Moonlight Mile


Andrew Curtis‘ new exhibition is Moonlight Mile, eerie night photographs of mounds of earth. These are dark, scale-less images that continue in a similar vein from his earlier projects Underpin (2006) and Slab (2003).

Working in darkness he has the photographic equivalent of a blank canvas, though in charcoal black, with his lamps painting in the lighter tones. The result has no equivalent in nature, the eerie artificial glow like something from a dream, or a film. It is all artifice. The setups are intricate and difficult to photograph, the building sites turned into giant still-lifes. –

Moonlight Mile runs at Blockprojects in Richmond from February 6 to March 2.


Ebay camera no. 6


This important-looking device is a Cirkut Camera made in the first half of the 20th century by the Folmer & Schwing company. Cirkut cameras have a special place in the history because they rotated on the tripod and took a panorama of up to 360˚. Inside was a wind-up motor that turned the camera on its axis while pulling the film past a slit. There are currently two Cirkut cameras on ebay.

The camera stands six feet tall on the original mahogany and brass tripod. The film came in long rolls of sheet film, like 10×8 inch film but several feet long. That’s a lot of film. No enlarger could blow up a two metre long negative so they had to be contact-printed, hence the large film format. you can still get that film by special order from Ilford, so the cameras are viable even today.



EO Goldbeck is probably the best known user of the Cirkut. He had a long and successful career as a commercial photographer in Texas.


This is the New York Yankees when they played in San Antonio in 1922; that huge man in the middle is Babe Ruth.


This video demonstration by Richard Malogorski shows you how it all works.


Inspired by Bill Brandt


Bill Brandt, Evening at Kew Gardens, 1937

What were the photographs that intrigued you early on and got you started in photography?

When I was “young in photography” as a teenager, there were some Bill Brandt images in a museum catalogue that taught me about the poetic possibilities of photography and the range of potential subject matter.

Saying you were inspired by Bill Brandt is not original, everyone was, it seems like his role in life was to nudge people into the arms of this medium. There is something about the distinctive personal vision combined with the accessibilty of his pictures.

This image is suspended in time, so gentle it has a sensory effect – you can hear the sound of dusk. And yet look at how simple it is, only two elements: the bird and the background. The beauty of that white form reminds us of Brancusi sculptures, and yet it is purely photographic, taken in a moment of time before the bird moved on. And how other that bird is from us.

Brandt started out in Surrealism and even in his documentary work he never fully left it. This image has some of that aroma of strangeness, of another reality shadowing the ordinary daylight world.


Ebay camera no.5


This ugly duckling is an Ernemann Ermanox camera, manufactured from 1924. It has an f2 lens, huge for its day, and there was even an f1.8 version. The Ermanox, along with the Leica, revolutionized candid photography in the 1920s, but the Ermanox lens, two stops faster than the Leica, permitted low light shooting with relatively fast shutter speeds.

The film format was 6×4.5 cm, familiar in more recent times from the Mamiya 645 cameras so popular with wedding photographers. But that was with 120 roll film, and the Ermanox used cut film, you had film holders with single shots, not a roll of film with 16 shots.

Its extreme compactness and light-gathering power meant that photojournalists could use it discretely and without a tripod. One such was Erich Salomon, famous for his semi-secret photos of politicians at meetings. Salomon would dress up and look well-groomed – see the portrait below – and he would not be noticed in a room of high-ranking diplomats (despite that strange staring expression). Then, without fuss, he would take his revealing photos of the powerful people of Europe in their smoke-filled salons. It was a first and the newspapers snatched them up.

In the long run though, it didn’t help him. After years in the company of the high and mighty, he ended up in Auschwitz where they killed him in 1944.

For $3200, you can own an Ermanox and take photos like Erich Salomon. Find it here on ebay.


Erich Salomon with his Ermanox.

Salomon Mussolini

Erich Salomon photo. Mussolini on the left talking with a delegation of German diplomats in 1931.

on ebay

Darkroom Chance


Greg Neville, untitled, 2013

I’m working on an exhibition with Greg Wayn to open in mid-February at Edmund Pearce gallery.

The exhibition is called Chemistry of Chance and will be an exercise in Concrete photography, (subject of an earlier post). ‘Concrete’ is distinguished here from ‘abstract’. Concrete means real or actual, a thing that is itself and nothing more. Abstract is used for works that may appear non-representational but are derived – abstracted – from representational imagery or things in the world.

This work is non-representational, it has no referent in the world outside of itself. The images were generated by the chance interactions of developer chemicals, water and air, in the waste bins of college darkrooms. Impatient students, seeing disappointing results appearing in the developer, throw the dripping prints into the bins where they change in the darkness in alchemical ways.

The artist here is blind chance, no human intention is involved not even by the student. The weird and beautiful patterns that occur are only discovered at the end of the day when the weary teacher tidies the darkroom. By that time the print has dried, rendering any image permanent, I have some that are thirty years old.

