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REST IN PEACE: Alan Small, 1937-2023

We reported briefly in the editorial of our last newsletter that a true icon of the Australian photographic industry, Alan Small, has died. The news came in just before deadline, and there wasn’t time to put together an obituary we could be confident was both factually correct and worthy of Alan.

Photo by John Swainston

We wrote: ‘Alan operated Taree Camera House since 1983, only closing the doors  a few days ago, following a prolonged illness. But it was his guiding role as the first chairman of directors of Camera House/Raleru, which he held for 11 years (plus another six as deputy chairman) which distinguished him as a leader in the industry. He was awarded a Life Membership of Camera House in 2002.
     Alan was an accomplished photographer, and an astute businessman. Always forthright, he was an  expressive and articulate speaker and writer. He was always generous with his encouragement for us here at Inside Imaging. He could keep a Frontier running with duct tape and baling wire.

Truly one of the greats.

…But his passing warrants more than a few rushed sentences. Below is a compilation including contributions from Camera House, from long-time friend and colleague John Swainston, from his son David and comments from industry contemporaries, all of which paint a picture of a man who was much loved and respected by those who enjoyed the honour of his friendship.

Alan’s son, David Small:

Before becoming Taree Camera House in 1983, Dad traded as Taree Photographics, and had done so since August of 1962, making it just shy of 61 years under his ownership/management.  I worked weekends and school holidays with him from the age of 13, and for two years after finishing school. He had some amazing people work with him, and I learnt a lot about business and life in those years.

The family closed the store on June 30 to prevent it running into a new financial year. He would have turned 86 in September, and all he wanted to do was go back to his store and work.

Prior to opening the store, dad was the news reader on Taree radio station, 2RE, and also did some work for the local TV station, ECN 8. With his long time employee, Colin Booth, they also ran the New Liberty Theatre in Wingham for many years, my mum selling tickets and my aunt working the candy bar, until Taree Photographics grew to where time didn’t allow both.

Stewart Pickersgill and Lance Miller, Camera House:

We are sad to inform you of the passing of Alan Small.

Alan Small was the owner of Taree Camera House, he was also the first Chairman of the current form of Camera House, a position he held for 11 years, before assuming the mantle of deputy chairman for a further six years.  

Like all successful organisations we are built on solid ideals and sound structure, and Alan was the leader of the group that provided the conceptual ideals and then built the successful company that we enjoy today. 

Our first warehouse was a store in Manly. The next step was bold, and our second warehouse was purchased and owned by our company, with our offices upstairs. The company had a factoring finance arm known as Auscam to support importing and membership. These business models empowered a fledgling company and Alan lead those smart moves.  

While many of us have a face for radio, Alan had a voice for radio. He spoke well and clearly so attendees at AGMs knew the company’s directions.  Alan’s ‘welcome to the Ladies’ at AGM dinners was a signature of a gentleman of his era.

Alan ceased being a director of Raleru in 1999 but the company and the brand he formed continued to meet the challenges of the digital revolution that was so destructive to many photo retail organisations worldwide. In recent times we have withstood the challenges of Covid equally well. 

All our subsequent directors have had the privilege of building upon the foundations of a model and a company that had the necessary layers of checks and balances to continue to succeed. Like everything we have evolved, but the early DNA that allowed us to evolve and built our modern company was established by our founding board led so professionally by Alan Small. 

We send our condolences and thoughts to his family and friends.

John Swainston:

With wife and colleague Jan by his side, Alan received a Life Member Award from Camera House in 2002 (Picture: John Swainston)

Through incredibly hard work especially by him and co-directors John Miller and Jan Novak, along with Roger Hart, the GM and Joe Magno the finance man, Camera House rose to become one of the strongest camera retail groups in the country, a position they still maintain.

I was always amazed at the range of camera and accessory gear he offered in a small country town. Service was everything to him and his team. Behind him was the strong support of Jan his wife. In October 2002, at the Camera House AGM, our company, Maxwell Optical Industries (Nikon), won the Merv Lewis Supplier of the Year award. On the same night Alan and Jan accepted the Camera House Life Member Award for services to Camera House and nearly 20 years on the board.

