The origins of photography can be traced back thousands of years to Aristotle’s musings around a pinhole camera. Photography today has become a mainstream activity as technology allows the masses easy access to a range of camera devices. But, it still takes a true artist to capture the magic of an event, landscape or person– despite the amount of Instagram ‘likes’ convincing you otherwise.
Renowned local Canberra photographer, Martin Ollman, knows all too well about the art of photography and what it takes to capture a perfect moment.
What kind of photography are you involved in?
I’m an independent freelance photographer, which boils down to me being able to say yes to everything. If I had a style it would be photo journalism.
Versatility is key to photography, something I picked up as a press photographer. You need to be able to interact and move through people, whilst keeping your eye on the action – capturing the essence of something, and using all the tricks and tactics not just with the fancy camera in your hand but with your feet and body, eyes and brain.
What made you want to get into photography?
The freedom to create. It’s an art-form so early on it was a hobby, which then formalised into a career starting at The Canberra Times running the darkroom at the age of 20. I got the bug pretty quick, it’s an exciting adventure most of the time. Being a darkroom technician allowed me to have a day job and on evenings and weekends I would shoot sport and music for the paper.
The freedom from not having a nine-to-five job has been a great advantage for my creativity, allowing me to be flexible with shoots and available when the light is nice. It’s mainly the weather that gets in the way. Grey skies are great for flat light but not for a tourism advertisement, so my schedule needs to be flexible, particularity when several jobs are all running at once.
What are your favourite parts about it?
Getting to be in a position that allows you to experience something from a different perspective, I used to cringe at the thought of facing 20,000+ people to take a photo from a stage, now it’s just fun.
In your opinion, what makes the best photos?
The ones that are either greatly considered or luckily captured. Being in the right place at the right time is a bit of a decoy, sometimes the light is nice everywhere and you just need to tune into that. I often find the best photos are the ones that make you stop and explore the image. Depth, leading lines, the rule of thirds [are] all good ways to give a photo impact. Mixing these rules up or at times ignoring them completely makes some photos stand out.
Processing the negative out of the camera is still the fun part for me. At times the processing stage can be the most exciting.
Occasionally I shoot all day and into the night, up to 2000 images per day and you do not get long to linger or see them in any great detail. So processing is a bit like discovering photos that either work straight away or could work with additional processing.
Discovering the properties of the digital RAW images most modern DLSR’s (digital single-lens reflex) produce was an eye-opener for me. Combining it with a tool I had used every day for the past 20 years, Photoshop, was the combination that enabled me to transition from a traditional film photographer to a modern digital one and transfer the darkroom and printing skills I had acquired to a digital medium. Excited and inspired would be an understatement!
What’s the best shoot you’ve been a part of?
Can I have two?
Woodford Folk Festival for me is the best fun you can have as a photographer. It’s like condensing six months’ worth of shoots or gigs into six days in a perfect environment setting. It is as challenging as it is rewarding and always entertaining.
Shooting for the #CBR brand (encapsulating and coverage for – Events ACT, Study CBR, Invest ACT, Visit Canberra, and the ACT Chief Minister’s Office) has taken me all over Canberra and the region looking for the visual gold. I have met hundreds of people in my travels and have made many new friends both professionally and personally.
It’s also great knowing that the work you are creating is changing opinions and mindsets regarding Canberra. For the last few years, my main focus has been to show the Canberra that the mainstream does not get to see.
Who are the most interesting and/or well-known characters you have met through your work?
Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Palin, Alice Cooper, Bob Hawke and many others. I have very fond memories of being in awe most of the time. At the local level, collaborating and shooting the talented folk of Canberra has been the most rewarding socially and visually. As you get to know the city, photo options are everywhere and collaborators are much more likely to share a vision.
What do you love about Canberra and the culture?
Canberra is small enough not to get drowned out by the population size. There are enough spaces and people who want to experience new things so anything that is creative receives a warm reception then eventually a following. The level of appreciation for art and its creation is moving out into the streets which adds to the vibrancy of the city. The culture is also spilling out into the suburbs.
I love the crispness of everything. No advertising pollution and proximity to interesting things makes Canberra a vastly liveable city. Going for a drive in any direction takes you to something new and interesting that I have not photographed before, and when that runs out you just drive a little further, or wait (not too long) for some dramatic weather.
What is great about being a photographer in Canberra?
You only have to look around really to answer that question. It’s a planned city, surrounded by natural beauty. The lake [Lake Burley Griffin] adds a great dimension to photography, as do the rising Brindabellas. It’s not hard to get to the coast or alpine regions which make it central for broader exploration.
If I drive an hour south – I can almost eliminate light pollution and get a spectacular view of the Milky Way and explore the Namadgi National Park at the same time. It’s the freedom that allows you to explore without getting stressed by life.
How does Canberra’s landscape and culture compare to other places and what makes it special?
Canberra is young compared to many of the cities I have lived in. Celebrating its centenary and documenting it for the ACT government felt like I was documenting a great milestone and that made me feel very proud of Canberra and very much a part of it.
I was raised in Canberra and left for the UK at age 20, so returning back to Canberra was not an obvious choice. Looking back on the last decade and particularity the last few years, photography has certainly made me appreciate it much more!
What do you see happening with photography in the future?
Photography is becoming a much more common pastime for people. They are actively taking photos to share socially. Mobile phones have changed the way we engage with photography, so that just means [there is] lots more of it. The platforms in place now that enable you to distribute and publish photographs are growing rapidly and people are engaging visually, not with words but with pictures.
The demand for a trained professional photographer will always be required. Specialising in any form of photography takes years of experience and practice, which cannot be reproduced or replicated by technology.
Personally, I would not change a thing about my current passion – something I didn’t do professionally for 20 years and has been life-changing to come back to. Not thinking like a photographer is something I did for a long time. Not taking time to notice the little things and stop to appreciate the planet. That all changes when your only motivation is to learn and explore which I plan on doing a lot more of in the coming years.