An Afternoon With Steve Parish
By James Allen
Last Sunday I was jammed tightly into a car with a mixed crowd. Chris Schultz, and his wife Janet, had elected to take myself, Matt Carr and Ashley Hoff to the Marion Community Centre to hear Steve Parish talk on his photography. Ashley had secured five extra tickets and advertised the event to club members. I had accepted. At the venue we were met by Yvonne, Adrian, John Duckmanton and Helen Whitford.
It is hard not to be aware of Steve Parish, whose images have graced the postcard stands and souvenir shops for over 2 decades. He has a penchant for capturing iconic images. Not just a koala, but the koala shot that you remember for years later, a kind of moody soulful archetypical koala. John tells me that he can recall Steve peddling his unique images in the streets of Brisbane back in the 1980’s. My wife’s parents have 2 of his prints, an egret and a lemon flycatcher on the walls of their house for as long as I can remember
I personally picture Steve from a photo in one of his books. He is a slim man with dark curly hair and a beard, up to his armpits in a swamp with an improbably large telephoto lens aimed upwards. In reality Steve is an introspective quiet man, rounded out into late middle age, grey haired, who loves to speak in a personable, almost a self mocking manner. He is passionate about nature, and about his photography. He weaves his story with a home grown mysticism and a sense of self discovery, with many joyous recollections but also marred by 3 divorces and a period of financial difficulty.
His story is of a journey where he meets one key person after another, who introduce and encourage him to explore the natural world. In his teen years as a navy diver and spear fisherman he was encouraged to take up underwater photography by Igor Oak. Later working for Parks and wildlife, Raol Slater introduced him to the techniques of bird photography. Likewise he tells of encounters with microbats, possums and gliders, of plants and lizards, and in the last few years he has become interested in insect photography.
He travels the country in his landcruiser, three cameras with different lenses perched precariously on the front passenger side seat wating for the right moment to come along. It sound like Steve encounters the right moment quite frequently. (There was also an unfortunate anecdote about leaving ½ million dollars of camera equipment in a backpack at a bus stop. I guess that was the wrong moment)
He talked at length about entering that mental state of play, of exploration where he will try one new trick after another, exploring the possibilities of an image. He likes an image to express an element of the meaning of the encounter with nature, the soul of the experience. He has never found that photographing captive animals gave him an uneasy conscience. I’m not a purist. It has certainly never affected my sales. However what did sell is eye contact. “Animal parks” he noted “offer people an encounter with wildlife that can inspire a love affair with nature, help to create the next generation of conservationists.”
He uses a Hasselblad medium format camera, shooting in Raw with a tripod. “If you are using a half frame camera or a compact – you’re not serious, you’re just playing with a toy”. He assures us that no matter how sage the advice to the contrary by the self proclaimed experts, he has found that film is not better than digital. There is no question about it. No comparison. After losing an archive of film images in the recent Queensland floods, he has had the pleasure of re-shooting his portfolio in digital. Compared to diving with two film cameras each with a total of 6 exposures, he can now take 1000 images in one dive and still have room left on the memory card.
The advice went on and on, from colour theory to composition, engaging wildlife, achieving images, handling the light and even writing a business plan and marketing your work. The content of his talk was encapsulated in a series of 4 books for sale after the talk on the technique of photography.
At the book signing Steve was beset by his admirers, me included. I think I saved him from a rather serious looking, non-astute photographer trying to palm off steam train photos in a manila folder. He signed my book. Although he didn’t remember by parents in law, he could recollect the poster of the lemon flycatcher. He agreed to a group photo with the camera club after the signing. I offered him a discount membership to the club and Matt suggested a $15 travel allowance if he wanted to judge one of our competitions. He was very gracious with us, unfortunately he couldn’t find the time in his busy schedule.
Verdict – I think we all enjoyed the day and learnt something to go with it.