Creating Memories

Since the beginning of mankind it had been human nature to collect items of interest, memories being at the forefront of those collections. 

Early 20th century Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky  founder of a theory commonly referred to as cultural-historical psychology wrote in his 1930 piece The Memory of Primitive Man that on the subject of memory “All observers and travellers have unanimously praised the outstanding memory of primitive man, Lévy-Bruhl  rightly points out that in the psychology and behaviour of primitive man memory plays a much greater role than in our mental life, because some of its former functions in our behaviour have been transferred elsewhere and changed. As our experience is condensed in concepts, we are free from the need to retain a huge amount of concrete impressions, whereas in primitive man almost the whole of experience relies on memory” 

In 1891 Joseph Bradshaw first recorded the ancient rock art of the Kimberley region in the far North-West of Australia. These sophisticated works are amongst the most ancient rock paintings on earth. Grahame Walsh in his book, Bradshaws – Ancient Rock Paintings of the North-West Australia states that “They originate from an unknown past period which some suggest could have been 50,000 years ago” These marvellous pieces depict the indelible memories of an earlier race. 

Photography which had its beginnings much later, in and around 1800, is another form of collecting memories, allowing mankind to further record events of a more recent period in the passage-of-time. All photographs have the ability to evoke memories in the lives of those associated with the image, be it the photographer, the subject or the viewer.

In 1983 Peter Adams commenced the mammoth task of collecting iconic images made by photographers from all over the world. A collection of memorable images etched in the minds of a global audience. The project involved Adams spending time with many of the great international ‘Masters of Photography’. Entering their private lives to both interview and photograph them as he compiled material for his collection and this book. 

Creating memorable images is a fascinating process, some images occur spontaneously while others require varying degrees of deliberation and execution. Predominately all are the result of uninhibited individual expression. Many photographers have the ability to spontaneously capture images that they have either conscious or sub-conscious pre-conceived ideas about. Occasionally some find themselves confronted by spur-of -the -moment activities or natural phenomena’ that allow them to capture a memorable image. Others find that they have to toil with pre-conceived thoughts. Hours if not days of deliberation can be spent as individuals wrestle with their quest to create the desired image.

The noted Australian landscape photographer, born in a German refugee camp of Latvian parents, Peter Dombrovskis (1945-1996) would spend endless days roaming the rugged terrain of the Tasmanian wilderness, laden with his favoured large format camera and tripod in his backpack, along with food, clothing, shelter and other essential items.

A meticulous, competent craftsman with an exemplary environmental consciousness Dombrovskis was able to create simple evocative timeless images. He would search for the right light, colour and texture, often, to quote his wife Liz, “Peter would return with only a few exposed sheets of film” To him there was no hit-and-miss imagery, if the elements were not right he did not waste film. 

I have a personal archive that spans over sixty years. Decades of creating memories that have formed a record of my personal journey. Images captured spontaneously as the passage unfolded and others that I have laboured behind the camera for days until I was satisfied with the outcome. I leant early on that there should be no such thing as a ‘Reshoot’, for me it was always a case of ‘More shooting’ until I was satisfied with the final image.

One of my early spontaneous images is a portrait of Sydney Charles Bromley, English actor, taken in 1969. At the time I was working as personal assistant to leading Australian photographer Brian Brandt. Brandt was unable to accept the Bromley brief, and suggested that I should do it. Opportunity had knocked on my door and I was going to make the most off it. With little time to ponder the outcome I was confronted by the reality, a portrait was required, and it had to be done now! Spontaneously I was swung into action and had to draw on all that I had learnt as a student, and in my short time as an assistant.

Photography allows one to record humanity as one desires, I have always attempted to extract connection. Professor Helen Ennis the Director of the Centre for Art History and Art Theory at the Australian National University School of Art wrote in the introduction to my 2014 book ‘Imhoff’s portraiture is distinguished by a high degree of deliberation. The subjects are typically posed in the pared back setting of the studio without any props or accessories that identify their professions … In Imhoff’s portraits all attention is directed to the subjects’ faces, their stance and often their hands, which are further markers of individuality”

In 1991, I experienced first-hand Peter Adams as he went about recording material for this book, Adams had travelled to central Victoria where he stayed with my family on our farm. His image of me with my Sulphur-crested cockatoo, ‘Georgie’ who was given to me as a birthday present some 30 years previously, taken in front of the soon-to-be restored Blacksmiths shop, was selected to accompany his essay. 

Little did I know in days-gone-by that images that I had created would form an important component of my archive and that I would, in 2019, be scribing my thoughts about the personal memories-of-my-time!

Robert Imhoff. 2019

Imhoff contributing essay for the soon to be published international book ‘A FEW OF THE LEGENDS’ by author and photographer Peter Adams. 

Imhoff pages in ‘A FEW OF THE LEGENDS’ – Soon to be published international book by author and photographer Peter Adams.