217 - Max Pam
Nov 08, 2023 • E217 • 01:23:55
Max Pam is an Australian photographer born in 1949 in suburban Melbourne, which as a teenager he found to be grim, oppressive and culturally isolated. He found refuge in the counter-culture of surfing and the imagery of National Geographic and Surfer Magazine and became determined to travel overseas.
Max left Australia at 20, after accepting a job as a photographer assisting an astrophysicist. Together, the pair drove a VW Beetle from Calcutta to London. This adventure proved inspirational, and travel has remained a crucial and continuous link to his creative and personal development. As Gary Dufour noted in his essay in Indian Ocean Journals (Steidl, 2000): “Each photograph is shaped by incidents experienced as a traveller. His photographs extend upon the tradition of the gazetteer; each photograph a record of an experience, a personal account of an encounter somewhere in the world. Each glimpse is part of an unfolding story rather than simply a record of a place observed. While travel underscores his production Pam’s photographs are not the accidental evidence of a tourist.”
Max’s work takes the viewer on compelling journeys around the globe, recording observations with an often surrealist intensity, matching the heightened sensory awareness of foreign travel. The work frequently implies an interior, psychic journey, corresponding with the physical journey of travel. His work in Asian counties is well represented in publications as are his travels in Europe, Australia, and the Indian Ocean Rim cultures including India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Yemen, The Republic of Tanzania, Mauritius, Madagascar, the Cocos and Christmas Islands. The images leave the viewer, as Tim Winton said in Going East (Marval 1992), “grateful for having been taken so mysteriously by surprise and so far and sweetly abroad.”
Max’s first survey show was held at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 1986, and was followed by a mid-career retrospective at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1991. He was also the subject of a major exhibition at the Comptoir de la Photographie, Paris in 1990, which covered the work of three decades. He has published several highly acclaimed photographic monographs and 'carnets de voyage', including Going East: Twenty Years of Asian Photography (1992), Max Pam (1999), Ethiopia (1999) and Indian Ocean Journals (2000). Going East won Europe’s major photo book award the Grand Prix du Livre Photographique in 1992. In the same year Max held his largest solo show to date at the Sogo Nara Museum of Art, Nara. He has published work in the leading international journals and is represented in major public and private collections in Australia, Great Britain, France and Japan.
In episode 217 Max discusses, among other things:
- How he adopted the visual diary as his photographic approach.
- The influence of Diane Arbus.
- Why he chose such a specific period of his life to explore in his new memoir.
- How Arbus inspired him to shoot 6x6.
- How surfing in Australia introduced him travelling.
- How he ended up in India and why it fascinates him.
- The magic of film vs. digital.
- Working with book designers… or not.
- The time he failed to get into Magnum Photos.
- Surviving financially, teaching, and the importance of ‘marrying up’.
- Travel and family.
- Returning to Australia in a poor mental state, post typhoid.
- His wife’s Alzheimer’s and eventual death.
- Philip Jones-Griffith
- Don McCullen
- Larry Burrows
- David Bailey
- Diane Arbus
- Edward Weston
- Tina Modotti
- Roger Ballen
- George Orwell
- Bernard Plossu
- Ramon Pez
- Sarah Moon
- One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest
- Peter Beard
“I’m a very curious person and ultimately having the camera amplifies that curiosity in a really profound way. And it also gives you carte blanche to stick your head into areas where normally you’d think ‘ah, it’s a bit dodgy, maybe not, I could get my head cut off it I stuck it in the hole…’ But often then you think, ‘well come on man, you’ve got a camera there, isn’t this part of your self image?’ And so it’s like this ticket to ride on something that is actually quite dangerous.”