Interview with Walter Glover
When, how and why did you first become interested in photography?
I became directly in contact with photography about three months before my 7th birthday. Have been an addict ever since. I was aware of photography and photographers from a very early age: it was all around me. MY father was a publisher, editor and writer, and my mother had been a model in the early 1930s and had had her own beauty column in the Sydney dailies. A mate at school had been given a box brownie and a roll of film. In class that week we conspired and planned what we would do with that first roll. We were in Bondi and up in the local park was a water pumping station with a tower atop it. For our young minds it was a castle or a fort high on a grassy rampart: it held all the romance for us of something ancient, mediæval even. We set off on Saturday and took turns at photographing each other. My very first photo was on someone else’s camera and I do not have it; but I remember it well and went back about 12 years ago with a contemporary mate and took it again. It was a damned fine picture.
What influences you and your photography?
I guess it is fair to assume on a site dedicated to Large Format Photography that a fascination with kit has always been present. Not kit as a collectible but kit as the right tool to do the job of conveying my motif in such a way that it will both please and inform as well as entertain whoever sees it.
There is a whole other visual aspect to photography that is of even greater importance to me. When I first left school I worked for about 5 years in television and film. That, plus the influence of writing (and reading) spawned a strong pre-requisite for narrative. At the same time I started collecting books on and by photographers. My first ever book was “Nothing Personal” by Richard Avedon followed closely by the books “Five Girls” and “Cowboy Kate and other stories” by Sam Haskins. In these works I saw the narrative of the moving image distilled into a single moment preserved (to use Irving Penn’s possibly more appropriate term). The tipping point was the dynamism of david Bailey which meant that I was no longer just an addict. I was now addicted to a very particular narcotic.
What subjects do you enjoy photographing?
It is photography that is the enjoyment for me. The conditioning of commercial practice very quickly brings out the whore in you. You have to photograph anything and everything and treat each brief with the passion that will render a result.
Photographing people was the centerpiece for decades. How that came about I have no idea because I was almost terminally shy and I had to fight hard to put on a brave face and interact with people at will. But I did and I think must have done it well. For quite some time models’ portfolios and actors’ headshots were a steady back-up to advertising and fashion working in commercial studios. When I branched out on my own everything was pretty well tailored to photographing people.
It was quite apparent that a significant difference between local fashion and beauty and the stuff from the major centres overseas was make-up. Stills shoots in Australia at that time did not budget for make-up and so I put myself through college and learnt the techniques. There was a time I was producing 138 cover features a year and I did the make-up on all of them: probably more than many full-time make-up people. I also did a workshop course in Directing under the late Hayes Gordon at the Ensemble Theatre and read a great deal on psychology in order to be able to get a shoot to where it needed to be.
These days people have largely given way to architecture and interior design commercially.
My recreational work is really not so much about seeking out favourite subjects but, rather, celebrating whatever subjects catch my eye.
Can you tell us about the equipment you use in your photography?
Equipment manufacturers have (until the digital era) made great efforts to tailor kit to particular tasks. In the advertising and editorial portraiture market in the style of spontaneity that came about after the 1960s the standard kit was a medium format reflex camera although I did shoot 8×10 Ektachromes for Playboy gatefolds.
I had cut my teeth on large format in advertising and marketing photograpohy. In about 1973 I worked for Arnotts Biscuits shooting bickies on 8×10 at a 1:1 ratio for the packaging. Metrification meant that pack sizes had changed and so they set up a studio to reshoot the entire range. In the studio were three 8×10 Linhof Kardan-Bi cameras. We shot in plan (looking down on the biscuits) which meant working off a ladder all day and with 360mm lenses at 1:1 that meant being high enough for more than 750mm of bellows extension plus the podium on which the subject was set. Awkward, hot work given that we only used tungsten …. Even with the chocolate range.
You work as a photographer. What area of photography do you work in, professionally?
Commercial photography is a very ageist pursuit these days so opportunities have narrowed firstly down to age and additionally down to the every-man nature of digital capture and the effects of post-modernism and accountants on our craft.
There is still a vestige of hang over work derived from my years in editorial glamour: I shoot a feature of a girl with a customized Harley-Davidson Motorcycle for a client I have served for 29 years now.
Architecture, interior design and property development are mainstays. Until digital that was all done on a view camera on either 4×5 sheets or on 120 film with a 6×12 back. For interiors 6×12 is great because you get the expanse of a space without loads of ceiling and floor.
With digital I have a technique of approximating that using shift lenses and stitching panoramas together. Nowhere near as good but as costly as the market will bear it seems.
Would it be correct to assume you work with digital in your professional life? Do you work with digital on a “needs must basis” or do you enjoy that working in that format as well?
