It seems a lifetime ago, but in fact it was barely 18 months back in July 2020, that I part exchanged my Leica Q for a Q2. The Q had served me very well and I had enjoyed using it for almost four years.
I certainly did not need a new camera but a few weeks earlier my lovely wife, Val, had been diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis was poor — very poor. She was not expected to live beyond year-end. In shock and distress, I sought a diversion from taking Val on the seemingly endless round of consultations and tests by buying a new toy.
Sadly, having bought the Q2 I hardly used it for over eight months. And the metadata shows that I took just a few photos with it in the remaining five months of 2020. The first picture, I am pleased to say, was of Val smiling bravely. By October she was in an acute care ward in the local hospital and then in palliative care in a specialist facility. My gruelling routine of twice-daily visits meant I almost forgot that I owned any camera let alone an expensive new one which I had hardly used.
This leads me into 2021, truly my personal annus horribilis. Val defied the original prognosis and fought on into the New Year until April. It was the saddest and most stressful of times, but at least I had time to say a long goodbye and to think about my future life without my companion of 51 years.
I had the idea of doing a road trip and a lovely friend convinced me that I should not stay in my large, empty house grieving but that I should leave as soon as possible after Val’s memorial service. Which is exactly what I did. Two days after the service, I was on the road heading into the country. I travelled for three weeks and covered 2500 kilometres in my new Mini Cooper S.
The trip proved cathartic and somewhat restorative and I surprised myself by the photos I took. Sadly, that excursion was the high point of my year. There were many low points after I returned home.
Within weeks New South Wales went into a four-month-long Covid lockdown which was a real struggle for me; I was unable to travel to visit my children and grandchildren at a time when I most needed the support of family.
With luck, lockdowns are now behind us, although as I type this the omicron variant is spreading like a bushfire here in Australia and I fear that it may well be a case of “here we go again”.
Every year for the past decade I have pulled together a selection of my personal favourite photos of the year. As Val and I have travelled so extensively, particularly since I retired in 2008, choosing the favourites was often not easy as I was spoilt for choice.
This year it has been a very different story. No photo library smorgasbord to choose from this time around. Yet surprisingly, from the few I did manage to take, I have pulled together a set that evokes strong memories and emotions for me. I would like to share them with you.
This first image was taken using the Q2 in early January and shows my Himalayan cat, Phoebe, basking in the sun on a typical Aussie summer’s day. Phoebe was 21 at the time, a ripe old age for a purebred cat. She had a sister, Zoe, who died in 2019.
Phoebe was an absolute trooper. She was beautiful, placid and smart. She had visited Val in the acute care ward at Gosford Hospital a number of times and also in her palliative care facility.
She bought a big smile to Val’s face even in those dark days and she was an absolute favourite with the nurses. Phoebe was doing really well until early March when her health deteriorated suddenly and she died three weeks before my wife. Very sad. I treasure this photo because, although it is not the best I have taken of her, it is the last photo of my beautiful feline friend.
2. Otto and the cockatiel
Here is one of my grandsons, Otto, with his pet cockatiel and was taken with the Q2 just a few day’s after my wife’s death and shortly before her memorial service. For me, it’s special because it depicts a delightful innocence and it cheered me up immensely.
The first stop on my road trip was an old friend’s farm in Stockinbingal neat Cootamundra, deep in New South Wales. It was early April and the nights were cold, the days warm. As is my lifelong habit, I went for an early morning walk and snapped this shot on the first morning’s walk which I can remember so well. It was cold under a blue sky and totally peaceful.
I had packed my Q2 with my X1 as a backup for the trip. The X1 resided in its usual hiking sock alongside the Q2 in the bottom of a small backpack.
3. Crossing the track
This image of a rail crossing on the freight line which passes through the farm was taken with the X1 and it is a straight-from-the-camera jpeg. The X1 may well be considered vintage nowadays and its specification is totally outdated but it’s impossible to deny that it still acquits itself with honours.
4. Farm vista
This picture — also a jpeg — was taken with the Leica X1 during that first morning’s walk and it shows the view from a hill on the eastern boundary of the farm. The farm buildings are behind the trees surrounding the dam (lake) which is just visible in the centre-left of the photo.
It was about a 30-minute walk to the top of that hill from the farmhouse and when I reached the top I sat and took in the beautiful vista and counted my good fortune to live in such a beautiful country. Then I had a really good cry. This is truly a photo full of memories.
5. The Coptic priests
The next photo is a much more jolly memory and was taken with the Q2. In fact, all the remaining shots except one from my road trip were taken with the Q2 as the X1 ‘failed to proceed’ after the first few days.
The motherboard was kaput, as it later transpired. The particular X1 was not my original faithful companion, but a low-mileage model which I had purchased from an Australian eBay seller early in 2020. All I can say is caveat emptor. It was intended to act as backup for the day when my original X1 expires through overwork. Ironic: The old trooper backed up the backup in the end.
This shot was taken at the wonderful Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo. The wide-open spaces of the zoo are not where you would normally expect to find elderly men of the cloth, so I was very surprised to find these two Coptic Christian priests on a church outing and had a delightful chat with them. They were only too pleased to let me take their photo and this is the result.
