John Alexander Atkins was born March 19, 1944 in North Adelaide. Photography was in his genes, with father William running a racecourse photography business including processing facilities from 1936. His mother worked as a hand colourist in the business.
Early years were spent in the dunes of Somerton Park horse riding and adventuring with friends. Around 1950 he was one of 800 patients admitted to Northfield Infectious Disease Hospital with polio.
He went to work with his father at 14, leaving Adelaide Boys High School. At 16 John built a large Hartley cabin cruiser boat, just to prove to his dad that he could. He photographed horse racing, trotting and greyhounds and started motion picture filming at the races to aid the stewards. He was also involved in the design and set up of the now familiar film photo-finish system to aid the judges.
He went on to film baseball, cycling and greyhounds, and photographed yearlings for the Blood Horse Breeders Association.
He was flown to film the Melbourne Cup for the television news. He photographed: Sabrina (an English glamour model); American Mouseketeer James Dodd; Queen Elizabeth; the Duke of Edinburgh; the Queen Mother, and many governors and parliamentarians of South Australia.
He photographed for the well-to-do of South Australia, including the Kidman family, and for Lindsay Park and the Hayse Family. He was the official Ansett photographer for many years.
In 1962 his mother, tired of hand colouring all the photos, encouraged John to visit Kodak and learn how to use the new colour processes. The first colour print was delivered to John Haigh of Haigh’s chocolates not long after (the family still has that original still). Atkins pioneered professional colour processing services in SA. One of John’s first colour processing clients was renowned aerial photographer D Darian Smith, whose reputation drew in many new clients. He took up flying himself, piloting for Darian and eventually taking over his aerial photography business. Darian’s full collection of aerial work has recently been donated to the State Library by the Atkins family.
The lab expanded rapidly and a dedicated city building at 262 Pirie Street was built in 1970. In 1981 John started Gainsborough Studios with Norman Weedall to develop portrait photography in SA. Within several years he had sold Gainsborough to Norman.
John established workshops and trade shows for professional photographers in SA and Vic with the aim of improving their photography and business skills – benefiting the industry enormously. In 1990 he purchased Technicolour and over the next five years the two businesses were merged into one, ‘Atkins Technicolour’. John also started a Colour Copy Center at their 25 Hutt Street Adelaide building utilising direct to R3 paper Meteor-Siegen copiers, a precursor to the digital photo copier.
At this point the business employed over 50 staff. With the swing to digital the business shrunk to just 12 in the mid 2000s, but is now back to 35 in 2022.
In 1994 the horse racing photography business was sold to Terry and Hilary Hann, who still operate it. In the late 1990s John and his sone Paul began developing digital print services and pioneered many techniques that allowed for high quality digital output based on Kodak’s LED Pegasus hybrid digital-to-silver printers. They put a great deal of effort into helping photographers shoot for digital output and manage a digital workflow by running workshops.
In 2007 John and Paul purchased Duckpond and merged staff and services into Atkins’ 89 Fullarton Road workshop. John never officially retired until he left in 2019, however Paul had been taking on more responsibility since the early 2000s.
John was State President of the Australian Institute or Professional Photography (AIPP) for 5 years, and Territorial Vice President for Australia for the Photo Marketing Association International (PMA) and travelled regularly to their overseas and interstate events. John suppoted industry associations through his career, believing that ‘a rising tide floats all boats’.
After selling the Kent Town building to Paul and Kate in 2019, John and Marilyn moved to explore the possibility of living in Port Douglas, but after just six months he was diagnosed with Myelo-dysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to leukemia, which it sadly developed into.
They moved to Cairns for treatment and spent three years under the excellent care of local haematologists. John died at the Cairns Hospital cancer ward on July 29. Many members of his family had visited during this stay and in the prior months, and Marilyn and Paul were at his bedside when he passed.
Around 200 family, friends, and current and former staff gathered to celebrate John’s life at Morphettville Racecourse, South Australia on August 29.
Here’s a short passage written by John’s friend and colleague, Peter Rose:
‘John Atkins. The thought of John always brings a smile to my face. He was such a positive individual, who willingly gave his time and energy to support the ideals of PMA. The respect he gained throughout that worldwide
We will all miss you John!
Peter Rose –Past Director PMA Australia