The digital age of photography has us drowning in imagery, our own and that we consume in all manner of ways.
Since the earliest known photo in 1822, it’s estimated the human race has taken over 3.5 trillion photos – now something in the order of 380 billion photos per year!
Bruce Postle is one of the most celebrated Australian photographers, though he harks from the pre digital era when pictures were taken relatively sparingly, even by professionals. Yet somehow Postle’s images remain more enduringly evocative than most produced today by the most advanced technology, filters and post production.
The legendary photographer’s vocation was a sport in itself which required a competitive drive and fearlessness of an elite athlete.
Bruce took the first of over 60,000 photos at age seven. His father Cliff was a photographer for Brisbane’s Courier Mail where Bruce got his start before moving to Melbourne in 1968 to forge a 29 year career at The Age.
Besides covering the most notable events and people, Postle’s eye for the obscure and ability to render seemingly innocuous subjects intriguing was his greatest value to panic stricken editors searching for the next day’s money shot.
It was a passion that demanded vigilance and Bruce rarely travelled sans camera. Occasionally en route to a job something would flash past and catch his eye. Instinct and chancing on the detour often paid dividends.
An example was a kids’ cricket match taking place amid the long grass of a large paddock, by a beautiful ghost gum. As he engaged the participants he realised he was onto something – all ten of them were siblings. What might have been a full Steenhuis XI was stymied only by an unwell brother inside the house with their mother. The caption; Steenhuis c Steenhuis b Steenhuis! Like so many of Postle’s whimsical shots, it adorned the next day’s front page.
The sometime handy fast bowler was indeed a sports nut, a regular fixture at the cricket, Australian Open tennis, countless athletics meetings and basketball games. Postle also had a great affinity for horse racing, in fact a few years ago the Australian Racing Museum ran an exclusive exhibition of his work. Bruce knew just where on the track there was potential for drama, and he was always generous enough to pass on tips to newcomers.
The study in Postle’s inner suburban Melbourne is covered wall to wall by iconic figures. Sometimes the picture was reward in itself, on occasion there was more. A Sammy Davis Jnr portrait was met with a request by the subject for four poster prints to be sent to the US. One came back signed with a note to say it was the best photograph he’d ever seen of himself.
A unique angle or rare effect was one thing, but most of all, Postle’s will to capture the moment knew no limits. Tales abound of Bruce the daredevil ‘winging’ a skydive and of his many cameras inadvertently slipping his grasp from a great height.
Like the late Rennie Ellis, Postle was a still photographer who never stopped moving, literally and figuratively. It’s no surprise the two celebrated photographers were close friends. Postle is thankful that in 2003 he had one last conversation on the very afternoon that unexpectedly proved to be Ellis’ last.
Creating a rapport and earning the trust of their subjects were paramount to Ellis and Postle’s success As political journalist Barrie Cassidy once said, Bruce ‘could charm his way through the barricades’. One of Postle’s most familiar shots was a satisfied Malcolm Fraser on the phone in bed at Melbourne’s Hilton Hotel following his 1980 election win. Indeed, the capacity to obtain such access was as important a talent as any in his armoury. Bruce was certainly no paparazzi requiring a lens akin to the Hubble telescope.
After 29 years at The Age Postle left the broadsheet in 1996. A Melbourne Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction are testimony to an outstanding career. Postle, along with colleague and fellow recipient John Lamb, were described as the ‘greatest cameramen in the history of Australian press photography’.
Postle still has the odd urge to dust off the lens, being one of the first to capture the effects of Black Saturday. In recent years much of his time has been spent collating his life’s work, converting the files digitally and filling several terabytes of storage space. Painstakingly sifting through the photos finally resulted in the release of his latest compilation The Image Maker.