Subject Matter

Aside from those of friends and family and their occasions, Jock's photos were taken on his travels. Many of these are geological, details of rocks and their structures or panoramas of large formations. As a geophysical researcher he was lucky to have been traveling by plane in the 1950s to 1970s, as in those days the planes flew at lower altitudes than to-day. They reached sufficient altitude for him to see the patterns in land formations, yet sufficiently low that atmospheric haze or clouds did not obscure colour and definition in the land, and water, below.

The bulk of his photos were of the places, activities and people that he saw on his travels: landscapes, city views, monuments, sites, instruments, vehicles, flora and fauna, occupations and people. He used many of these slides in popular lectures, or in those to undergraduate students to entice them into specializing in geophysical or other earth sciences.

In stark contrast to his nature, many of Jock's photos convey a sense of desolation, since they are taken in sombre light with few or no people in them. The mood of these photographs, however, may have derived not from Jock's emotional state at the time but from the hour at which they were taken. Given his craving for physical exercise and his intellectual curiosity, Jock often went walking with his camera in the early mornings or evenings as antidotes to the day's more sedentary activities. At these times the streets have fewer or no people in them and the light is weak.

photography subjects

In the Central Highlands of New Guinea, October 25, 1950

So Much that is Fascinating

As a man whose greatest interests and conversation centred on scientific ideas and processes, it is surprising to see just how preoccupied he was with capturing people in his photographs. While many of these show people plying their trades, there is still a substantial number of images that can only be described as portraits of individuals. Jock loved children and they were frequently his subjects, particularly little girls. Perhaps they reminded him of his daughters at home.

His approach to photographing people was, like his method of scientific research, unorthodox. Given his 200 pound weight, long torso and powerful barrel chest, topped with a large head, he looked deceptively larger than his height of 6'1". As such, he could be a very imposing man. When potential subjects caught his eye, he would often come up upon them quite suddenly, as he walked very quickly on his relatively short legs. Paradoxically, when this powerful presence bore down alarmingly on individuals in order to ask their permission, in words or sign language, his face would be dominated by an enormous, friendly and almost childlike grin. The degree to which his charm, his unintended intimidation, the subjects' curiosity, their pride and/or confusion governed their agreeing to pose for him is often reflected in their faces. Very few people refused his request.

View Photography