This photo of abandoned farm buildings may be considered a cliche by many but I had to take it. They are beside the road south of Walgett, deep inside New South Wales about 700km from my home. It was a beautiful day. I was enjoying the driving and the road was empty, but I needed to answer a call of nature and stretch my legs so I took advantage of the photo opportunity. Unless you live in Australia, it’s difficult to appreciate the vast distances between habitation once you are away from the major cities. It’s a very empty country away from the coastal fringe.
I parked just off the road and I laughed at myself for locking the car as a matter of habit as I had not seen a vehicle travelling in either direction for the past half hour. No danger of car thieves out there, but also not a place you want to experience a breakdown. It’s a very long walk into town.
7. The opal miner
This guy is an opal miner and I photographed him at the Club in the Scrub on the Grawin Opal Field, 50km west of the opal mining centre of Lightning Ridge. The Club in the Scrub is an outback pub. It is built from corrugated iron and local timber and looks like something from a Mad Max movie. But it is one hundred per cent opal-field authentic, as are most of the people who socialise there. However, tourists such as me have also put it on the map.
The Club is not easy to reach — no tarmac roads out there — and in summer the heat is suffocating. I used the Q2 for this shot and marvel at how easy it is to use, particularly in a situation such as this.
For 20 years I used an M6 and did not switch to a digital M only because I found that my eyesight was no longer up to the rangefinder. I am now so glad I did not make the switch as the Q and now the Q2 are more than adequate substitutes in my opinion.
I converted this image to monochrome and entered it in the prestigious Australian/NZ Monochrome Awards in August and was really surprised that it was awarded a Highly Commended in the portrait class. Despite that, I still prefer the original colour version shown here.
8. Mini and the mud
This one is a personal favourite. Was I slightly crazy — an old man in a small car with very little ground clearance — going up very wet dirt tracks in the outback? Probably the answer is yes. I did take some precautions. Those 18” wheels are shod with very low profile run-flat tyres.
Run-flats are fine if you get a puncture through the main tread, but it’s a different story if a sharp object, usually a rock, pierces the sidewall. As the Mini has no spare wheel or storage space for a spare wheel I purchased a wheel and tyre — a snip at A$1,400 — and carried it, restrained, on the backseat for the trip. Of course, it was never used.
My Mini-Elf (not to be confused with the upcoming M-Elf) as it is named for obvious reasons — drew some very strange looks out west but it managed the puddle jumping without drama. Nonetheless, there were a just few times when I questioned my own sanity. As you can see it was very wet while I was there. In fact, the area experienced three months’ rain in a few days and the wind was cold, but after years of drought, the rain was very welcome if not by me.
9. Surf sunrise
The final picture from the road trip was taken in the coastal town of Port Macquarie on the home leg of my journey: On my iPhone on my early morning walk. It shows surfers rushing to catch a wave at the southern end of Town Beach. This photo convinced me to abandon my prejudice against mobile phone photography.
10. Harbour view
This is also an iPhone photo and was taken on an unforgettable June day a few weeks after I had returned from my long excursion. A friend and I drove the 80 km down to Sydney early on a Sunday morning and parked right near the centre. Then we walked 14 km past the Opera House and over the Harbour Bridge and back. It was magical because the city was so quiet.
The international and interstate borders were shut. There were no tourists. It was as I remembered Sydney from the 1970s. We stopped and had lunch by the Opera House, right beside the harbour. The chances of getting a table there on such a beautiful winter’s day in normal times would be less than nil.
The photo shows my friend looking out over the very quiet Harbour. Memorable? Definitely. Priceless? Most definitely. Little did we know that within two weeks we would be plunged into an awful four-month-long lockdown.
11. North Avoca
Here is a reminder of that awful lockdown. Macfilos contributor and Central Coast local, Wayne Gerlach, and I regularly meet on a Tuesday morning for coffee. During the lockdown, we walked up the steep hill behind my house, down the other side to a small cafe at beautiful North Avoca.
This particular August morning the sea was running high and I decided that an iPhone photo would not do the scene justice. So after Wayne and I had walked back and parted company, I drove the short distance back over to North Avoca and shot the scene with my Q2. I think that the ‘panorama’ crop suits the subject.
Finally, another cat photo! We’ve come full circle. Again, this is taken with the Q2. A most important photo as it shows Marvel. She’s a three-year-old domestic short hair, an RSPCA rescue cat, who I adopted in early July.
After the death of my lovely Phoebe, back in March, I made the decision not to have another cat for six to nine months. However, being alone in the large house during the lockdown quickly wore me down. I needed feline company so one of my granddaughters, Ellie, went online and found little Marvel for me.
She was at a PetBarn shop in nearby West Gosford. PetBarn has an arrangement with the RSPCA where rescue animals up for adoption are displayed in their stores. There were two cats in the store and Marvel was my first choice, but I would have taken either. I did ask if I could take both but the other one was waiting to be picked up by its new owner. So it was just Marvel.
According to the RSPCA shelter’s notes, Marvel was found by a member of the public as a very skinny stray. She is certainly not skinny today. She has really fitted into my life well. She is playful and affectionate and she is really cute. She may have had a sad history, but she’s certainly a happy cat now. She probably thinks she’s won the lottery. Good news at the end of a horrible year.
So that’s my 2021 in twelve memorable pictures. My earnest hope now is that my 2022 is better in every way than my 2021. I think I have the right building blocks in place to make that happen.