• Kay Gibbons-Buckwell

Photographic Memory: My Journey This Far

Humour is never far away from my images. Here's a silly selfie.
"Hello? Anyone there?"

If you've read my entire website you'll know by now that my earliest years were spent running through tussocks and dodging tiger snakes on saltpans.

My father was a waterman for Cheetham Salt down at Avalon Beach, Lara. My mother kept the home fires burning. Now when I look back on it, I see it was a genuinely idyllic childhood. We had nothing, but we had everything, if you know what I mean.

Mum often captured these earliest memories with her trusty Box Brownie. In fact, I feel Mum was largely instrumental for my love of photography. She recorded moments like our cat on a trailer of timber, Dad chopping up fallen trees, us kids in PJs having pretend tea parties, our cubby huts, cars, hobbies, and every birthday and visit of any relative, ever. Below is a small sample of her work. I'm the little squirt.

When I was old enough, she lent me her point-and-shoot instamatic which she'd upgraded to in the 70s. I still can't believe she let me waste a roll of film on utter garbage! I take my hat off to her for being generous enough to encourage my "avant garde" creative ambitions – photos consisting mainly of the dog, my Barbies, a few homemade art projects, and the odd selfie.

A slide of the image which eventually wound up exhibited at the NGV.
The Real Unreal

In latter high-school years, photography was an elective subject. I majored in it for Year 12 Art. Our school had a great art teacher, the delightful Mr Fox, plus a well-equipped darkroom, and SLRs which we were allowed to borrow out on weekends. With enormous encouragement (and a few arguments) from the teacher, my major folio piece was themed "making something real, appear unreal". One of those images - a photo of my mother getting her hair pulled through a hairdresser's tip cap - was chosen as part of a state-wide Top Arts Students Exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. It didn't matter what age I was – walking past that iconic water wall, knowing that one of my pieces was up on the NGV's wall, sent shivers up my spine. I owe that to Wayne Fox.

After high school finished I had it in my heart to study photography, but the money wasn't there to do it. As a super creative, arty, musical, and (more than slightly) weird kid, I wound up studying retail and small business so that I "had something to fall back on". I then entered the wild world of rock 'n roll as a singer-songwriter and spent the next thirty years as a professional performer.

Dotted in amongst those years were a hundred different jobs keeping the wolves from the door, alongside this utterly constant desire to creatively express.

Early 90s I revisited photography via a course at the Council of Adult Education, Melbourne. I worked at a CD shop through the day in Williamstown and attended Black and White Analogue Photography by night in the CBD.

Around that time I met a dear friend, Dave Boyd, a pro photographer and technician, who not only created shots for catalogues like K Mart, but who also took promo shots for my music career. Accompanying him on photoshoots, he taught me much about lighting, landscapes, street photography, keeping horizons straight (!) and more darkroom techniques. He had this marvellous collection of books on Robert Mapplethorpe, Annie Liebowitz and the likes. I’m indebted to his time and knowledge. Below is a small sample of Dave's photographs of me and band, Love & Justice.

Fast forward to 2020.

With a whole lot of water under the bridge including studies in writing, interior design, and a long journey through spirituality and self-awareness (including teaching meditation and other various alternative, intuitive activities) I wound up in early 2020 with no job. When this dramatic change swept through the world, restrictions prevented me from operating my wellbeing business - something I’d been doing for the past twenty years, alongside music. The silver lining - time on my hands - meant I could now pursue creative passions.

Mum's Box Brownie and my first ever film SLR (second hand) which my friend Dave sourced for me.
The Original Cameras

I sat down to re-write a novel I’d started umpteen years ago but which had been collecting dust in the bottom drawer. Taking a break from writing one day, I was scrolling through Facebook when this ad appeared for Digital Camera Mastery Course taught by a talented Canadian pro, the very kind, Mark Hemmings.

It seemed out of the blue as I’d not even uttered the word photography. I took it as a sign to just go for it.

Think you should just go for it, Kay.

A few years earlier I’d scraped together funds for a second-hand D3200 Nikon DSLR and thought it’d be a good opportunity to brush up on technical skills and learn how to digitally edit while I was at it. That proved to be the best investment I’d ever made! Wow! Did it reawaken a passion! As I’ve commented before – a spark to a bushfire.

Tripods, another new Nikon, six lenses and a softbox later, here I am with my own photography website and a new mid-life career. Dreams do come true to those who wait long enough. But perhaps it was about right timing, all along.

PS: I'm still taking photos of dogs.

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