Bootawa resident Jim Frazier is an icon in global photography. He is an inventor, scientist and artist and has revolutionised the world of still photography and film making. Story by Peter Lyne.
From humble beginnings in Armidale, Jim has forged a career spanning more than 50 years. He has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) and has been the recipient of more than 40 national and international awards, including a prestigious Emmy.
His list of achievements are endless; he is renowned for his work on David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries and is the inventor of several camera lenses, which revolutionised the film industry in the 1980s.
More recently, he has developed the Infinity lens, which again is revolutionising the security industry through CCTV, plus an optic lens used in the Biometric industry.
A self confessed poor scholar, Jim learned to love nature and the many animals and bio-diversity of Australia’s outdoors through his father. His career almost never started, because as a child he was almost blinded when squirted in the eye by Tiger Snake venom. Later on, when filming, he had a similar problem – with Weaver Ants, which went up his nose and into his eyes.
“Most children played sport and did other things,” Jim said. “We, as a family, wandered through the bush and learned about the fantastic life of creatures with Dad. It was the basis of where I am today.”
Since moving to acreage at Bootawa 12 years ago, Jim and his wife Helen have continued their association with nature and have established from scratch a magnificent wildlife haven, which currently has around 160 bird species plus an abundance of other creatures.
“We started here with the odd bird and snake, but now it is a fantastic sanctuary.”
Leaving school, Jim’s first job was in his home town in the Zoology Department at the local university. He progressed to the Australian Museum, to head the preparation department for displays. During his spare time he continued his love of Australia’s natural world, filming around the country.
During his time at the museum, he met Densey Clyne, well known Australian naturalist, photographer and writer, who is renowned for her documentation and studies of spiders and insects. At the time she was collecting frogs, and she asked Jim if he could assist in the study by filming some species.
This is where his long association with her began, with the making of 16 mm wildlife films from the outback of Australia and overseas in the early 1970s. It was at this time they became business partners and began contributing and then working full time on the David Attenborough documentaries.
After nearly 20 years of filming the documentaries, Jim, who had spent many decades pulling apart a camera lens, became frustrated with what he perceived as the limitations of the lenses available on the market.
In the late 1980s he began to develop a lens to cover everything from close up to distance shots and beyond, which was always completely in focus.
“Wildlife is very unforgiving and difficult. Time is very limited to get the shots you require, whether it be small insects and spiders to large wildlife animals. Back then it was very difficult to capture the subject and background in focus, and to get it right was time consuming.
“It made sense to have it all in focus – the need for a versatile lens was obvious.”
Over several years and with many refusals of assistance (due to everyone believing his idea and pending invention was impossible), Jim went through exhaustive and frustrating times to develop a lens system giving exactly what he wanted to perfect – macro and micro 16 mm cinematography.
The new lens, with three revolutionary features, is a design we take for granted today, with a set and forget focus holding everything in focus from front to infinity. A swivel tip, so that without moving the camera, you can swivel the lens in any direction, completing a sphere, and a built-in image rotator, allowing the image to be rotated inside the lens without spinning the camera.
When patented and in partnership with Panavision, the lens was an instant winner. Today, most commercials, along with most feature films, use the lens with its reduced production costs. The success of the lens saw Jim awarded an Emmy and a Technical and Scientific Academy Award.
But everything turned sour when he was nearly bankrupted in a law suit which questioned the patent and the restriction on other companies to use the lens.
“It was a long and costly fight, which we eventually lost. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to fight litigation; it was very disappointing.”
Emerging from the long and traumatic experience does take time, and Jim, with his whole world crumbled, still retains some bitterness.
“It was a very dark period, but with the support of my wife and friends, I got through. Their support has been invaluable, and with the new venture I am back with plenty of zest.”
Today Jim heads a Sydney-based company, Global Bionics Optics Limited, a company he began with his Chief Executive Officer after a chance meeting.
“He told me he was devastated with the outcome of the court case. He stated then he would assist me with a new lens I was developing. True to his word, he did. The rest is now history.”
Global Bionics Optics through Jim’s lens is now marketed around the world and has been embraced by many industries.
“The lens provides better clarity and highlights all aspects of an image. The security industry use our lens, and it’s being used for biometric iris recognition.”
At 70 years of age, Jim is not considering retiring. He is keen to exhibit his long term hobby of ‘crystal art’ and to continue to expand his wildlife at his home.
Loving the Manning Valley, Jim is keen to see the area grow and become a vibrant centre. “This area is perfectly placed to entice new residents and business. There are many areas needing attention; one we should embrace is the flying times we have to endue.
“It is not the fault of any airline; there is one element needing attention. Our community and the professionals who live and travel to Taree are penalised by the existing flight restrictions and no fly zones currently controlled by the Australian Airforce at Williamtown. The actual flight times from Taree averages about 35 minutes, with the return flight averaging 55 minutes. The flight path to Taree is a coastal route and is almost a direct straight line, with the return flight taking a route inland via Gloucester and Singleton.”
Jim says the extra 20 minutes adds substantially to the cost of air fares and is a restriction to many low income people in our community.
“If a more direct route could be taken to Sydney, there could and should be a healthy reduction with the cost of airfares. With a more direct route, Rex, Jetstar and Qantas would be better placed to reduce fares and maybe introduce more flights.
“A simple adjustment in altitudes will fix the problem, with the airforce flying at a higher altitude.”
A second issue is the cost of fuel. He believes we are subsidising Sydney motorists with the difference of 10 to 15 cents per litre.
“This extra cost is penalising all and business from being commercially competitive and viable.“
These are some issues Jim hopes will be discussed, with a positive outcome assisting to grow the Valley. The world has a lot to thank Jim Frazier for, with his past and future contributions. He’s a real Australian hero.