The images are selected by the normal criteria of visual art, form, colour, balance etc. They are scanned and Photoshopped to bring out what was perceived in the original print. They are not cropped.


Ebay camera no.4


The serial number of this Leica 250 Reporter indicates it was made in 1942-43. Is that significant to you? Well, it was smack in the middle of World War Two, and this is a German camera! It would be fascinating to see its provenance, who owned it and what they used it for.

The website states that production ceased in 1942. That would place it near the end of the run of about 1000 units. It’s a rarity, and it will be interesting to see what it goes for on ebay.

My Leica General Catalogue for 1936 states that the ‘250’ as it was then called was priced at £47.16.6. That’s with the standard 50mm f3.5 Elmar lens. It was about £7,350.00 in today’s money, or AU$11,150 (according to Cheap by today’s prices.



Page from Leica General Catalogue for 1936


The case alone is worth the price!



Ebay camera no.3


The description on ebay states that the Petie Vanity camera was “housed inside a ladies powder compact case” which of course means it’s a camera that doubles as a make-up kit. Those metal tubes are not for film, but lipstick. It gives a new meaning to the term ‘compact camera’. The Petie is almost a James Bond gadget and was it was made in West Germany during the Cold War. I guess that makes sense – my father’s name for make-up was “war paint”.

The Petie was a mid-fifties product, not thirties Art Deco as it first looks. The camera side was very basic with a fixed 1/50th shutter speed and fixed aperture. Focus was also fixed, so it’s really a toy, and the 17.5mm film format didn’t help with picture quality. This format was 35mm film split down the middle and backed with paper like 120 film. This is definitely a strange story.

It was not the only Petie made either, there were many different cameras under that badge, including a cigarette lighter version and a music box version, it’s a real class act. You can see more about the Petie on www.submin but you can buy it on ebay for $2500.




Ebay camera no. 2


When its lens is extended this very old Minolta camera looks like a pagoda. How Japanese. Made from 1934 into the 1940s it was labelled at different times the Vest and the Best. It used 127 film which is discontinued, so it can’t be used, but it would make a nice conversation piece, along with ‘holey Rollei’ from the previous post.

Its period of manufacture coincides with the rise of nationalism and imperialism in Japan which culminated in the invasions of East Asia and the Second World War, so it’s interesting to speculate on the pagoda shape being a jingoistic gesture. Despite that, it’s a lovely Art Deco object and at $109, an affordable luxury.

You can see the camera for sale on ebay, and Camerapedia has a detailed description.

Minolta Vest

Minolta Best/Vest advertisement from c.1935


Ebay camera #1


A new series for this blog, weird and interesting cameras found on Ebay.

This is one starts it off with a bang, literally. The camera has been shot, a neat reversal of what a camera normally does. The seller has no idea how it happened, but you could write a short story around it if you wanted to.

The seller calls it a holey Rollei, and describes its condition as ‘perforated’. You can see for yourself at





Mark Strizic, Jimmy Watsons wine bar designed by Robin Boyd, 1962

The recent passing of the Melbourne photographer Mark Strizic takes us one step further away from the historic period of 20th century European modernism. Until I read James McArdle‘s short bio of Strizic on DAAO I hadn’t realised how close he had been to the centre of that rich culture. Born in Berlin in 1928, he twice fled totalitarianism, first from Nazism and later from postwar Communism in Yugoslavia. He was touched by the great events of the century.

As a young man he was part of the great immigrant flood into Australia. Intending a life in science he switched to photography establishing himself as an architectural, portrait and street photographer in the late 1950s. He became Robin Boyd’s main interpreter and you can see why from the image above. Look at how those (posed) figures are placed, echoing the dark windows and giving the picture a surreal stillness.

Like fellow emigrés Wolfgang Sievers, Henry Talbot and Helmut Newton, Strizic helped bring European modernity to Australian photography, a sharp, clear aesthetic that suited the business culture of the mid-century. The images shown here are typical of that Germanic sensibility: the unsentimental gaze, the urge to abstract, the foundation in geometry. Note how the compression of disparate forms from foreground and background creates a new way of seeing a subject. In the twenties it was called “making strange”.


Mark Strizic, Barkly St Carlton, c1963


Mark Strizic, In a Western Suburb of Melbourne, 1961

The best online resource I’ve found of Strizic’s work is at Australian Art Sales Digest, but he’s in all the collections and is not hard to find. Isn’t it time the NGV did a retrospective on Mark Strizic like they did for Sievers back in the early 90s?


Gregg Toland and the FSA


Gregg Toland, still from The Grapes of Wrath, 1941

When you see John Ford’s 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath, you can’t miss the similarity to the Farm Security Administration photos of Dorothea Lange and others. The movie, which won Ford an Oscar for Best Director, was shot by the great, maybe the greatest, cinematographer, Gregg Toland.

