Re­mem­ber­ing Ian McKen­zie OAM

1939-2014

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Edi­tor Paul Bur­rows looks back fondly on a 30-year-re­la­tion­ship with men­tor and friend, the late Ian McKen­zie OAM.

“Don’t it al­ways seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” is the fa­mous line from Joni Mitchell’s Big Yel­low Taxi and, nearly six months af­ter his un­timely pass­ing, I’m only just start­ing to re­alise what we – and I – had in Ian McKen­zie. He was, of course, a stal­wart of the pro­fes­sional photography in­dus­try, but that word doesn’t even get close to just how much he con­trib­uted… and not just to the pro­fes­sion in gen­eral, but to so many of us on a per­sonal ba­sis.

I’m still get­ting used to the idea that I don’t get any more tele­phone calls – of­ten at un­godly hours of the morn­ing – to in­quire about the suit­abil­ity of a new piece of gear, to cri­tique a re­cently pub­lished ar­ti­cle or to sim­ply chew the fat, usu­ally about clas­sic cars (an­other great McKen­zie pas­sion).

At the start of 1989 I was cat­a­pulted into the job of edit­ing what was then called Pro­fes­sional Photography In Australia. I was un­doubt­edly green be­hind the ears and McKen­zie had been in­volved with the mag­a­zine since I was in short pants. In­ci­den­tally, be­fore we progress any fur­ther, he was al­ways sim­ply called “McKen­zie”. I didn’t even know his mid­dle name was Bruce un­til I read the first obit­u­ary back in Oc­to­ber last year. As you as­sumed the sta­tus of friend, you could

then progress to “Mac” or, if you liked, “Macca”, but I don’t think he’d been called Ian by any­body since he’d left school.

I first en­coun­tered Mac at the Photographics ’83 con­ven­tion in Mel­bourne when he was the driv­ing force be­hind bring­ing Pete Turner – then, as now, my favourite pho­tog­ra­pher – to Australia. I re­mem­ber Mac be­ing as daunt­ing in ap­pear­ance as Turner… both favoured black skivvies, but Mac had the ad­van­tage of hav­ing about ten times as much hair as the Amer­i­can. From the point of view of some­body who is now fol­li­cally chal­lenged, Mac’s head of hair was al­ways a thing of won­der and, re­mark­ably, re­mained that way right up un­til the end.

Although he was a fix­ture at ev­ery IAP event, we re­ally didn’t have much to do with each other un­til I as­sumed the ed­i­tor­ship of the mag­a­zine which was, at that time, ex­clu­sively the In­sti­tute’s jour­nal… and then, af­ter my first is­sue, I got my very first McKen­zie tele­phone call. It was, let’s say, typ­i­cally forthright about the var­i­ous as­pects of the pub­li­ca­tion that he con­sid­ered weren’t up to scratch… the de­liv­ery was ro­bust, but even then I could see the in­ten­tions were meant to be con­struc­tive. Even af­ter we be­came friends, he al­ways started a phone con­ver­sa­tion with the terse an­nounce­ment, “McKen­zie”.

Sage Ad­vice

Our friend­ship be­gan at the 1993 AIPP na­tional con­ven­tion which was held in Can­berra and was mem­o­rable for a great many rea­sons… no, not so much mem­o­rable, more like in­fa­mous (you all know who you are).

I was al­ways a bit ner­vous about en­coun­ter­ing Mac in per­son, es­pe­cially since we’d had quite a few more ‘lit­tle chats’ along the way, but things changed one night when, at the bar, he in­tro­duced me to aqua­vit, a lethal Nor­we­gian fire­wa­ter that, be­fore it’s bot­tled, is loaded aboard any cargo ship go­ing to cross the equa­tor and then re­turned. Ap­par­ently, the two cross­ings of the equa­tor, not to men­tion the ship’s move­ment and the big vari­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture and hu­mid­ity, add a cer­tain some­thing to the spirit. McKen­zie, also be­ing a keen sailor, ap­pre­ci­ated the mys­ti­cism of the open ocean and, be­sides, ev­ery­thing al­ways had to have a story.

The next day we bunked off from what­ever was on the con­fer­ence pro­gram and took a Nis­san 4WD I was road-testing into the Brind­abella Moun­tains which had been blan­keted in snow overnight. The ‘Road Closed’ sign was im­pe­ri­ously ig­nored by McKen­zie who then in­tro­duced me to an­other el­e­ment of his char­ac­ter which all of us who knew and loved him even­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced at some stage… his ter­ri­fy­ing driv­ing. Later, when ques­tions were asked about why the mag­a­zine’s edi­tor hadn’t been at any of the day’s con­fer­ence events, I had a rock-solid ex­cuse. The friend­ship was forged.

