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Photographing the big stars

David Wallace spent many years photographing some of the biggest names in rock 'n' roll, from The Beatles through to Diana Ross, with a story to share for each musician. He spoke to Jessica Abelsohn about his photography and his experience with the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, Miles Davis in the background
Paul McCartney and Jane Asher, Miles Davis in the background

When David Wallace was in school, his chemistry teacher told him he should become a photographer. He took those words to heart.

“On leaving school I went to work for The Bristol Evening Post, a newspaper that covered the southwest of England and South Wales with a circulation of 330,000,” he wrote to The AJN. “I was the youngest there and this was before the days of the paparazzi.”

His role at the Evening Post gave him the opportunity to photograph people he never dreamed of. The first Beatle he photographed was Paul McCartney.

“He came to Bristol to see his girlfriend Jane Asher in a play at the Bristol Old Vic,” Wallace recalled. “I photographed the two of them in a pub across the road from the theatre, The Llandoger Trow. This was where Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island. Also in the background of the shot is jazz musician Miles Davis.”

A year or so later, Wallace photographed the Beatles concert. He was given access to their dressing room after the show to take a few snaps.

“It was very down to earth conversation, how their football teams were doing, Liverpool and Everton,” he said. “They asked who I supported; I said Bristol City. They laughed.”

Wallace was once again with McCartney at his last concert in Australia with Linda Eastman. McCartney, he said, was quite paranoid after the death of John Lennon.

While Wallace has also photographed the likes of The Rolling Stones and The Who, he said he had his most interesting moments with The Beach Boys.

“They flew into London and got a bus straight down to Bristol for their first English performance. After the show, all they wanted to do was to go to an old English pub.”

So, Wallace and the journalist obliged.

Wallace is full of interesting anecdotes, many of which he was more than happy to share. Like the time he was at a Royal Command Performance at the Opera, when a handful of photographers and cameramen were allowed into the green room after the show. A platform had been built so they could watch as the artists lined up to meet the Queen.

“Unfortunately, just as the Queen came to the door the platform collapsed [and] we fell forward on the performers. I positioned myself between Olivia Newton-John and Peter Allen – two people I had photographed before.”

And the time he photographed Diana Ross from side stage. “She came over to me and sang one of her songs. Unfortunately she stood on my foot with her stiletto heels, so much pain,” he said.

In 1969, Wallace settled down in Sydney, married and started a family.

Wallace has a fascinating story himself. Born Michael Diamond, he always knew he was adopted. When his son became ill, doctors asked him if the illness ran in the family. Wallace realised he had no idea. He started his search and while some stones were overturned, it took him until 2021 to find out that he had siblings.

“A person named Bev Rosenberg, who had been given an Ancestry DNA test for her birthday, discovered that she and I were a very close match. In fact, it appeared she was my half-sister, that we shared the same mother,” he recalled.

“To say I was in shock was an understatement.”

It was then discovered that Bev lived just ‘down the road’ in Melbourne and his half-brother Howard also lived in Australia.

Wallace was also heavily impacted by the 2019 bushfire season while living in the South Coast town of Mogo. His wife, Leah, had a bookshop and the couple lived above it. Just 12 hours after arriving back from Nepal, on December 31 2019, Wallace received a call from the State Emergency Services to say they had 10 minutes to pack and head to the coast.

“I grabbed a couple of portable hard drives and a few other things. My computer was too big to move, and I forgot I had most of my work on DVDs. We were expecting to return to the house a little later. We did not expect it to burn down,” he explained.

Wallace and Leah sheltered with others near the beach. He said the Red Cross and the Jewish community in Canberra also provided help, but he lost many of his photographs.

Some of the photographs that survived were recently featured as part of Beatlesfest, a rock photo exhibition.

Wallace also joined the local Rotary in Katoomba. He took photos for a cookbook that raised money for the homeless. For his work, he was rewarded Rotarian of the Year. Some of his photographs have also been used in the Australian government-published book Fighting Spirit, which is a tribute to the bushfire-affected communities of Australia’s Black Summer.

The Who

David Wallace is reunited with Bev Rosenberg.

The Mogo fires

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