Charles J. Page

Born in Melbourne, Australia, CHARLES J. PAGE is now a Brisbane-based documentary photographer with over 40 years experience. He studied photography at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and is currently a lecturer at the Queensland College of Art.
Page has photographed in many countries including Australia, South Africa, China, Somalia and Antarctica, shooting themes that range from war to nature to nudes. Some of his most recognized work includes his work with the Red Cross Projects and the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions.
Page also tried his hand at commercial flying and for a brief period worked as a taxi driver. The flying gave him a greater self-confidence and the driving taught him about social behaviour however, in the end, photography took out the title of primary career.
We had the opportunity to speak with Charles about his work and experience in photography.
                                        Abandoned Hospital                         Steam Trains

Greta: How did your photographic career begin, was it something you always wanted to do?

Charles: I started with an 8mm movie camera in my early teens and then I was given a still camera, so for a while I was using both. However it wasn’t until I went from high school to RMIT that I became passionate about still photography especially when I learnt the technical skills that allowed me to covert vision into images.

Greta: Where was your first photography job and how did you get it?
Charles: I worked for an advertising photographer, simply to get enough money to travel overseas. However I did learn some valuable skills about lighting, studio operations and marketing.
Greta: When did you decide you wanted to be a documentary photographer? Did you experiment with other types of photography first?
Charles: When I started with the movie camera I was trying to tell stories with it, long before I’d heard of documentary photography. Story telling was all I’ve ever wanted to do, however I see that expression as extremely broad. I’ve worked with an extensive range of subject matter, nudes, landscape, war zones etc. hence the story could be about eroticism, beauty or brutality.
                               Landscapes                              Nudes                        Red Cross Project
Greta: Not many people can say they’ve photographed in Antarctica, what made you decide to shoot there? What do you recall most from the experience?
Charles: I’ve always been interested in Antarctica, when I was a child in Melbourne I remember seeing the orange icebreaker that was based in Melbourne at the time. I hadn’t considered going until I found out about an arts program offered by Australian National Antarctic Expeditions (A.N.A.R.E). I applied in 1990 but was unsuccessful. In 1993 I was returning from the war in Somalia and felt that I needed something more positive to engage with so on the flight home I wrote my application.

Greta: How do you decide which projects to pursue?
Charles: I’m in the fortunate position that I only choose projects that interest me. If I feel a connection to the project I will find a way of doing it.
Greta: You’ve come across some controversy in regards to your photography, including one of your nudes on display at the 1991 Warana exhibition. What advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
Charles: This was an era when the state library in Brisbane shredded some of Mapplethorpe’s books. I don’t believe that my image was pornographic; it was in fact about intimacy. The advice is, if you believe in your work be prepared to fight for it.
Greta: What do you think makes you different from other aspiring photographers who have not reached the same level of success?
Charles: I’m a firm believer in the theory of determinism.
Greta: What qualities do photographers need to make it in Australia?
Charles: It depends on which arena photographers want to be involved in, however I feel that young photographers should be thinking global and not just Australia, current technology offers those possibilities, why not take advantage of it.
                                                          Street Photography: Europe

Greta: So far, what is your favourite project and why?
Charles: Going to Antarctica, especially photographing the last huskies is still my favourite project and experience. It embodied everything that the World should be: no fighting, wars or landmines, (there are only two continents that don’t have them and Antarctica is one), international cooperation, a pristine environment and sublime beauty.
Greta: What is the best piece of advice you would offer to young photographers hoping for success in the industry?
Charles: I teach photography and while many great photographers have not had formal training many have. Institutions offer a fast track to acquiring skills and a variety of thought processes and depending on the institution the chance to work with a variety of practitioners. Of course some areas of the photographic industry are changing radically e.g. Advertising, so find out what direction things are moving in and preferably be ahead rather than simply responding.