Thursday, July 8, 2010


It’s not an easy thing to talk to this man. Tom has little time for discussing himself. His head is usually full of other people’s stuff. Still, there is a moments grace when his wife, Christine, calls and tells me his diary is free. ‘Tell him you were just passing. Feed his ego. He likes people to show interest in what he is doing.’
We all have egos, none bigger than my own. What’s his button to press? I ask myself. It seems like he’s been in everything but a bath. I found a reference in my research to a comment from his report card back in ’62. ‘Not real bright. Would make a good tradesman – a plumber perhaps’. ‘Artistically incompetent’ was his art teachers summation back in ’65. Ken Reinhardt; that name rings a bell. Pop-artist from the ‘60’s. He ought to know.
Still, my instincts have to be played out. I gingerly knock on the door. I don’t like appearing unannounced. I have had the dogs set to me more than once. A shortish, rough shaven man wearing a Billabong T-shirt and baggy shorts partly covering the hairiest legs I have seen for some time confronts me. I get straight to the point: ‘I’m here to interview you for …’ ‘Well, don’t just stand there. Where do you want me to start?’ I don’t recall reading anything about modesty in his old school reports.
There is evidence of some artistic activity. Some photographs on the walls, a few nice pieces of woodwork, and some stunning watercolours. ‘They’re Christine’s. She’s the arty one’. I question him on his current endeavours but he avoids the topic. He speaks of history and the complexity of the human psych. He seems to have an opinion on everything. I push a little further on the photography. ‘I have pictures in my head and I need to see them hanging on a wall. Photography is the fastest way of getting them there.’ I glance more than once at a framed photograph above his head. There is a haunting, almost surreal view of a billabong from a seemingly dangerous angle. Strange pictures inside his head, I think. Tom flicks the screen on the computer into action and a series of slides come and go. I wonder if I am safe with a man who has this sort of stuff going through his brain.

‘Photography is not the thing’ he says. I think he’s speaking to me but he appears to speak to something or someone else; to himself maybe. ‘Art is not the thing either’ he adds. I’m listening. His voice is directed elsewhere but I listen. ‘Don't get me wrong. I like shiny new cameras. The man with the most toys wins. Right?' A rhetorical question no doubt, judging from the array of lenses on display in his study. 'It’s about people and who they are. We do stuff. We think about it and then we do stuff. We think funny and we laugh. We think sad and we cry. We think angry and we strike out; sometimes. What if others could see, touch, hear, smell, and taste how we feel? What if they could take it home and hang it on the wall or wear it or eat it? If we think that then we ‘do’. That’s art. Simple. We all connect our feelings to what we do. If we make something from that we can let others see our feelings. My old man made furniture. We slept in it, ate off it, kept our belongings in it; we loved his furniture. He loved us. He made that stuff for us. That’s art.
I take pictures. I want people to know I have feelings just like them. I want them to see it. I don’t always succeed. My old man didn’t always succeed either. But he gave it his best shot in the only way he knew. I put him up there with Monet and Da Vinci. Not for the quality of the product but for the feelings that went into it. All these people I talk to are ‘doing’; making things from their feelings so that we can share. Some are really good at it; they have great skills. Others are learning but the effort is still there. The feelings are just as strong and that’s what counts. We put a price on a painting or a vase. That’s a good thing because it enables and encourages. But what price do we put on someone’s feelings? You tell me’.

Me? Was he asking me? He surely goes on when he starts. There’s a picture of two young children, possibly  grand-children, on the table beside me. I see what Tom means. You don’t need a book to tell you what feelings Tom was experiencing when this shot was taken.

I shuffle for my camera, remembering what Tom had just said. Capture my feelings. Click! Is that all there is to it? I look at the display panel on the back of the camera. Mmm. I see what Tom means by ‘some are good at it …. some are learning’. Not art yet. Just a picture.

 I want to ask a question but Tom is looking at his watch and gesturing to the front door. Just one question; make it a good one. ‘Can people learn to be an artist or is it innate for some?’ Tom hesitates, then looks at his watch again. ‘I’m not sure. Ask me just before I die. But we are not born plumbers either.’ His hand guides me through the door and back to the heat of the tropical Sun. I’m not sure what I have achieved here; something to think about, maybe. I make a note on my iPod to call again. There is more to be unearthed but I’m not quite ready for more of the same. My head is spinning. After that I need to see my therapist – or do lunch.

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