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A to Z of Photography: Wayne Quilliam and the Queen

A to Z of Photography: Wayne Quilliam and the Queen

In this issue of the A to Z of Photography we turn to possibly the thorniest letter of the alphabet: Q. Fear not as we take you on a journey from an interview with the antipodean photographer Wayne Quilliam, through Elvis, Brahmanandam Kanneganti, Kim Kardashian, Princess Diana, and Donald Trump before finally arriving at the Queen.

Wayne Quilliam

Wayne Quilliam is a bit of polymath when it comes to photography, undertaking events, drone imaging, documentary, landscapes, videography, and contemporary art to name but a few. If I had to pick out two key areas then it would be his contemporary art and work with indigenous tribes across the globe. See some of his work on his website and at The Guardian.

I caught up with Wayne recently to find out a little more about his work. Born in Tasmania, he began shooting whilst in high school, but it wasn't until he joined the Royal Australian Navy that he discovered his passion. He bought a Yashica FXD Quartz whilst in Hong Kong on deployment in the 1980s and was transfixed by using the camera as providing a "version of record", documenting the lives of the sailors on a warship, along with the places they visited and adventures they had.

Upon leaving the Navy, Wayne wanted to explore his aboriginal heritage and undertook this through photography. Early influences included photographer Lisa Bellear and film maker Richard Frankland, however it is a two-way street and Wayne recognizes that photographic heritage is only half of the story and shouldn't overshadow the future. He assists Amsterdam based Sinchi who promote indigenous photographers, working as a judge in their principle photo competition.

Wayne began his photographic career as a stringer working principally for the Aboriginal newspaper Koori Mail in the 1980s, but paying the bills meant also working as a chimney sweep, bouncer, and tiler. With the support of his wife Jodie, he made the jump to full time pro after getting his break at the Yeperenye Festival in 2001 (a major gathering of indigenous peoples in Australia).

Wayne has shot mostly with Nikon, currently using the D850 matched with a 70-200 f/2.8. Given that he does a fair amount of documentary work, he needs something robust and reliable, however he now has a Z7 with 24-70 f/2.8 for filming. As he travels to remote areas, weight is a key element. And most important of all, his favorite lens is the Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 Micro. Tellingly he said:

When I have the opportunity to stop and play with this beautiful glass, magic happens.

Given the diversity of his work, I asked Wayne what his "style" was? He replied, "Style is a word that is rarely associated with me and this has been both a curse and a privilege." That seems a familiar refrain for many working photographers where you try to balance what you need to shoot with what you love to shoot. Because of his work with indigenous tribes he is perhaps best known as a documenter, however he prefers to describe it as

... [being a] storyteller [who] captures the essence of people in a respectful and humorous way.

His work has opened doors to new opportunities, including helping the process of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people. He has traveled extensively, principally for NGOs, helping to document for those unable to do so for themselves and, in so doing, provide a non-confrontational way for them to express their "essence". Working with other peoples requires care and sensitivity. You cannot begin to understand the societal intricacies developed over millennia and so his expertise is in gathering knowledge and information to aid them in the process of communication.

He shows no sign of slowing and is preparing for a major exhibition in Amsterdam that will see his work printed on to Japanese silk before being embedded with ocher and plant dye and then shaped in to Aboriginal artifacts. He also has a book deal in progress, a series of art films, and media installations.

I finished by asking, because I always do, what his biggest stuff up was. In this instance catastrophe might be a better word. It started with a call for a job working with a remote community in Bolivia. He went via Miami, where his flight was canceled. He made the mistake of booking an "affordable" motel and the night was interrupted by a shootout on the floor below, followed by a leak from the ceiling above. Arriving in La Paz the next day, the connecting flight was canceled so another affordable hotel beckoned before arriving in Cochabamba to find all his gear was still in Miami! Using his emergency camera, the next two weeks involved revolutionary protests, landslides, broken axles, and stabbings. The actual job itself, thankfully, was immensely rewarding. He returned to Miami two weeks later to find his luggage was about to make the same flight back to Cochabamba!

The Queen

In the A to Z of Photography we've already covered the most photographed place on Earth which turns out to be Central Park. Or possibly the Eiffel Tower, Disneyland, or the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, so take your pick! It's therefore natural to turn our attention to the most photographed person ever. This one is much harder to define and so measure, however our attention naturally focuses on the celebrity, be that in entertainment, sport, politics, or business.

Quora gives a nice sense of the scope with this question. There are historic celebrity figures such as Elvis Presley, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy, Justin Bieber, Elizabeth Taylor, Rihanna, Jesse Jackson, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, and Barack Obama. White House photographer Pete Souza reckoned he shot 500-1000 photos a day personally, with his team creating up to 20,000 images per week which makes the President of the United States a pretty hot topic. However if you think about sport with a stadium full of fans all taking pictures with their smartphones, does that tally up to more?

From a technical perspective, you could throw in motion pictures and count all the still frames in which case Indian actor Brahmanandam Kanneganti would have a shout with his over 1000 feature films. The Quora answer reckons that adds up 14.4M photos if he was on screen for 60 minutes of each film with a 10:1 shooting ratio, however maybe that is stretching the definition of "most photographed". And then there is the "cult-of-self" with our current crop of celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian who supposedly took 6,000 selfies on a four day trip to Mexico, which all adds up to a wealth of self-promotion.

Which brings us neatly back to the Queen who has the two criteria for "photographiness" — celebrity and longevity. These two key components most people lack. They either live a long life of obscurity or a short life of blinding celebrity (or somewhere in between). The Queen, by dint of being a Royal when there was still the vestige of an empire and ascending to the throne at the age of 21, has never been out of the limelight, as this article suggests. At the age of 92 she is still being photographed and of international interest. Will there be anyone to surpass her enduring celebrity?

Other Qs

The other Q that didn't make the cut this week was Archiles Quinet!

A to Z Catchup

Alvarez-Bravo and Aperture

Bronica and Burtynsky

Central Park and Lewis Carroll

Daguerrotype and Frederick Douglass

Exposure and Harold Edgerton


Family of Man

Nan Goldin and the Golden Triangle

Hyper-lapse and Horst P. Horst

Image Stabilization and Into the Jaws of Death

JPEG and William Jackson

Lenna and Leica

Inge Morath and Minolta

Noise and Helmut Newton

Paul Outerbridge and the Orton Effect

Panorama and Pillars of Creation

Lead image a composite courtesy of Skitterphoto and brenkee via Pixabay used under Creative Commons and Wikipedia, in the Public Domain. Body images courtesy of Joel Rouse (Ministry of Defence) and nagualdesign (via Wikipedia) under Open Government Licence and the Library of Congress in the Public Domain.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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