Toland’s research for the look he wanted to give the film naturally led to the FSA whose photographers, including Lange, Jack Delano, Russell Lee and others, had covered the same subject as the film, the Dust Bowl period of the South West US in the 1930s.

“The research library at FOX studios has all the visual research archived for Toland and John Ford’s work with GRAPES OF WRATH – including original glossy prints of FSA field photographers like Dorthea Lange, Russell Lee, etc. slapped into rough binders, gathering dust.” – Jean Dodge 2009


Gregg Toland, still from The Grapes of Wrath, 1941


Gregg Toland, still from The Grapes of Wrath, 1941

The images above are frames from the movie.

Now have a look at these Dorothea Lange photographs from a few years earlier. They were taken for the Farm Security Administration to document the tough conditions during the Depression, and might have been in the archive that Toland consulted.

Hollywood is often accused of being the “dream factory”, always making glamorous but empty entertainment, but ‘Grapes’ is one example where this isn’t true (there are thousands of others).


Dorothea Lange, Jobless on the Edge of a Peafield, Imperial Valley, California, 1937


Dorothea Lange, Tom Collins, manager of Kern migrant camp, with drought refugee family. California, 1936 


Dorothea Lange, Pea pickers camp, 1936

Russell Lee’s designs

R Lee Secondhand Tires, San Marcos, Texas, 1940

Russell Lee, Secondhand Tyres, San Marcos, Texas, 1940

If you do a Google Image search of Russell Lee, the 1930s Farm Security photographer, you will see that his typical compositions are busy and complex, and show how he liked to get involved in the subject. These three images are not typical, but they are great compositions anyway.

In the top one, he’s working in a similar mode to his FSA colleague Walker Evans, the straight frontal gaze at a two-dimensional vernacular subject.


Russell Lee, Hidalgo, Texas, 1939

This image of a showcase kitchen breaks one rule of photography, don’t fire flash straight at a reflective surface – the window in the centre bounced it straight back at the camera. But he was clearly interested in the abstract pattern of the cupboards, and it’s one of his most popular images.


Russell Lee, Harlingen, Texas, 1939

This more classical composition is like a late Paul Strand, an even-tempered arrangement of forms to convey some idea about the beauty and texture of humble rural life.

Russell Lee had a long career in photography, so it’s not surprising that his work is varied in style. Working photographers often don’t like the idea that they may even have a style because they think of themselves as all-round professionals, able to do any kind of job.

Despite that, it’s interesting to look at an artist’s un-typical works, which often get lost in the effort to establish them as distinctive and individual. I’ll bet there’s a lot of great work out there that is never seen simply because it doesn’t fit the template of style for each artist.


The Red Desert


The Red Desert, 1964. Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

When the director Michelangelo Antonioni set out to make his first colour film, The Red Desert, he decided to use colour as an expressive component rather than just  the natural colour of the background. With his production designer Piero Poletto and cinematographer Carlo di Palma (later Woody Allen’s DoP) he designed it as a black & white film with colour elements.

I want to paint the film as one paints the canvas; I want to invent the colour relationships, and not limit myself to photographing only natural colours.”

The story follows the alienation and mental fragility of the main character, played by Monica Vitti, in the industrial setting of northern Italy.

To render this, locations that were neutrally coloured were selectively painted to introduce specific elements of colour. In the factory scenes below, pipes were painted in bright colours that stand out against the monochrome background.

At external locations, including the one above, the ground was sprayed with grey-wash to supress the natural colour of the earth, subduing the mood and making the costume colours pop out. In all scenes, costume was selected to give accent and contrast in otherwise neutral settings.

One reading of The Red Desert is that it Vitti’s character is disintegrating because of the alienating industrial landscape. But Antonioni wanted the film to simultaneously describe the beauty of industrial architecture,

“My intention was to translate the poetry of the world, in which even factories can be beautiful. The line and curves of factories and their chimneys can be more beautiful than the outline of trees.”





Seinfeld’s camera


Jerry Seinfeld’s latest project is simple, it’s comedians in cars getting coffee. The show is so simple he named it Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee! Seinfeld picks up a comedian in his car and they drive to a café and get coffee. The banter between them is what makes the show, which is natural and unscripted.


How is it shot? Have a close look at these images and you’ll see tiny GoPro cameras fixed near the windscreen. Together with a third one in the middle, they record all the action in the car. It is a measure of how far we’ve come in the shrinking of camera and recording equipment that a mainstream performer like Seinfeld can create his show, admittedly for webisodes rather than TV broadcast, with pocket-sized gear.

As a kid in 1962, I spoke to a Channel 9 cameraman unloading a television camera at an outside broadcast. It was the size of a washing machine and had to be moved on a large hand truck. He said it cost £10,000, about eight times the average annual wage. By my calculations it would take a worker about 2,700 days to buy it. It only shot black & white and its quality would not have been much compared to a GoPro which currently retails for about $300, or about two days work!




This episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee shows Jerry with Michael Richards who played Kramer in Seinfeld.