A Sixtieth of a Second 1961-1981 (1987)
A Sixtieth of a Second: Portraits of Women 1961-1981
by Sue Ford
published by Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide 1987
Most of these photos were taken with the camera set on a 1/60th of a second at F11. I used to
follow a set formula, in the same way you would follow a cake recipe, knowing that you would
have more chance of it (the cake or the photo) coming out. My 'recipe' also included using the
same developer and printing paper. I don't think I changed this 'recipe' much, there seemed no
point. Although these photos span twenty years they took three-quarters of a second to take,
all together. I've always been fascinated by family photo albums, most of my work in
photographs comes from this source.
Like many other photographers I started out with my father's Brownie Box. At school I
photographed my friends, hanging around at lunch time, at the beach -also our dog and cat. For me, taking photographs was a form of
celebration of al1event, place or person. I was fortunate to go overseas when I was seventeen. I took a camera with me to see the world;
unfortunately none of the photos came out. I never knew if something was wrong with the camera or the way I used it. Later, the
disappointment of not having a record of that great time prompted me to look up photography books, but it seemed like a foreign
language to me.
Eventually, in 1960, I got a job with a photography firm in Collins Street,
Melbourne, who specialised in fashion photography. I delivered their
photos to clients, startedto learn photographic 'retouching' and spent most
of my lunchtimes in the dark room. Bernard, a young Frenchman, ruled
this dark and mysterious Aladdin's Cave. Watching the image appeal" in
the developing tray seemed like magic. Later on I discovered that it was
the interaction of light and silver halides.This experience led me to
enrolling at the Royal Melbourne Institute Photography School in 1961. I
spent most of my time there with the only other girl there, Annette]
Stevens. Together we went out on our 'photographic assignments' which
mostly seemed to be about 'street life', trying to overcome our self-
consciousness, our bouffants blowing in the wind.
During our one and only year at Tech we found a cheap room over a cafe
in Little Collins Street, and set up a studio and darkroom. These two areas
were separated by a hessian curtain, which meant the darkroom could only
be used at night. Our 'studio' doubled as a home away from home, an]alternative to being at Tech, and hopefully a possibility of
economic independence. My earliest 'studio portraits' that were taken were of my friends from school. They were keen to have a 'portrait'
taken, and were very nice about having to sit around for an hour or so while I experimented with different lighting effects. These photo
sessions were approached with a ceremonial seriousness. My friends usually brought different clothes with them and during the sessions
we would change clothes and hairstyles.
By the end of the year I had started to get some jobs doing
portraits, but we had to move out of the building as it was
sold. Eventually, after a year of being a 'darkroom worker'
for different firms, I concentrated on child portraiture to
make a living, but always kept up with my own portrait
photography, it had become a habit. The paper foldout filing
systems I bought myself in those days, I still have. They
are labeled: 'Portraits' 'Commercial Portraits', 'Fashion',
'Machines', 'Oddments', 'Table Top', ‘landscapes', etc.
Twenty years later, in 1981, I decided to look through my
negatives to see if there was one particular thing I had been
recording through the twenty years. With rather incredulous
eyes, I printed some 1961 portraits and fashion photos.
Then I remembered all the portraits I had taken of the
women I had met when I lived in the country. During the
last few years I had been working in films and not doing
much photography but still occasionally photographing
friends I spent time with. I decided that these portraits of
friends and women that I'd met, were my most interesting
photos, so I printed them up. Eventually I showed them as
The Photobook of Women at an exhibition held at the NSW
Art Gallery in 1982.
I would ike to thank the Experimental Art Foundation for their encouragement in getting the book together, my friends Janine Burke,
Micky Allan, Pamela Brown and Joy Hirst and my daughter Emma and son Ben for their support. The photographs up to 1975 were taken
on a two and a quarter square camera and after 1975, on a 35mm camera. The prints in this book were made by Sandy Edwards and
Wendy Rew and were done on silver gelatin paper.