenged him; he has been taking photos while in the city and is working with author Jenny Middlemiss on the subject of mental illness.
"(That has been) saddening, challenging and funny and sometimes you photograph through tears ... because that's what happens," he said.
"But I (think) I'm in the right place, doing the right thing at the right time."
He uses and carries with him his "trusty digital" a standard, pocket-sized point and shoot but also uses Canon digital SLR cameras for work.
Over his career he has used a mix of cameras including Canon, Nikon and Leica. But Mr McFarlane moved to Canon when, he said, in 1986 they changed the way photos were taken.
"Canon revolutionized things in 1986 when they brought out a camera with a light metre. Then I switched to Canon," he said.
"I think digital is terrific. The quality is amazing, particularly in low light."
Mr McFarlane said he wanted his images to touch people.
"They are accurate and they are not manipulated - or if they are it's very minor - 'sit by a window or don't move,'" he said.
"I hope the pictures strike a chord because ... these pictures are history - a lot of dead people here - some of them were my friends."