Interview: Lloyd Shield by Christopher Deere
The first thing that should be said about Lloyd Shield’s photographs is that they are undeniably photographs – often made so, in the showing, by the inclusion of the outlines of their large-format frame holder in the final picture. His deliberate use of the device is a way of reinforcing the idea of the image as an artefact, as solid and valid as the subject that it represents, the thing that it shows. The effect is almost one of a transposed timelessness: a suggestion of the tradition that his work reaches back towards to keep alive for the modern viewer.
This is his hallmark, his regard for the craft of photography. Steady, attentive and respectful: values that suit his choice of subjects, his natural landscapes and historic buildings and industrial structures. So it’s hardly surprising that his cameras are the kind which lend themselves best to his mindful approach. Large in format, many of them antique, his picture-making instruments speak of the heritage and legacy that his photographs convey so clearly.
Lloyd is something of a late starter to the practice of photography, and this is perhaps a hint of the quality that he brings to his work.
As he tells it, “In my forties, I started doing serious bushwalking. I took a 35mm camera along and collected a series of images. In the late 1990s I started looking at my images; I started looking at the images coming out of Tasmania: Peter Dombrovskis, the Wilderness Society, etc. – and saw that there was a fairly big gap between them.
“So then I asked myself, “Well, how do I get from here to there?” And that took me to medium-format photography.”
It also took him to Photography Studies College, where he undertook an Advanced Diploma of Photography as part of the seriousness with which he wanted to apply himself to the craft.
It was while studying at PSC that he first used a 4 x 5 camera, the start of his foray into large-format work, gradually finding himself doing more than was required for the course.
Carrying on with his earlier smaller-format interest in landscape, he then extended his subject range into architectural and heritage photography. This was partly a response to his realisation that long-range outings into the wilderness were no longer so easy for him. At seventy, he now wants to concentrate upon those subjects and those projects that time and physical ability will allow.
“I don’t miss it in the sense that I haven’t given it up,” he says, of the kind of wilderness photography to which he so much liked to devote himself when he was younger. These days, however, “It’s more from the boot of a car than three days in the Tasmanian wilderness.”
It was his choice of a heritage building in his own home suburb, a municipal council incinerator designed by Walter Burley Griffin, that allowed him to explore his interest in industrial structures, and then led to the first public exhibition of his photographs.
“At PSC, I had to do a folio of my own choosing one semester,” he says. “At that time [in 2004] the building that is now known as the Incinerator Gallery had its transformation. I had to do this folio at a time before it was re-opened, and the Council very generously gave me permission to photograph inside.”
The Cathedrals of Industry exhibition, which coincided with the final refurbishment of the building, was held in the Incinerator Gallery in 2011. It featured a series of Lloyd’s photographs of the many old interior details. One of his photographs, ‘Hanging in the Balance’, shows a tightly framed view of a set of balance scales, its dead weights angled like the stocky arms of a soldier at lazy attention. The image was used on the poster for the exhibition.
The determination that Lloyd brings to his work as a large-format photographer is obvious in the way that he speaks of its technical and temperamental value for his choice of subjects. The exact and careful effort of making each picture and print is no deterrence for him. In fact, it is the very reason why he works in this way. The old methodical habits of his long working life are now carried over to the camera-work, and it shows.
Says Lloyd, “Shooting full frame, of course, requires a fair amount of discipline, because there’s no cropping involved – minimal distraction, minimal intrusion.”
Lloyd’s workmanlike attitude to the craft is plain in every aspect of his practice: the framing, the capture, the developing, the printing and the display. The print is the final product of his serious work, the outcome of his choice of application as a dedicated photographer. It serves as the proof of his clear-eyed vision.
“I work best when I’ve got a purpose,” he reveals. “I work best when I’ve got a project.”
One of his current projects, soon to draw to a close, is a large series of photographs of old post office buildings in Victoria – few of which, now, are still being used for their original purpose. As he puts it, “I thought … wouldn’t it be good to have a record of all the post offices in Victoria built before 1900, essentially the Victorian era.”
An early tally of thirty, reached through a search of the official records of Heritage Victoria and The National Trust, gradually grew to include a larger number of other discoveries found by local referrals and sheer footwork. Lloyd’s collection of post office images now runs to more than ninety.
However, he can now see that the end is drawing near. The choice of a round number to match the grace of the subjects has made up his mind.
“I decided I’d get to one hundred and maybe call it quits,” he says.
Apart from the modern appearance of the car in the frame, his photograph of the post office building at Flemington could seemingly have been made at the time of its opening in 1854. The light-toned black-and-white image is as contemporary as it is nostalgic, and formal in its full-view composition. To a local, the picture might surprise with a stranger’s view something that he sees almost every day.
Lloyd’s aim seems simply to ensure that the series is completed, that the record is kept and made available for a wider audience. He looks forward to an exhibition or a book or an e-book, any outlet that will give other people a chance to see these magnificent places before they disappear forever. He smiles a little at the suggestion of a series of postage stamps.
“I have no pre-conceived ideas as to how important or not my images might be in terms of conservation,” he says. “But I have a sense that unless you bring things to people’s attention, they don’t know about it.”
Indeed, Lloyd is quite straightforward about the worth and purpose of these photographs: “What I’m trying to do is literally make a portrait of a building.”
Which is why he uses the big boxes and takes all of the time that he needs to do the job properly. It’s always an ongoing process: each new image is a new exercise in working out how to make it happen. “I guess it’s just on ten years since I first held a large-format camera,” he says, “and I don’t consider myself to have become an expert in the field. I still see myself as a learner.” The only other kind of photography that he ever practises is the kind that lends itself best to convenience: “I use digital for travel.”
To the mild bemusement of his wife, Jan, Lloyd owns more than twenty antique large-format or view cameras. Most are in working order, but he does not make a point of using each one for the sake of making a photograph. “They’re more for the enjoyment of restoring, preserving,” he says, “and giving them a longer life.”
As it happens, there are other purposes to which an antique camera can be put beyond the photographic. One of his restored cameras was recently used as a prop in a VCA student movie, lending a detail of period authenticity for which the actors were grateful.
Working from the well-equipped darkroom and studio in his home at Moonee Ponds, Lloyd is now free to devote himself to his passion as a photographer. A long career in medical science is now behind him; so, it is time for the creative side of his character to make itself known.
“I have essentially spent my life in a scientific field, with no intimate contact with the arts,” he says. “I did not ever think that I had an artistic bone in my body.”
The quiet contentment that Lloyd feels for the vocation that he now follows is plain in the saying out of his last remark:
“I think I’ve been lucky enough to find some way of bringing it [creativity] to the surface, and that’s through photography.”