Teddy Roosevelt, the American president, was an enthusiastic big game
hunter. When asked if he was a good shot he confided ï¿½I donï¿½t shoot well
but I shoot often.ï¿½ We are nearly all photographers and todayï¿½s
technology makes it easy and cheap to shoot often, so, no matter how
bungling we are, we are sure to get a good photo from time to time.
For the press photographer of the past it wasnï¿½t always that easy. Glass
plates were clumsy and expensive and were in common use until relatively
recently. There is a famous photograph of the end of the tied test match
with the West Indies in Brisbane. The photographer was down to his last
glass plate and had just one chance to push the shutter at the right moment
to capture the occasion.
Even if the photographer captured a great image, it wouldnï¿½t necessarily
work in a newspaper. Low resolution black and white printing called for
strong images with the key information encapsulated in a small area.
Subtleties of grey scale or details in the background werenï¿½t going to work
in a good newspaper photograph. And, after all, the photograph was only
there to support the written word of the journalist.
However some editors recognised the growing importance of the photograph
and that, in some cases, the photograph WAS the story that needed only
little support from the written word. Perhaps the changing moment in
Australia came in the 1920s when a special edition was rushed to the streets
with Australiaï¿½s first full front page photograph supported only by the
words ï¿½ LONG SEARCH ENDS ï¿½ SQUIZZY SURRENDERS. The photograph showed
the gangster Squizzy Taylor in bowler
hat flanked by two burly policemen.
The Sun newspaper changed its name to The Sun News Pictorial,
and The Truth knew that if you had a good photograph, a journalist
could always construct a story to go with it unhampered by annoying details
such as facts.
It was into a Melbourne newspaper world with a growing emphasis on the
photographer that a young man from Brisbane made his way. Bruce Postle had
an easy way with people and seemed to have a knack for seeing things around
him that nobody else had noticed. He quickly established himself as a
photographer at The Age where he covered important news stories in
Melbourne. In the late 1970s a tragic event occurred where a light plane
crashed into a house near Essendon Airport. The father arrived soon
afterwards to find his home wiped out and his wife and children killed.
Bruce Postle attended the burial at
Melbourne Cemetery and took a heart-wrenching photograph of the
distraught father being restrained by relatives as a childï¿½s coffin is
lowered into the grave. The editor called Bruce into his office and told him
he was not going to publish the photograph ï¿½ it would only add to the
fatherï¿½s grief. You would have to search for a long time to find an editor
who would make that decision today. The photograph was published a number of
years later with the fatherï¿½s permission.
Perhaps it was this experience that steered Bruce away from the more
conventional path of press photographer as almost intruder and voyeur to a
more subtle role of quiet observer. His photographs of Malcolm Fraser in bed
reading the paper the morning after his election win or Tommy Woodcock
bedded down with racehorse Reckless are not the stuff of the media pack
shouting ï¿½over here ï¿½ over here.ï¿½
Bruce was probably not your best person for following a brief. If sent
off to the country to cover an official event he might spot a family cricket
match and decide to photograph that instead. No doubt he would explain to
his editor that the family cricket match had a more important and enduring
story to tell than the official event ï¿½ and he was right. He was also
capable of making you see familiar scenes through fresh eyes. Parliament
steps is arguably the most public place in Melbourne. But Bruceï¿½s photograph
of Jeff Kennett being greeted by wife Felicity after surviving a party room
challenge make this familiar public space seem strangely intimate.
In an era when an army of photographers are focused on catching
celebrities in demeaning situations, or photographing public figures from
unflattering angles or with ugly expressions, it is refreshing to stumble
across an old photograph by Bruce Postle which celebrates the dignity of the
ordinary person or points out the simple beauty of everyday life. There are
many press photographers, but few who are entitled to call themselves
photojournalist. Bruce Postle is one. Look out for his photos.
No. 6 - Bruce Postle - photojournalist