A 93-year-old photographer. He has a name too, it's Angus O'Callaghan.
In 1922 BBC started its first radio service, James Joyce’s famous Ulysses was published in Paris and Angus O’Callaghan was born. Today Angus is 93-years-old, lives with his wife Lynette in Langwarrin, and is about to publish his first book. Angus is a photographer and perhaps Melbourne’s most-famous-not-so-famous photo documentarian.
Angus was born in the depression era in a family of 11 children. His keen interest in photography took shape early when he began taking photos as a child with a brownie camera. As a young man he served in WWII where he was tasked as war photographer, simply because he was one of the only soldiers who knew how to operate a camera. Upon his return home, Angus began a long serving career as a teacher, always considering his enthusiasm for photography as a strict side project.
In his spare time Angus would document the city of Melbourne on his Yashicaflex 635 medium format camera. ‘I had one for colour film and one for black and white,’ he remembers. ‘I bought them in a shop on Collins Street for $45 each and this is the camera I used to take images of Melbourne during 1968–1971.’
The year 1968 was a significant year in the life of Angus O’Callaghan and his story. This was the year that he began his self-initiated project Marvellous Melbourne, a photographic book that paid homage to the quirks of his hometown. It was meant to be collaboration between himself and his first wife Annette who would write the prose. The plan was to find a publisher and use the book as a way out of the teaching profession and into Angus’s dream profession of working as a commercial photographer. The book featured photos of the city, shopping arcades, hippie youth, architecture, the suburbs, sporting culture, and arts and events. Sadly after much trying, Angus and Annette could not find an interested publisher. They put the transparencies in a shoebox and got on with life.
These photos were forgotten and untouched for decades until the 1990s when Angus married his second wife Lynette discovered them (after Annette’s passing in the ‘80s). Now in his seventies, Angus was encouraged by Lynette to do something with the discarded transparencies. They transformed their garage into a darkroom and held sporadic exhibitions here and there. The photographic prints sold instantly, but Angus was still largely an unknown.
Cut to 2008 and fine art auctioneer and artist representative Ben Albrecht was viewing works in an upcoming auction when he came across an old photo of a Japanese woman looking into a Melbourne shop window. The photo stopped Ben in his tracks. ‘I asked immediately, who took this?’ he recalls. A year later in 2009 and Ben and Angus had become great friends and held Angus’s first solo exhibition together. ‘The public gravitated to the work immediately! Three editions sold out within one month which galvanized my belief that Angus’ work was being taken very seriously,’ says Ben, who now represents Angus.
After the success of Angus’s limited edition prints, Ben thought it was time to resurrect the Marvellous Melbourne project that Angus started in 1968. It was time to turn Angus’s time capsule of Melbourne into a book, ending the 45 year dream drought.
Around about this time, purveyor of all things Australiana, artist and designer Eamon Donnelly also discovered Angus and his work. Eamon was just about to launch his website The Island Continent and knew he had to meet the man behind the lens and tell his story. ‘I had been collecting Australian photography and books of Australian life from the 1950s–1980s for a good 10 years and had never seen or heard of this Angus O’Callaghan.’ After an initial meeting, Ben enlisted Eamon to design Angus’s book a year later.
The trio has been working on the book for the last three years with Angus as photographer and author, Ben as co-author and Eamon as designer. Though Ben and Eamon jokingly admit ‘technically the book has been in development for 45 years.’
Angus O’Callaghan’s Melbourne is the result of their hard work and is due for release in November. This June they raised $49,000 (double their anticipated target) in a crowd funded campaign to publish the 256-paged hardback book. The book has reworked the impetus of Marvellous Melbourne, and is partly a compendium of Angus’s photographs of Melbourne from 1968–1971, documenting the burgeoning and liberated city of this era. Eamon says Angus’s photos ‘capture elements of a city that weren’t grand at the time, he chose to show a different angle of the everyday, the commonplace, the changing city’. The book is also part biography telling Angus’s story, and is interlaced with photos taken by Eamon of Angus at work today. ‘For many people, especially Melburnian’s, this book will take them back in time. It is a beautifully composed photographic narrative of a city before it changed forever,’ says Ben.
It’s been 45 years since Angus set about his dream of one day publishing a book about his treasured Melbourne. At 93, he still shoots the streets of Melbourne today but has since upgraded to a Nikon DSLR, but a great picture comes down to more than just the hardware. It takes a unique point of view to capture a city in a way that inspires so many others, and for Angus 'a city is life'.
This story was originally published on The Design Files with photos by Sean Fennessy.