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RIP: Graham Burstow (1927-2022)

Graham Burstow, a founding member of the Australian Photographic Society (APS) and highly-accomplished street photographer, has passed away at the age of 96.

Photo: John Elliott.

The Toowoomba-based photographer was a hero of the camera club scene, and for more than seven decades was part of the fabric of the Australian photographic community. He held numerous positions at the APS, with his name carrying a list of honorifics marking numerous achievements, including a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).


Graham published street and documentary photos from the ’60s, ’70, and ’80s in three photo books, Flesh, Touch Me, and Closer.

It’s no surrpise Graham’s work, which captures a bygone Australian era with a slight Rennie Ellis style,  is held by various cultural and art institutions. This includes the National Library of Australia, State Library of Queensland, Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery, Queensland Art Gallery, and many more.

His long-time friend, Doug Spowart, published a eulogy for Graham, which includes the following letter written by Doug and addressed to the Australian Honours Secretariat to support Graham’s OAM nomination.

Dear Secretariat,
     I have known Graham Burstow since the late 1960’s. He has been a significant inspiration due to his dedication to the art of image-making, but also his support of many structures that shape photography in this country. While I make mention of this man’s influence on my life, his works and work have touched and inspired thousands of Australian and international photographers for nearly 50 years.

Graham Burstow’s main sphere of interest is in the camera club movement. He has held numerous positions within the Australian Photographic Society including national President, Chairman of the Print Division, keynote speaker and mentor. Since 1959 he has held positions within the Toowoomba Photographic Society (one of the oldest such groups in Australia). Burstow has been Chairman of no fewer than 6 national and international exhibitions of salon photography.

In his hometown of Toowoomba he has each year coordinated several national art photography awards including the McGregor Prize for Photography at the University of Southern Queensland, and the Heritage Photographic Award at the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery since 1977. In my opinion Graham Burstow has a hand in, and a hand to offer, for anything photographic from presenting lectures or judging awards for students at the Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE where I work, or assisting community groups including senior citizens groups and Lifeline.

Burstow’s work appears regularly in magazines and publications including his self-published book, Touch Me.  In 1984 I curated a substantial survey of his work at Imagery Gallery in Brisbane. His work has been shown in salon exhibitions world-wide and in major institutions like the Queensland Art Gallery.
     Graham Burstow has received significant honours for his photographic work and his service to photography including the following: Associateship and EFIAP (service) of the International Federation of Photographic Art, Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society, Associateship of the Photographic Society of America and a Fellow and Honorary Fellow of the Australian Photographic Society.
In a review of his book, Touch Me, I commented that:
‘Burstow’s work is about sharing his vision with the world.  It represents a lifetime of photographic exploration of the art.  Burstow’s work is not just about camera club pictorialism but also aspects of the human condition and the humour of everyday situations.  This book is not intended as a catalogue for purchase, it is rather a communique, the photographer reaching out with the world in his photographs inviting the viewer to touch the experience portrayed.

Diversity of style and subject is apparent in Burstow’s journey in photography.  It seems as if he had walked alongside Max Dupain at the beach, been with Wolfgang Sievers at the building site, shared an impromptu moment with Henri Cartier-Bresson, a portrait session with Arnold Newman, some personal introspective moments with Nan Goldin, and an adventure with Frank Hurley’.

     Australian photography would be greatly diminished if it were not for the contribution of this generous and modest man – I have great pleasure in supporting his nomination for the Order of Australia.

Yours faithfully, Doug Spowart

Doug states that despite writing the letter two decades ago, the words still hold true. ‘We should recognise that Graham continued and expanded his connection with the great love of his life – photography.’

Graham with his book Closer in 2020. Photo: Doug Spowart.

Another close friend, John Elliott, wrote this about Graham in a Facebook post:

‘Graham Burstow was my hero and one of my best friends. He passed away yesterday.
Graham was a street photographer all of his life and a prolific shooter. His family pictures were some of the best I’ve ever seen. Photographing the street was his life’s work and some subjects he came
back to year after year and over the years he built up an amazing archive.
Graham was 95 and lived a very full life right to the end. As well as being a great photographer
Graham was a very decent human being. In the 45 years I knew Graham I never heard him say a
bad word about anyone.
Graham, you were an inspiration and a good friend. I’ll miss you mate.’

His family shared a short passage to the APS about Graham’s love of photography:

‘It was great that he was able to be involved and passionate with photography until the very end. Perhaps that is the secret to a long and active life. The APS was part of him and he was very grateful to still have some involvement.’

Graham felt the same way about how his healthy obsession with photography helped provide him with a long and full life. In an article about Graham being awarded a life membership to the Australian Cultural Library, published by The Chronicle newspaper and retrieved by Doug Spowart, the man said:

‘When you look at the things you can do to keep your mind occupied and increase the length of your life, photography is nearly always near the top of the list. It keeps your mind busy and even when you are not photographing you are probably thinking about something you want to photograph.
I think it’s worked in my case … I enjoy it, met a lot of wonderful people, it’s been great to get to go to a lot of interesting places…’

Check out Graham’s photography here.

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