1928 – 2010
“My aim is to portray the Australian worker honestly, and I’m pleased that others are interested in what I do.”  

            Jeff Carter began his career at age 17 when he was 'persuaded' to leave Melbourne Boys High School for sending up the school cadet corps in an article for the school magazine. As he had modelled his literary style on the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck, he decided to emulate their lifestyle too. With a portable typewriter and a folding Kodak camera, he headed north.

            After a few years working on cattle stations, fishing boats and road gangs, being a tent-show spruiker, fruit picker and boxer, during which time he sold stories to newspapers and magazines, he got a job with a new magazine, Outdoors and Fishing. He soon became editor and stayed with the magazine for five years – his only ever full-time, regular job.

            In 1954 his first marriage ended and he met a young Californian, Mare Young. Typically, he courted her on a snake-hunting trip with reptile expert Eric Worrell. Soon after, they bought an old Peugeot panel van and headed off for the outback looking for stories and photographs. They began by selling material to local magazines such as Pix (later Pix-People), Walkabout, The Australian Women’s Weekly and Weekend. As their reputation grew, they began being approached by the likes of National Geographic and the Black Star photo agency.            


             Although Jeff spent a few years in Europe, basing himself and Mare in a small Spanish town, the vast bulk of his work is of Australians, usually at work, and their place in the landscape. He styled himself a 'photographer to the poor and unknown' and was happiest away from the city with those he regarded as the real makers of the country. His work includes 20 non-fiction books, countless magazine articles, documentary films and an unsurpassed collection of images of Australians – charcoal makers, timber fellers, shearers, fishermen, prospectors, camp cooks and the like.

           Sydney Morning Herald photography writer Robert McFarlane calls Jeff “a visual poet… a deceptively fine craftsman who captures universal moments of endeavour in the lives of our working people”.

            In this film Jeff talks about the creation of these images and we go with him as he photographs, fifty years later, the people of the Ovens Valley in Victoria, successful vignerons now but tobacco farmers when he first knew and photographed them. Jeff also takes us into the darkroom where he explains some of the techniques that he developed to capture detail in the shadows of the harsh Australian sunlight. And there are some surprises as subjects from years ago re-enter his life.

            As Jeff says, “I know you could pose, you could get a shearer to do just this or just that and you’d get one photo and that’s it, but I’d rather stay there all day or stay there two or three days and take a couple of hundred photos and finally get the one that’s it, that’s the quintessential moment, that’s the shearer, that’s what it’s all about.  Great, bonza, beauty, I’m happy.” 

"I believe there are only two types of photograph – those that draw attention to the photographer and those that centre attention on the subject. Similarly, there are only two categories of photographer – those who work to please clients and those who work to please themselves. My images are in class two and I am in group two as a photographer."

 – Jeff Carter




The DVD of Words on Light : Jeff Carter will be available from Artsdoc Australia.

For further details please click here.


DVD video    16:9    PAL    colour    stereo sound    58 minutes


Words on Light : Jeff Carter credits


There is a tribute to Jeff Carter here, and Izumi tells of meeting him here.

Jeff’s archive can be viewed and his estate contacted here.

  For more information on the individual photographers, please click on the links below

David Moore      Wolfgang Sievers     Robyn Stacey      Robert Walker