Angus O’Callaghan

In Angus O’Callaghan’s photographs, we see a world at once familiar and distant. With his sure eye for capturing the minutiae of every day life, O’Callaghan transports us to the Melbourne of over forty years ago with a clarity and freshness that imprints the tempo of life in the late 1960s and early 1970s into a contemporary viewer’s experience. O’Callaghan calls Melbourne “my city, the city I love”, yet it was not always a comfortable existence for the photographer, the third of twelve children in a family afflicted by poverty.

19Born in 1922, O’Callaghan’s childhood coincided with the years of the Great Depression, and forced the children into accepting any work that would assist in feeding a hungry family. An interest in photography developed during O’Callaghan’s military service during the Second World War, when he was made responsible for documenting damaged structures in Syria. This interest in photography remained a constant, and in 1969, O’Callaghan purchased two Yashicaflex twin lens reflex medium format cameras, one for black and white, one colour.

O’Callaghan would spend the next three years photographing his local city on spare weekends and evenings. These images would form the basis for a book prepared with the assistance of his wife, Annette, but a publisher was not forthcoming. Bitterly, the couple put the project aside, and it was not to be revived until after Annette’s death.

In O’Callaghan’s images, Melbourne is a familiar backdrop to scenes of everyday life, but with a sentimental, witty twist. It is worth noting that capturing these images in a discreet fashion took some skill: no zoom lenses to allow the privilege of distance, cumbersome equipment in a world in which photography was by no means as ubiquitous as digital technology now allows. O’Callaghan needed to move in close to his subject, and would hold the camera at waist height while looking down into the view-finder at the top of the camera. Testament to the photographer’s skill, in O’Callaghan’s photograph of Bay 13, the crowd watch proceedings impassively, ciga- rettes never far from the lip, but as a coun- terpoint, a young boy clutches his Kool- Mints, enraptured by the game unfolding beyond his sunglasses.

O’Callaghan’s camera captures the detail of the simple summer dresses, hats and shoes of the spectators, bare legs visible against the timber benches. A butcher’s shop-window is witness to earlier tastes: corned brisket and lamb’s fry, steak and kidney and ox tongue feature prominently amongst the bold signage, while a young girl stares at the photographer through the window. Life resembles art once again in O’Callaghan’s image of a wintry Melbourne evening outside Flinders Street Station. Reminiscent of John Brack’s Collins St., 5pm (1955, NGV Collection), commuters flood across the intersection, lines of light and dark in front of the brilliantly-lit Station.

The artist’s colour images bring a height- ened sense of immediacy: a procession of observers in front of a temporary, outdoors gallery presents a symphony of greens so bright it calls to mind the tropics in midsummer. A small sailboat on the Yarra a brilliant triangle of yellow, its reflection captured in the still water and behind it, a procession of buses and signage evocative of travel in a more leisurely-paced era.

Angus O’Callaghan’s photographic negatives lay untouched in a shoebox for over forty years until, at the urging of his second wife, Lynette, they were presented again for viewing. The renaissance of O’Callaghan and his scenes of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ is a true testament to the power of the photographer to transport the viewer to another world.


Viewing Times
Wednesday 18 July 2012 9am – 8pm
Thursday 19 July 2012 9am – 5pm
Friday 20 July 2012 9am – 5pm
Saturday 21 July 2012 10am – 5pm