Look­ing back, I hadn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated how much of a friend­ship it was at the time… it just was. When I was in Mel­bourne, I stayed at his place, lis­tened to Han­del very loud ( Zadok The Priest was a favourite) and drank a lot of red wine (plus the odd sin­gle malt or three). When he came to Syd­ney, he stayed with me… and, if I had the time, I was of­ten his as­sis­tant (an ex­pe­ri­ence I once wrote about in sis­ter mag­a­zine Cam­era). We went to jazz con­certs to­gether. At his in­vi­ta­tion, I spoke at the MG Car Club in Mel­bourne about com­pet­ing in tar­mac ral­lies. I bought one of his old Range Rovers. He even man­aged to get me on Su­per­tramp, his rac­ing yacht, but only once and we didn’t ac­tu­ally leave the moor­ing… We joined forces to con­tinue the Con­tem­po­rary Pho­tog­ra­phers: Australia se­ries of mono­graphs which he had in­sti­gated in the early 1980s and then even­tu­ally handed over to me to keep go­ing. It said a lot that he thought I was up to the task. And, in a seem­ingly per­verse piece of tim­ing, the sev­enth book in the se­ries – de­voted to an­other great mu­tual friend, Rob Imhoff – was launched just a week af­ter Mac’s pass­ing.

But be­yond all this was the con­tin­ued sup­port, the will­ing­ness to pro­vide sage ad­vice, the con­struc­tive crit­i­cisms (de­liv­ered more gen­tly over the years, but

no less in­sight­ful) and the re­as­sur­ance, which we all built up over time, that he was al­ways there… be­cause he al­ways was. When I re­ceived my hon­orary fel­low­ship from the AIPP in Syd­ney in 2011 and was still reel­ing from the sur­prise of the an­nounce­ment, it was a guf­faw­ing McKen­zie – clearly one of the chief schemers be­hind the award – who rushed over first and en­veloped me in a bear hung which went on for a least a minute or so. It was prob­a­bly at that point that I sud­denly re­alised what our friend­ship meant to both of us… it was un­spo­ken, but it was deep and it was gen­uine. I shall never for­get that mo­ment, es­pe­cially as it was Mac in party mode, typ­i­cally loud and larger than life as ever.

Last Lunch

When, around the mid­dle of last year, we learned of his ill­ness, it was hard to com­pre­hend that there was any­thing on the earth that could stop Mac… some­thing you be­lieved even more if you’d ever been on a race­track with him in one of his clas­sic MGs. A lunch was hastily or­gan­ised in Mel­bourne and it was a typ­i­cally rowdy af­fair which, ap­pro­pri­ately, saw us threat­ened with evic­tion from the restau­rant if we didn’t pipe down. Mac looked just like Mac al­ways looked, but there was a sober few mo­ments when he qui­etly, but au­thor­i­ta­tively, handed over a few ba­tons… clearly he had an inkling that time might be run­ning out. Less than two months later he was gone. The day af­ter the ‘last lunch’, I re­ceived an email from Mac – ap­par­ently each of us who was there did, in­di­vid­u­ally – and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me shar­ing its mes­sage. It was very short, but pow­er­fully mov­ing to see the words writ­ten down, re­cip­ro­cat­ing ex­actly what I’d felt about our re­la­tion­ship.

“It didn’t seem to be the right mo­ment for me to make a speech yes­ter­day, but I didn’t want the mo­ment to pass with­out thank­ing you for com­ing. Your friend­ship

and sup­port over the years has been a source of many great en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ences, and I could not have done many of the things I’ve man­aged to do with­out your help.”

For­tu­nately, I was able to re­ply, and we made plans to meet in Mel­bourne prior to Rob Imhoff’s book launch in Bal­larat, but the grim reaper had other ideas and so my last mem­ory of McKen­zie is of him hold­ing court at the lunch ta­ble, ever the com­mand­ing pres­ence, red wine glass in hand, loved by all those around him and lov­ing them back.

By now, I sus­pect Mac has got quite a num­ber of com­mit­tees on the go in heaven, has given St Peter a re­vised set of guide­lines re­gard­ing ad­mis­sions, and made God wait while he painstak­ingly set up a 4x5-inch sheet cam­era. It could be a cliche, but in Ian McKen­zie’s case it’s ab­so­lutely true… we will never see his like again.

Ian McKen­zie OAM, St Kilda, Mel­bourne, 9 Au­gust 2014.

Par­ty­ing with Syd­ney pho­tog­ra­pher Jenny San­ders. Le­ica Dis­cov­ery week­end, Hunter Val­ley, NSW, June 1995.

Ly­ing down on the job, Le­ica Dis­cov­ery week­end, Hunter Val­ley, NSW, June 1995.

With L&P Pho­to­graphic’s Bruce Pot­tinger, Le­ica Dis­cov­ery week­end, Hunter Val­ley, NSW, June 1995.

Shoot­ing for client Mul­ti­plex in Syd­ney, May 1996.

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