Melbourne tramway snapshots

In the late 1970s the tramway employees were the mostly migrants and they saw it to be a better job than working in the factories. The migrants were mostly professionals from South Vietnam with a a few from the Middle East. Since their creditionals (eg., medical or law degrees) were not recognised in Australia, so they were deemed to be unskilled labour.

Occasionally, when it was not peak hour, I would take photos whilst I was working on the trams as a conductor:

Bridge Rd, Richmond

As I could only make photos if I remained a conductor, so I never became a driver. Becoming a driver was seen as a step up the ladder, and it was what most of the employees aspired to do.

Doncaster Rd, Balwyn North

I didn’t make many photos whilst I was working as a conductor. It was difficult. It was much easier to make photos outside of shift work hours by walking the streets of the CBD and the inner suburbs, such as Richmond, Fitzroy and Carlton.


9 thoughts on “Melbourne tramway snapshots

  1. Pavel P. February 27, 2020 / 7:38 pm

    great portraits


  2. Pavel P. February 27, 2020 / 10:49 pm

    Gery , why do do you think there is much seek of nostalgia in photographs. Photographers make look today’s images look like old photos (with use of digital filters) AND/OR they shoot on film in digital era. Why do you think this is happening?


  3. Gary February 28, 2020 / 7:57 am

    Thanks Pavel. Appreciated. These portraits are from my early days as a photographer.


  4. Gary February 28, 2020 / 8:47 am

    Pavel, I understand the nostalgia for film in a digital world as a reaction against the look of digital–its often very clean, sharp and bland. Often everything looks the same. One reaction to this is to oversaturate using HDR; another reaction is to create a filmic look.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pavel P. February 29, 2020 / 8:22 pm

      So, what you say it is a reaction against digital. Dissatisfaction. Sure it is valid,but isn’t it a trap? Digital photo with film look looks like made years ago, so it looses the information about time period. It may have pleasing aesthetics, but the documentary value is lost. Digital (un-processed) image is realistic and reality might be boring to show on pictures. So many photographers would spice is up with film look (or HDR or other filters) to avoid realistic look. I am aware of it, but trying to make my stance to it.


  5. Dean Kyte May 21, 2020 / 2:40 pm

    These are really beautiful photos, Gary, very sensitively observed. Thanks so much for sharing.

    If I may be permitted to break into the conversation between Pavel and yourself, it sounds as though Pavel is saying that a digital photographer ought to use the plain, unvarnished affordances of his equipment the same way an analogue photographer is forced to do. Taking a digital shot without ‘prettying it up’ with filters, etc., either in-camera or after the fact, is as ‘documentary’ a way of taking pictures as your analogue photos above.

    And it sounds to me as though you are saying, in reply to Pavel, that sure, digital photographers ‘ought’ to use their equipment and medium as honestly as an analogue photographer is forced to do, to take a plain, honest, unvarnished picture of life, but there’s something fundamentally ‘dissatisfying’ about the antiseptic cleanliness and sharpness of digital which the human being reacts negatively to despite himself.

    There seems to be a paradox at play: For while the digital image seems to be ‘super-real’ in its sharpness and cleanliness, somehow it seems less real to our human eyes than the grainy, rheumy vision of film. A super-sharp image isn’t how we remember things when we see them before our mind’s eye;— hence the nostalgia you speak of.

    But more than this, I would say that the comparison in affordances between the two media isn’t really equivalent. Sure, a skilled analogue photographer can push against the limits of his equipment to an extraordinary artistic degree with all kind of ‘trickery’, though, as Hitchcock says, it would be nicer to call this ‘technique’. I would submit that there is no ‘technique’ as such in digital photography: the equipment comes with a range of additional features which are clearly intended as trickery, as easy means to distort the too-clean, too-antiseptic ‘super-reality’ of the image.

    You have to wonder why the makers of these cameras include these tricks and gimmicks in their design. I don’t think it’s simply because they can. I think, at some unconscious psychological level, there’s the admission that we don’t and can’t find such super-sharp, super-clean, realer-than-real images æsthetically pleasing. When they get realer than the eye can behold, we have to distort them, we have to get them back to that level of ‘truth’ which shines out of your photos above.

    Somehow the ‘documentary image’ of the digital camera, which is surrounded by a whole ecology of technical deception (even if the photographer nobly restrains himself and never uses it), can never strike us with the same unvarnished ‘documentary truth’ as a photograph taken on film.

    Excuse this long ‘butting in’! I merely meant to say that these are beautiful photographs, and thank you for sharing.


    • Gary June 8, 2020 / 1:47 pm

      Thanks Dean for the kind comments about the Melbourne tramways photos. It encourages me to continue working with the 3 sections of the Bowden Archives project.

      Of course you can pick up the conversation about the differences between analogue and digital photography from where it was left off. You are not butting in as the conversation had died anyway.

      I think that we need to think historically about film and digital.The b+w photos For the Bowden Archives project belong to a certain period—that prior to the use colour film buy art photographers and then the emergence of digital technology.It was a time when film was cheap, and people processed their negatives and printed their negatives in their darkrooms. The aesthetic was one you describe well—plain, honest, unvarnished pictures—a snapshot aesthetic using small handheld cameras (such as Leica rangefinders, SLRs, or Rolleiflex TLRs) bounded by the limitations of film.

      The emergence of digital technology since 2000 has meant that period is now a historical one. Photography is now digital for better or worse–smartphones, social media, internet and high end digital cameras. Its a technology that has allowed us to move beyond the limitations of film. For instance, I can now make handheld photographs in very low light—eg., around 45 minutes before sunrise whilst I am on the early morning poodlewalks. Then there is stacking (which I don’t use) which is combining several photos on top of each other to get something that couldn’t be captured in one shot.

      So my Leica + film has been replaced by a digital camera as my walk around camera because the latter is much more versatile. The output is a photo but one that could not be produced by a film camera. I think that we are trying to do with this ever more sophisticated digital technology is to find an appropriate aesthetic. It is not easy, given the initial result–what you aptly describe as super-sharp, super-clean, realer-than-real. The antiseptic cleanliness and sharpness of digital within the limitations of the current sensors is not that attractive or appealing.

      In trying to find a way around this I–and others—use the film aesthetic as a guide, but we do so without the rhetoric of unvarnished ‘documentary truth’ because we are acutely aware of how the image is culturally constructed. I tend to use my digital camera if it were a Leica—-it’s switched to manual and I never look at the result until the files are uploaded to the computer. I am probably in a minority on this (I continue to use film cameras [with colour film] as well). Most people would find the sophisticated technological features on their DSLR’s very useful.

      Smart phone technology is driving the photographic industry towards computational photography and the response of some artistic photographers to machine learning is to return to an artisan approach of yesteryear–both film and wet plate technology.

      Love your blog by the way and your post on two visions of Melbourne.


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