My Journey in Photography

1968 – At the age of 8 my interest in photography starts with a Diana plastic camera in 1968. I still have the negatives and fuzzy prints, they show my early interest in documenting the architectural shapes and textures of neighborhood houses.

Diana cameras have achieved a sort of cult status with the lomography crowd (lo-fi/retro/analogue) in recent times – little did I know at the age of 8 that I was a trendsetter! Incredibly the Diana F+ camera was (re)born in 2007, based on the original Diana it can be bought new for around US$100. Go figure…

1972 – My grandfather gave me a Kodak Instamatic and a roll of 126 Kodachrome color slide film. I took photos of car wrecks at the local rubbish dump, lots of crazy angles and shadows in high-contrast afternoon light. I still own this camera. I’ll scan the slides and put them up here soon.

An early photographic mentor was our next-door neighbor William “Bill” Bunker, an English-born gentleman in his 80’s. He had albums full of small contact prints that he developed and printed in his tent in the Egyptian desert when he served in the Lighthorse Brigade, Signals Corp in WW1, the albums were fascinating and I hope they’re now in the War Memorial archives. Bill taught me to dip big u-shaped rolls of film up and down into chemicals on our knees under a blanket in the dark. We’d then expose contact prints using sunlight and develop the prints in the dark in trays counting the seconds out loud. One Kodak…two Kodak…three Kodak…wonderful memories!

1973 – I had a couple of mates at school who were also into photography, Peter and Bernie. We were in the school photography club and we took photos for the Albury High School’s yearly magazine. My father let me use his Voigtländer Prominent 35mm rangefinder camera with its 50mm f/1.5 Nokton, 35mm f/3.5 Skoparon, 100mm f/4.5 Dynaron, and a Turnit finder. I still own this camera, it’s three lenses and a classic Sekonic light meter

My Voigtländer Prominent with lenses and Turnit finder © Andrew K McPhee

1974 – I got an after-school job delivering prescriptions on my bicycle for Blackies Pharmacy which financed the purchase of my own camera, a Pentax S1a 35mm SLR. I rode many miles and pedaled up lots of hills to buy that camera! I don’t own it any more and I kick myself for selling it.

1976 – Upon leaving school I got a job at Aljoy Photo Centre in Wodonga, I worked in the shop selling cameras and film, etc and also started training as a wedding/portrait photographer under Doug Foster. Aljoy had a reputation at the time as the premier studio in Albury/Wodonga, Doug and his wife Bev traveled each year to the USA to learn new skills and techniques. Doug was a master of lighting and I learnt a lot from him. Bev was a master at sales and marketing, from her I learnt how to sell and how to treat customers the right way.

While working at Aljoy I bought my next camera, a Nikon F with a photomic finder and a Nikkor 50mm f/2 lens. A guy walked into the store one day wanting to sell it, we didn’t buy/sell secondhand gear in the shop but I paid him $200 for it. It was a beast of a camera, built like a tank and very weighty. Nikon F’s were used on the Apollo space missions and had a reputation as being bullet-proof (literally – as one stopped a bullet when used by photojournalist Don McCullin in the Vietnam war).

1978 – We got two Olympus OM-1 cameras into the store and I instantly fell in love and bought one, selling the Nikon F. Compared to the Nikon, the OM-1 is a lot smaller and lighter in weight but is built with quality and handling as a priority by the legendary Olympus designer Yoshihisa Maitani. Over time I bought a OM-2 (the automatic version of the OM-1), an OM-4 and a selection of Zuiko lenses – 24mm f/2.8, 28mm f/3.5, 35mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/3.5 Macro (and Extension Tubes), 100mm f/2.8, 135mm f/2.8, 180mm f/2.8 and a 300 f/4.5.

As an aside, the other OM-1 we had in the shop was bought by Cathryn Tremain who went on to become a photographer for the Age newspaper in Melbourne and she was the winner of a Walkley Award in 1994 for ‘Best Feature Photograph in a Newspaper’. Cathryn got much further in her photography career than I did and I offer her my congratulations. I still have my OM-1 and treasure it, I wonder if Cathryn still has hers.

My Olympus OM-1, OM-2 and Zuiko lenses © Andrew K McPhee

Years In The Dark – In 1973 I set up my first darkroom in a corner of my bedroom, waiting until dark when I’d drop the blinds outside the windows and make prints until Mum knocked on the door to tell me to go to bed. I worked for my Dad one school holidays hammering in hundreds of nails (he was a carpenter) and bought a new Durst F30 enlarger. The F30 was followed by a F60 in the many darkrooms in various houses and units I rented over the years. Then in 2005 I bought a secondhand Beseler 23CII 6×9 enlarger. In 2006 I finally closed my darkroom and sold the Beseler and all my darkroom gear, only keeping film developing equipment so I could still use my 35mm film cameras and develop the b&w films. To aid the transition to digital I had bought a Nikon 4000 ED film scanner to scan the b&w negatives I’d developed.

My Beseler 23CII enlarger © Andrew K McPhee

2002 – I expanded my Olympus kit with the purchase of a secondhand Olympus OM-4 from my friend Andrew F. from the Olympus Mailing List. It was pimped out with gorgeous red snakeskin leather. The OM-4 was an advance on the OM-2 having spot metering (as well as the normal center-weighted metering), LED’s in the viewfinder and shutter speeds up to 1/2000 sec. I eventually sold it to a lady in Canada, I must have been nuts and I still regret selling it.

My Olympus OM-4 © Andrew K McPhee

2003 – A high point was when my mate Peter L. loaned me his Linhof Super Technika V 4×5 camera and four lenses. The idea was that I could use it until I sold it on eBay for him. My goodness, it was a beautiful piece of kit! The camera was a precision instrument, in the Rolls Royce class of cameras. It is the type of camera where you put your head under a hood to view the image upside-down on a ground glass screen, the negatives were enormous being 4×5 inches, and very impressive to look at. The camera was big too, but I packed it carefully into a Lowepro backpack and humped it around proudly. Unfortunately I was never able to sell it for him and it was a sad day when he came to collect it.

2004 – My lust for rangefinder cameras never abated and led to another purchase, a new black (very sexy) Voigtländer Bessa-R with a 35mm f/2.5 lens. Being a fan of rangefinder cameras I couldn’t resist it! I kept it for a year or so and put many rolls of film through it before selling it to buy my next camera…

My Voigtländer Bessa-R © Andrew K McPhee

2005 – I had plans to start a business selling landscape photos and prints so I decided to go maximize quality by moving up a few film sizes. So another rangefinder camera came into my life – but this one was big!

I sold the Voigtländer Bessa R (and got what I paid for it, yay!) and acquired a secondhand Fuji GSW690III. This beautiful camera has a fixed Fujinon 65mm f/5.6 lens and uses 120/220 roll film. The negatives were 6x9cm, hence my purchase of the Beseler 6×9 enlarger mentioned above, and with 120 film only got 8 exposures per roll.

The Fuji GSW690III is a handful, a big solid handful of camera and it isn’t called the ‘Texas Leica’ for no reason. The negatives it produces equate to 5 times the size of a 35mm frame or about half the size of a 4x5in frame with detail in the enlargements that blew my mind. I really enjoyed the Fuji 6×9 and used it for a time until I sold it (once again getting what I paid for it) along with my Beseler enlarger and my darkroom gear to buy my first DSLR.

My Fuji GSW690II © Andrew K McPhee

2006 – Was my first step into digital photography when I bought a new Olympus E-500 DSLR with 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 and 40-150mm f/3.5-4.5 Zuiko lenses. More to come…

2020 – Purchase of Fujifilm X100V…more to come…