Imagine being ‘discovered’ when you’re almost 90 years old. Melbourne photographer Angus O’Callaghan knows just what that feels like.
In 1968 Angus bought two Yashicaflex cameras for $45 each – one to take colour photographs and one for black and white. He left his teaching job and spent the next three years photographing life on the streets of Melbourne – a city and people he clearly loved. His plan was to become a professional photographer and with the support of his wife, he produced a book of his photographs hoping that it would be published. Although there was some interest, he was unable to find a buyer and so went back to teaching. The negatives were put away in a shoebox and left for 40 years until they were discovered by his second wife when moving house.
A few years ago Ben Albrecht, a fine art specialist, was asked to be guest auctioneer at a primary school fund raising event. While there he came across a black and white photograph of a Japanese woman looking into a shop window. Intrigued, he approached the organiser and asked if he could have the telephone number of the photographer. As luck would have it Angus was at the auction and after chatting with him, Ben discovered there were many more just like it.
Angus and Ben worked together to scan and print a selection of the photographs for an exhibition. This was followed by two very successful photograph auctions where bidding for Angus’s work far exceeded expectations.
Angus’s photographs were taken during a time of radical change for Melbourne. Many of the buildings in his photos no longer stand – the Southern Cross Hotel, the Gas and Fuel buildings in Flinders Street, a milkbar in Brighton that was demolished to make room for the Nepean Highway and so many more. Some are still very recognisable – Flinders St Station, Young and Jackson’s Hotel, the National Gallery, and the Royal Arcade. Many of the photos reflect everyday life – men in suits buying a newspaper at a stand at Flinders St Station, a family at the show with their showbags, people barracking at the football, a group of boys loitering on a footpath, a young girl walking home from the shop eating a bag of chips … so many moments in time captured by Angus and his Yashicaflex.
In the tenth decade of his life, Angus has the professional recognition he longed for so many years ago, and that book will finally be published.
Here are just a few of my favourite Angus O’Callaghan’s photographs (courtesy of Ben Albrecht). If you live in Melbourne or intend to visit soon you can see some of his work in an exhibition called ‘At dusk, under the clocks’ (until 21 April) at the Melbourne Town Hall. You can also see (and purchase) Angus’s photos at http://www.albrechtandocallaghan.com.au.