Gary Blackman began taking photographs as a student in the 1940s, a hobby that would ultimately evolve into a fifty-year career in photography and inspire a new generation of photographers and artists in the 1970s and ‘80s. Blackman was formally trained as a scientist, and his lifelong passion for art coexisted with his position as an Associate Professor of Pharmacology at the Otago Medical School, where he worked from 1954 to 1995. Although Blackman’s photographs were taken almost entirely in his own time, he was also supported by the Medical School, who allowed him to maintain a darkroom on campus where he developed and printed much of his work.
When Blackman was starting out in the 1950s, the conventional approach to art photography was based on the pictorialist tradition, as exemplified by the sentimental and self-consciously “painterly” style favoured by the various camera clubs and photographic societies of the time. However, Blackman modelled his approach instead on the photojournalism he saw in imported magazines such as Life, resulting in hard-edged documentary images like Children watching gorse fire, North East Valley (1952) and Six o’ clock closing, George Street, Dunedin, Saturday, November 1952, which later became touchstone pictures for the new generation of photographic artists emerging from New Zealand’s art schools in the 1970s.
A persistent theme in Blackman’s work has been an interest in architecture and urban space. In 1968, he collaborated with Ted McCoy on the book Victorian City of New Zealand, an important record of many now-vanished 19th century buildings.