25 March 2013

2013 Fremantle International Portrait Prize

One of the most inspirational photographers in my life was Margaret Bourke-White. Not only was she one of America's most passionate photographers but she broke new grounds for female photographers. She was unafraid - unafraid of war, unafraid to love and unafraid of the glass ceiling. She loved photography and she loved life.

On the wall next to me as I write I have just one quote on the wall. Its from Bourke-White:

'Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand'

In January 2007 I led a group of photographers through Egypt. At the end of three weeks I was exhausted and headed to Marrakesh in Morocco for some R & R. I chatted to  a local driver and asked him to drive me into the Atlas Mountains in his 1958 Mercedes 220S. He knew the area well, spoke good English and seemed tuned in to me as a photographer. As he pulled into a 'scenic lookout' I eyeballed my driver and told him I didn't want any more scenic lookouts. I wanted people, real people.

The Mercedes climbed through smaller and smaller villages into the Atlas mountains. The driver left me to have coffee and ventured by foot up a steep slope. He returned twenty minutes later saying he had found a lady who had agreed that I could visit her home.
We walked for a further thirty minutes to small hamlet of brown, tumble-down mud-brick buildings surrounding a courtyard. I met the lady, a middle-aged muslim mother of three who inited me into her home.

 It was the smallest  house I had ever been in in my life. It consisted of just one room, one end of which was the kitchen and the other end the sleeping quarters. I sat on a small wooden stool in the sleeping quarters while she prepared tea. The only light entering the house came through a glassless window opening and the doorway.

The mother boiled the kettle on a single butane burner. My driver translated back and forth. She told me she was honoured and excited to make tea for me. Her husband had left three years earlier to find work in the city and she hadn't heard from him again. She did not know if he was still alive.

 I told her that it was me who felt honoured being in her home and sharing tea with her. She laughed and chuckled when I asked to photograph her. 'Why?' she asked. 'Because you are a good mother and a survivor' I replied 'and i think you have made me the best tea I have had in a month'. She laughed again but never posed. I photographed her as she went about her tea-making.


The 2013 Fremantle International Portrait Prize is Western Australia's premier photographic award with a $5000 cash first prize. Entries open on Sunday 5 May 2013. Entries are open to photographers worldwide. Click here for details.

(Photo info: Fuji S2 Pro 6MP camera, 12-24mm Nikon lens @ 12mm, 1/45s @ f4 handheld 1600ISO. 29 Jan 2007)

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