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Bruce Postle


Teddy Roosevelt, the American president, was an enthusiastic big game hunter. When asked if he was a good shot he confided �I don�t shoot well but I shoot often.� We are nearly all photographers and today�s 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 wasn�t 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 wouldn�t 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 weren�t 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 Australia�s first full front page photograph supported only by the words � LONG SEARCH ENDS � 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 child�s coffin is lowered into the grave. The editor called Bruce into his office and told him he was not going to publish the photograph � it would only add to the father�s 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 father�s 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 �over here � over here.�

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 � 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 Bruce�s 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.

___________________  White Hat  ___________________

Seven Journalists of Melbourne - overview