Bruce Postle, you are a legend!

I went to the Photonet Gallery in Fairfield, run by Susanne and Michael Silver. They run the Gallery as well as operating a high end digital photographic printing service. They are total enthusiasts. Michael is a photographer as well as running the business. He describes it as a not-for-profit company. It’s all done for love and they only just break even. I was introduced to them by Kirsten Bowers, who is a professional dog walker. She walks my dog Chance. She is also a photographer, and had three pictures in a recent exhibition called Washi, which is Japanese hand-made paper used for fine art photographic prints.

Anyway, I went there on Saturday because it was the last day of an exhibition called Fire which I wanted to see. The pictures were about fire (obviously) mainly bushfires. Also I decided to splurge and a get a print of a photo I took at a friend’s beach house over Easter at Rosedale on the NSW south coast, which I rather like.

I was waiting in the gallery for Michael to be ready to see me to discuss the printout. He was busy meeting with someone else. I amused myself by teaching Soloman, the Gallery dog, to sit up and “say please”. He reminds me a lot of my most endearing old dog, Nicholas.

Then the guy who Michael had been meeting with wandered in to the gallery. He looked at one of the photos and said to me “Can I ask you something?” I said yes. “What do you think of this picture?” It was a photograph mostly in B & W, of volcanic-looking rounded rocks, with channels or crevices running horizontally and vertically, with the vertical lines going off into the distance, seeming to converge like railway tracks do. In the foreground was a bigish splash of red, coming from what looked like a cigarette butt. It was the start of a fire caused by the cigarette. In the distance there was a small splash of red, another small fire starting. The guy said he thought they should get rid of the small splash of red because it drew the eye away from the main one in the foreground. I said “yes, I see what you are saying, but the other option would be to get rid of the big one in the foreground, because the vertical lines in the rocks draw the eye into the distance, where the small splash is.” He considered this, and we chatted some more. “I’m Bruce, by the way” he said and shook my hand. “Hi, Bruce, I’m Kaye” I replied. I pointed out what I thought was the best picture in the exhibition, which turned out to be one of Michael’s, which I didn’t know at the time. Susanne came in and we talked some more about the exhibition, and he said something about his photos. “Do you have a picture in this exhibition?” I asked. “No” he replied “I was moving house at the time”.

We moved into the reception area and Susanne asked him how his book was going. He said he had sold 800 out of a print run of 1000. He had been told by marketing people that the market for this type of book was 800 and that he would never sell 1000. I know how difficult the marketing aspect of self-publishing is, so I asked him how he was promoting it. He said by word of mouth. Susanne said they were doing their bit, and pointed to the desk, where a book was displayed, with a notice: “Book of the Month”. It was beginning to dawn on me.

Bruce said he had some events coming up the next week, where he expected a few hundred people to attend each night, and he hoped to sell the remaining 200 books. I said, “why not try to get advance orders from those people, and fund a second print run?” but he said “Oh no, I couldn’t do that. It’s a limited edition, each one is numbered and signed, and I have sold each one with a guarantee that it will never be re-printed.” So of course I saw his point. I also saw that this was a priceless opportunity to blow my next Pension payment and buy my own copy of this wonderful, large format limited edition of photographs documenting recent decades of Australian history, taken by our most celebrated photojournalist, Bruce Postle. I asked Susanne if I could buy a copy, and asked Bruce if he would be kind enough to sign it. He said he would be delighted. Susanne produced a special pen. Bruce opened the book carefully, and placed a napkin on the page so he could rest his hands on it as he wrote, and not smudge the page.

He turned a few pages and told me about the various people who had written comments which were extracted at the beginning of the book. People like John Lamb, Michael Smith and Jennifer Byrne, amongst others. He also told me a couple of anecdotes about how he had almost been killed in the course of a couple of jobs. Number one was his first job, as a teenager. An editor had taken him on, given him a car and an expensive camera and sent him off on an assignment. He set out, rolled the car, which was written off and landed on the camera, which was destroyed. He walked away unhurt and then had to phone his boss with the bad news. Number two was later in his career, I think in western NSW, where he was photographing an enormously long train load of wheat. He was standing on the engine, facing the seemingly endless line of box cars full of wheat, when someone said “get down, Bruce!” He squatted down and a second later the train went under some low object spanning the track. His head missed it by a hair’s breadth. If he had remained standing, he would have been wiped out. He thanked me for buying the book, shook my hand again and said he had to leave. Then he stayed on chatting some more. He told me a story about the assignment he went on to cover the Ash Wednesday bushfires. I told him a funny story about my memory of Ash Wednesday, the afternoon which everyone remembers, when a great red dust cloud almost blocked out the sun over Melbourne, and the reduced light was eerie, like an eclipse of the sun.

Then Solomon, who was focused on me (the source of treats) and not looking at where he was going, got under Bruce’s feet. Bruce was upset because he didn’t want to hurt Solomon, and said he loved dogs. I said I did too.

The combination of bushfires and dogs reminded me of  Tess Laurence, and the story she told me, which I have never forgotten, about the Tasmanian bushfires, in which her family had to leave in a hurry, leaving their dogs behind. They later went back and found the charred remains of the three dogs, who had tried to shelter under the floorboards of a shed. I asked Bruce if he knew Tess and he said he did, although he hadn’t seen her in years. I told him about her bushfire experience and what a dog lover she is. We also spoke about her career, and Bruce remembered her working for the Herald. I mentioned how Tess had broken the story about the famine in Ethiopia and he remembered that. (Tess later said to me in her typical style “Crikey Kaye! The story had already broken. I all did was go and report it.” Well, yes. All the rest of us saw the shocking images of starving children on our TVs, said “how dreadful” then got on with our lives. Tess hopped on the first plane out, at her own expense, and without having an assignment from any newspaper, started filing reports. The Herald then made her Foreign Correspondent. For news of Tess’s present situation, look at the post under the heading LEGAL ISSUES in the menu bar).

Bruce must have shaken my hand and said goodbye about three times, and then got caught up again in talking before he eventually left.

I felt so privileged to meet such a great photographer and have the opportunity to buy his book. I wouldn’t have noticed the book if he hadn’t been there. Susanne told me that the only reason he was there was that he had made a mistake and thought it was the opening of the Gallery’s next exhibition, which was actually the following weekend.

What a modest, humble  and gracious man. In spite of his celebrity, he does not have a trace of arrogance or vanity. I was struck by the fact that he wanted to know my opinion of a photograph in the exhibition, and I am a nobody in the world of professional photography. I have only had time to have a brief look at the book, and it is totally absorbing. He said he went into the ABC around lunch time one day and spoke to Jon Faine. He said “Jon, I’ve got this book. Can you help me out?” Faine said he was “chockers”, totally booked up for weeks. Bruce gave him the book and said “take a copy anyway”. Around midnight he got a call from Jon’s producer saying that he was still holed up in his office reading the book, and asking Bruce to come in first thing next morning for an interview.

Well, that was my weekend. I thought you’d like to hear about it.

This is a sample of his work: the devestation following a bushfire (above).

And this (above) is the cover of the book. See Bruce’s website (below) for details, but you will be lucky if there are any books left. Mine is number 814.

By the way. I took the book to my mother’s place to show it to her. She asked me to leave it with her so she could have a good read of it. I still haven’t got it back. Problem is, I can’t get another one.

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