Ember Razement ________________________________ The Fine Art Photography of Malcolm Smith



down to Malcolm's diabetesMALCOLM'S DIABETES

Photograph of Malcolm by H Cazneaus early 1946

Malcolm taken by well known Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux early 1946



Photographic Artist

I have been working as a full time professional photographer from my Canberra and Sydney studios since 1994 (and have been told I have been smiling ever since!) but have now wound down my commercial work to enable me to spend more time developing my photographic art.  I have a compelling interest in images of people ranging from studio and environmental figure studies to dancers in motion.  As well as people images I photographs the landscape often isolating small areas rather than taking the panoramic view.  Nearly all my exhibition work is monochrome (black and white) and is usually toned.  Earlier work was produced with traditional wet darkroom techniques but now I produce images as archival ink jet prints.  My work is often full of rich dark tones and shadows and also emphasises the lines of the figure and believe this style, which is a combination of camera technique and lighting, is particularly relevant to photography of the female nude.

My photographs have been exhibited at a number of solo exhibitions in Canberra and also in many group shows in Canberra and Sydney.  During my time as a professional photographer I have won many awards including gold and silver awards at the annual National Professional Photography Awards and was awarded Master of Photography by the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP).  Over the last five years I have produced a significant body of work which includes the figure in the built and natural landscape.

Art has been an interest all my life and some of my earliest memories are of having my portrait taken by well known Australian photographer Harold Cazneaux in the mid 1940s and being introduced to photographic printing by a favorite uncle in the early 1950s.  Before becoming a full time photographic artist I worked as an Engineer and Computer Consultant following my graduation from the University of New South Wales with Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Electrical Engineering.

DIABETES, MY STORY – Malcolm Smith

My mother and sister were both type two diabetics (my sister became insulin dependant quite quickly) and with this family history, the fact that I was overweight (eighteen stone at the time) and over forty I was a candidate for becoming diabetic.  Type two diabetes, sometimes referred to as adult onset diabetes, is where the insulin production of the pancreas is no longer adequate for your body weight (but some insulin is produced) whereas type one diabetes is where the insulin production fails completely.  My doctor had given me some urine glucose test strips to test myself from time to time.

I was printing some photographs late at night about 1985 and I was continually thirsty drinking many half glasses of lemonade and passing small amounts of urine frequently that night.  I realized after four hours that this was a classic symptom of diabetes and the urine test strips confirmed it in the morning.  When your blood glucose levels go above about fifteen (normal is four to eight) your kidneys try to flush the excess glucose out hence passing urine often and being continually thirsty (note the lemonade I was drinking was making things worse by increasing my already high glucose level).  My doctor confirmed the diagnosis with some blood tests (which are much more sensitive and accurate than urine test strips).

I immediately started loosing weight (down to about fourteen stone) which brought the glucose levels down to the normal range for about six years.  As time passed I needed tablets to control my glucose levels and eventually some twenty years after being diagnosed was taking the maximum dose in tablets.  The next step was insulin injections which happened in early 2007.  Remember type two diabetics produce some insulin and reducing the body weight reduces the insulin needed to control blood glucose levels and the tablets one taken before meals improves the insulin production slightly and the one taken after the meals improves the efficiency of use of available insulin.

As time passed the circulation in my feet has decreased (diabetes causes deterioration to the blood vessels and I need a hot water bottle on cold nights or electric blanket for my feet and sometimes get leg cramps (which I get over by walking around or, if severe, standing under a hot shower).  I still have pretty close to full sensations in my feet but, like all diabetics, keep a very close eye on them (cuts on the feet from walking barefoot with the poorer healing due to reduced circulation, untreated tinea etc. can go unfelt and result in gangrene and many diabetics loose toes or even legs).

One of the major problems diabetics have is deterioration to the blood vessels in the eyes which can hemorrhage filling the eye ball with leaked blood causing poor sight or severe blindness.  Around 2002 I became very lax in my glucose level control with levels around twelve to fifteen and on my annual eye check the optometrist detected worsening in the veins in one of my eyes and sent me to an eye surgeon.  I have now had many laser treatments to each of my eyes and have improved my glucose levels (reduced weight to thirteen stone) and my diabetes control is now overseen by a specialist.  My blood pressure is held under control by tablets – diabetes and high blood pressure together is not good!  I hope the deterioration in my eyes has been arrested but I have had minor leaks in both eyes which were very worrying.

Over the years I have heard many speakers on diabetes and some of them have been asked about the food diabetics should consume and usually only half the answer is given.  The diabetic diet is best described in long term and short term goals.  In the long term the best diabetic diet is like that specified for those with heart or blood pressure problems i.e. a healthy range of food built up from the various food groups and including grains, vegetables, reasonable protein (meat), fibre etc.  In the short term blood glucose levels are determined by the carbohydrates you eat (which the body converts to blood glucose).  Processed carbohydrates like refined sugar go almost straight into the blood system and should be minimized.  Fruit juice goes into the blood system fairly quickly but unprocessed fruit metabolises more slowly so is better (but too much is still not good).  The best carbohydrates to eat are those which metabolise the slowest – red skinned potatoes metabolise more slowly than white skinned potatoes, whole grain bread is less processed than white and some varieties of rice are better than others so looking at the food label for things like “Glycemic Index” (the rate at which food metabolises), grams of carbohydrate in a measured amount of foods is important (as is salt and fat content).  However a diabetic can eat a couple of slices of bread, have a bowl of cereal, eat a reasonable quantity of pasta and eat a medium size potato (a measured amount of carbohydrate per meal) as part of a healthy diet.  One trap to look out for is salt reduced foods (e.g. baked beans) where manufacturers can replace the salt with sugar as a flavor enhancer so a diabetic should learn to read the labels on foods.

In summary if you are:

  • Over forty years old;
  • Overweight; and
  • Have a history of diabetes in your family

you are a candidate for becoming diabetic.  The classic symptom is being continually thirsty and passing urine often (but not the only symptom).  If you become diabetic don’t muck about – get it under control fast!


Professor Andrew Tonkin (from Conquest magazine, Autumn 2003)
Diabetes is a very important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.  It increases the risk by two to eightfold, particularly in women, and cardiovascular disease is by far the most common cause of death in people with diabetes.
In a 1999-2000 study of Australians over age over 25 with diabetes 12% had had a heart attack and 9% a stroke, compared with 3% and 2% respectively in those without diabetes.