When I was just nine years old, living in Wahroonga, Sydney, on the very edge of Kurringai National Park with my family, we had a Japanese gentleman visit us. He was a friend of my grandfather and had a little Yashica camera. He let me play with it. Then, seeing how enamoured I was with it, he declared before leaving that he wished to gift it to me. It was one of the best presents I ever got. It was not for this kind hearted gentleman to know but it was a kick off point for my artistic career. Ten years later I was majoring in photography at the National Art School.
Film was not cheap to process in those days and we were a family of modest means, so much of my shooting was imaginary. I may not have learnt much about shutter speed and aperture but I did become familiar with composition and subject matters. I learnt to look, to seek out what I thought would be worth capturing within my surroundings, environment. To begin to develop, take notice of, my natural inclinations. We are all different. We all see things differently, notice differently. The more we pay attention the more we notice patterns. And, too, over time, with practice and application, our taste becomes more refined. Art is one of those things that is self rewarding. You move up levels almost indiscernibly. So gradually, it’s not till some time has past and you can compare your recent work with older work that you see the changes.
I recall, too, the thrill of processing and printing my first roll of black and white film at art school. Removing the exposed film from it’s protective shell in the blackened booth then winding it on the spool in complete darkness was not easy - especially the first few times. But we did plenty of practice runs and the class encouraged each other. Once the film was processed with the right chemicals for the right times, it was hung in the drying cabinet. Then you would take it out and cut it into strips to insert into train track sheets - ready for a proof sheet. So, off to the dark room with it’s towering enlargers, it’s seductive red lighting and the noxious smells of developing and fixing liquids sloshing around in over sized trays. When the proof sheet is done and dried, you go back in and start making some prints. In those days we worked with 8”x10” Ilford paper - matte or gloss for the regular prints - and later, as we progressed, bigger sheets for more impact.
The class, a motley crew, would go out on excursions, all of us holding our humble, functional SLRs. It was the first year of the 80’s - so no one had anything fancy. Early Cannons, Pentaxes, Minoltas. The heavy click of a slow shutter. The sometimes stubborn, solidly built dials for aperture and focus. Everything was manual. Our teacher was just back from studying in New York on a Kokak scholarship. He was hyped and passionate, meticulous. A stark contrast from all the other teachers at art school who were laid back, tired, a little lazy. All of them were artists, trying to survive. Some has teaching skills, others just showed up. I didn’t care either way. I was happy to have found somewhere I belonged, after having tried and dropped out of two universities already. I didn’t want to hear someone stand up front of an echoey hall and pontificate. I did not want to see a textbook ever again. I hated them in high school and was not about to voluntarily stick my face in another one. Art school was loose and easy going. We were treated like adults, like young artists. Eccentricity, individuality were expected, encouraged. It was not somewhere for rote learning. We were there to learn primarily about ourselves. And to do that through expression; drawing, sculpting, photography, printmaking and painting. It was fucking heavenly, to be honest. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
That wee boy, the one who was nine, the same fella who used to be bullied cause he was sweet and sensitive, a dreamer, the one who grew to dislike and feel alienated at school more and more as it got increasingly serious and competitive, authoritarian, well, he, now ten years on, found himself surrounded by others who witnessed and experienced the world a little differently. He found somewhere where the powers that be were not trying to channel him, whittle him, box him in, group him. He found somewhere he could relax, do his own thing, at his own pace, in a way of his own intuitive devising. Finally, finally, he could breathe again.
ART GETS ME HIGH
Author & Artist