I will never forget the enormous determination he had to ensure small retailers got the best deal possible and that consumers had a place to go locally that would help them get the best from their photography.

Comments from friends, colleagues and customers:

– Alan’s contribution to the Manning Valley will endure for years to come. When I moved to the mid-north coast 23 years ago, 2 things caught me by surprise: 1 the range and service available at Alan’s store, which rival’s capital city camera stores and 2 Alan called me by name, even though I had only met him once a number of years earlier! And over the passed 23 years he has continued to be an inspiration.
Adam Fardell

– Very sad to hear this news. Alan and I go way back to the very early days of Auscam then Camera House. He we a leader and mentor to me in those years.

The industry was much better for having him as a member. Looking back on what Camera House did for its members and suppliers it would never have happened if he had not taken up the challenge of rebuilding the company.
We all benefited from his legacy. I called on Alan for support in the early years and he always had advice and options on any topic that came up. It was always constructive and informed.
Mark Alderson
‘Sad to hear of the passing of Alan. This is the last photo I have of him taken in 2021 on one of my trips down south . We go back to the late 60s. . Always a pleasure calling in on him to talk about photography both old and new.. Will miss him and our long talks about solving the world’s problems.’ Gordon Sheard
– Very sad news to hear of Alan Small’s passing. During my years at Kodak, Alan became my industry mentor. I made many flights to Taree to discuss industry matters and to have through that a great friendship over many years. Alan had a wisdom that could not be questioned. Many industry folk can sit back and remember his input, guidance and knowledge plus the friendship that came by knowing Alan Small. We will miss this man. A man of trust, integrity and most of all a very decent person who will be missed by all around him.
Yes we will grieve Alan’s passing but it will be the memories that carry us through. Condolences to Jan and those around this great man from Taree.
John Kerr

Sorry to hear this sad news. Alan was well liked and will be remembered well for his contribution to our industry for leadership and innovation. My thoughts are with Jan and the family. Dad enjoyed a great friendship with Alan throughout his years with Camera House.
Louise Miller
– Alan loved and breathed photography with a rare passion. He started with a very small store and he seemed almost always to be there. I was one of many reps he would see in his store on Sunday so we could get an early start on our North Coast run. Even in his big store he wanted to get involved with every customer. The town loved him. He was a great contributor to my trade magazine, Photo Forum, and he could put his case on virtually any subject with perfect clarity. How he found time for radio work and flying is a total mystery. He was a man of boundless energy and passion and I am very sad to hear this news.
Paul Curtis
– In 1993 when I joined the Board of Camera House, Alan took me under his wing and gave excellent guidance. We had many brisk morning walks and quite/ish evening dinners (with John Miller) to absorb Alan’s firm and enlightening views on a vast selection of interests. Last spoke to him two weeks ago and whilst the determination still simmered, he was far from the Alan we knew and loved . Go in Peace Alan.
John Ralph


  1. Stuart Poignand Stuart Poignand July 26, 2023

    What a great man. I got to know Alan as a young rep, calling at Taree as one of the last calls on my northern loop country trip.
    Alan was endlessly interested and encouraging. You can see the twinkle in his eye in every photograph of him. He was one of the great promoters of photography, knowing that good business followed fully engaged customers. He was also challenging. Full of good intentions and advice for the good of the industry and Camera House. Usually in that order to his eternal credit.
    Plus, Alan could talk. Oh yes he could. It always felt like he was practising a speech on me to gauge the reaction before delivering the real performance to people of greater significance. He was certainly testing me. He was lovably infuriating or infuriatingly loveable – at least one of the two.
    I never once made it home early from that trip.

    • Keith Shipton Keith Shipton Post author | July 27, 2023

      Thanks Stuart. In my discussions with Alan over the years, he regularly identified Canon as the industry’s ‘bete noir’, so I can imagine the kinds of forthright discussions you might have had up there in Taree! Although Canon had a more, how would you put it, industry-embracing corporate culture in the days when you were running the camera division.

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