(James) Brian McArdle has come up incidentally in some recent email exchanges with a public gallery director/photography historian, interested in my father’s work because Brian was editor of Walkabout magazine through the 1960s. This correspondence has prompted me to rummage through the top shelves for my father’s negatives and transparencies. He had become a keen photographer himself in the 1950s having built his career on journalism and his commissions for the magazine nurtured a generation of Australian photographers, like David Beal, (left).
In my last post I noted John Gollings‘ comments about the phenomenon of looking though another’s eyes in re-photographing Mark Strizic‘s work. Here is that effect again, but operating in a much more intimate way. My father died in 1968 and his photographs are the only conversation I have had with him in 43 years.
The 700+ 35 mm classic negative sleeves are packed tightly into two cardboard boxes and the yellow Kodak slide boxes are housed in the battered carcass of an ancient portable electric gramophone player. On each negative sleeve is data for film stock and developer and developer dilution and time, and this records Brian’s settling, after many experiments, on favourite recipes; Tri-X @ 650 ASA in ID11 1:1 for 11min.; FP3 @200 ASA in ID11 1:1 for 8min; Pan F 50 ASA ID11 1:1 for 6 1/2 min.
Each film is catalogued concisely and cross-referenced alphabetically, with entries a mix of his minuscule and rounded journalist’s script and my mother’s (Marie Deutscher/McArdle/Shaw) no-nonsense, doggedly legible, nurse’s capital letters. These fragile, faded, ring-bound pages bring an insight into my parents’ partnership. It was a hard-working, but unequal one, typical of the era, which enlarged my father’s reputation when in fact my mother’s contribution as the layout artist for Walkabout, sales clerk for Brian McArdle Photojournalist‘s business, and assistant photographer, remained uncredited, unknown to any except her children. (She was a very capable photographer, producing the pair’s only clear shots of Her Majesty during the Royal Visit to Melbourne, February 1963).
These photographs recreate a journey through my childhood and teens; full of adventures and encounters that revolved around my father’s career. How wonderful would it be now to share this voraciously sociable man’s love of the arts and everything Australian, and to appreciate being the butt of his wry, tricky sense of humour. On weekends our house was host to lively visitors in the arts, like photographer Robert B. Goodman who woke us all with raucous whistling (Americans!) way too early in the morning before testing his new Nikonos in the shower. [He was producing a lavish coffee table book titled The Australians (1968), which according to Gael Newton sold 200,000 copies].
We’d traverse Melbourne in our Falcon to visit Albert Tucker in Warrandyte, or Mirka Mora (…”your fahzere eesze most intelligent man I ‘ave met”) and husband Georges and their boys on the beach at Aspendale, drive to Adelaide or Canberra or Sydney where Brian would chase stories for the magazine. A roadside encounter with a koala on a fence would turn into an hour-long session posing obediently for pictures; tedious, but rewarded by the sight of ourselves printed in Walkabout. Every holiday held an ulterior motive!
To see through my father’s eye is to have his affection for me affirmed, however distant it has become through time now, and remote at the time because of his dedication to his work, and through his early death regarded then by my teenage self as a ‘betrayal’. My respect for his love for this medium realises, at last, my love of him. However much estranged do parts of life become, photography has the power to restore.