I hate, loathe and detest digital capture. Well, on the gear that my client base can support the cost of at least. Little inky-dinky looken-peeper viewfinders that show you nothing. I guess it is relevant to say that since 1965 my career included only marginal use of 35mm film cameras up until 2005. To me, you either did a job well, or you didn’t do it at all. Thirty-five millimeter, and then digital, meant compromising every step of the way. The Vandals have sacked Rome yet again.
What have been your favourite projects and why?
Photography itself is my favourite subject. Photography is vision mixed with problem solving much like a game of chess. It is the conquest over challenge that can make the task of photographing anything a rewarding experience. That is from a technical standpoint and also from an aesthetic standpoint of seeking and communicating the power of beauty in the mundane. Relating that back, again, to the glamour days: anyone can make a lovely picture of a pretty subject — culturally we revere the beautiful; but take a subject less pretty and make a great picture ….. THAT is the challenge.
Commercial projects may look more appealing from the outside but from the inside they can often just be a gun-for-hire chore. It is in my personal, or recreational, projects that I have the most fun. Well, as much fun as limited funds will allow, at least.
I have an ongoing project of urban anomalies which is fun and happens best serendipitously.
I set myself other, more ambitious projects also which time and funds stifle somewhat at present.
- In 2000 I went to Britain seeking out the present day reality of the things about which the Venerable Bede had written of in the 7th Century. That requires another trip and more shooting. It was all done on 4×5 incidentally.
- On returning I set about illustrating aspects of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” — largely reading between the lines. I had found my muse for that but, being a psychologist specialising in trauma care she was called away to work in Iraq with Médecins Sans Frontières.
- Based on a model’s name, Rei, I devised a project on Reification which meant investigating the Logos visually.
- Having the light source visible in frame and the model seen as lighting herself.
- Celebrating the beauty of humanity through breaking with stereotypes and seeking a broad spectrum of types.
Can you tell us a little about your nudes project? This is a body of work I’ve been hearing about from you for some time and have been lucky to see some of the work you’ve shared.
When I was a toddler, in 1952, my father published an art book of pen and ink sketches with poems which was subsequently banned and sent him broke. The sketches were all nudes and none of it was hidden from me. Nudity and a reverence for the human body became an integral part of my being from an early age.
Just as having an interest in photography art the time left little alternative but to ‘work’ as a photographer so too did my interest in the nude lead to me shooting the publicly marketable variation of it. I shot centerfolds for a couple of decades.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and with a plethora of alternative venues for displaying and selling nude photography one can look back and see the social shortcoming of that ethos today, but I am content that I worked with integrity and respect and attempted to leave no scars.
The cost of model fees is a bit prohibitive these days but I do, from time to time, shoot models. Again, it is all 4×5 and self-developed black & white. Like so much of photography, it is not just an exploration of the subject but an exploration, also, of the recesses of my mind towards that subject.
Where and how do you find inspiration?
Art, theatre and literature are all inspiring sources, as is imagination. A huge part of my inspiration comes from a desire not to get to the pearly gates and when asked what would you still like to do answer, “More housework”.
In being exposed so young to my addiction I realize I was given a huge gift and I don’t want to disrespect or ignore that gift. Mark Twain said (among many other things), “ ‘Work’ and ‘Play’ are two words used to describe the same activity with a different attitude’”. On the basis of that, I have never been to work a single day of my life. Every day is a reason to rejoice and celebrate and that is inspiration enough.
Can you name some photographers, Australian or otherwise, that you admire?
That’s a big ask, especially for the Australians. Really we have been pretty crap for a very long time and only a very small few have ever stuck their head up over the parapet.
Of the locals: Olive Cotton, Harold Cazneau, Athol Shmith, Wolfgang Sievers, Jeff Carter come to mind. The greatest of all, for me, is Grant Mudford who worked in a very similar vein to the best Australian photographer the never used a camera: Jeffrey Smart.
Further afield the list is endless: Atget, Frederick H Evans, the Bechers and the Dusseldorf School, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn (have you seen his 8×10 fashion for Issy Miyake?), David Bailey, Duffy, Donovan, Weston, Sally Mann, Jock Sturges, John Szarkowski, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kenro Izu, Gabriele Basilico, Stephen Shore… on and on and on.
Where has your work been shown? Where can we see your work now?
I have a strong belief that the photograph is an intimate communication, perfect for viewing at arm’s length in a portfolio or in a book. I am not saying that I have never been and seen exhibitions in galleries — far from it, I have seen thousands — but for me the desire to hang a picture on a wall is the height of pretentious crap. I don’t exhibit my recreational work. I keep it as purely that: personal recreation. I also deplore turning photographs into commodities groveling at the feet of the charlatans that constitute the alleged ‘art market’.
There have been approaches made over the years by galleries but so far I have managed to ignore them all.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Not really, except to say that as addicts we members of Photographers Anonymous all need to support one and other and assist in each other’s survival.