Shooting Melbourne city for the first time in a year
I did something I haven’t done for over a year recently. I went into Melbourne’s CBD and made some photos.
Not sure what I was expecting to be honest, following covid lockdowns 1 and 2 and the daily news stories of businesses struggling and folding. Riding in on the train I was apprehensive, thinking I must be heading into some sort of ghost town. What I found though was very different. Not quite the vibrant, pulsing energy of pre pandemic days, but you could still sense the soul of the place. It was there underneath, trying to break free. Cafes and shops were open and as full as they’re allowed to be at the moment. Important business people were striding down the pavements having important conversations on mobiles. The sounds of the city were all still there. The buzz of conversations over coffee, the dinging of trams. The busker in Bourke Street Mall who drums on plastic buckets, he was there too. A reawakening of sorts. A definite air of positivity, which after the year we’ve had is much needed.
It felt kind of nostalgic to me, so black and white felt right for many of these. As there is no chance of travel for the foreseeable future, I’ll look forward to wandering these laneways and streets more soon. Taking in the changes as we come out of this pandemic and all its impositions. Well hopefully anyway; there is no certainty to anything these days.
Happy New Year friends and I hope you enjoy this small set of images in the meantime.
“Along the banks of the Chao Phraya river lay parts of Bangkok rarely visited by outsiders. This the Bangkok, the Siam, of yesteryear. A place of narrow alleyways quiet during the heat of day but full of life, noise and barbeque smoke at night. It’s a contradiction to much of the ever modernising city where skyscrapers and shopping malls multiply by the day.”
Bangkok Wandering is a new photo series and essay about some of the city’s lesser known areas made on a trip just before Covid-19 shut down the entire planet.
These images were made over the course of a day in Thailand’s capital in the areas of Khlong Toey, site of the city’s largest market and home to a notorious but misunderstood slum community, and Phasi Charoen which is an area populated by Thai Chinese and Thai Muslims. The premise, as the title suggests, was really to just wander and see what unfolds, and photograph whatever is around the corner without any specific plan. This way, I find, is a great way to get to the heart of a location. Slip under the shiny facade of tourist attractions and understand a city and it’s people.
You can check out the story on Vocal and the full photo set here. Thanks for looking, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I’m writing this just as lockdown restrictions are being reinforced in Melbourne following a worrying increase in covid-19 cases across the city, just when it looked like we were on top of this thing. Gyms were reopening, we could sit at a cafe and order a coffee just like old times, this was going to be ok. And then; back to square one. Sigh.
But despite this setback, things are ok. We’re going to be ok. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a sob post. It’s an appreciation post.
Arriving back from Thailand in January I of course had no idea that like most of the world I’d be stuck at home for months and possibly even the rest of the year. It’s all a bit surreal, but this is how I’m choosing to look at it: I have a home, a safe place to wait this out, and I have enough to eat. That is more than most of the world’s population can say.
I’ve also had time to catch up on work that would otherwise sit waiting for a rainy day. This is the admin and forward planning stuff that you have best intentions to get done, but never seem to find the time. So I’m grateful for that too.
I feel like I’ve managed to learn some new editing skills as well. When photographers can’t make photos what do we do? Edit photos instead. We all evolve as creators naturally but I feel like looking back and re editing some older images has given me an idea of how my vision might evolve moving forward. To be honest I was feeling a little stuck before all this happened. Like I’ve been rehashing the same images just in different locations. But having time to study my own work as well as the work of people I look up to has given me a whole bag of new ideas to try.
It’s a frustrating, uncertain time. But we can choose not to waste it. It’s going to be strange at first when we get back out there. Like the first day of school. But until the day we can point our cameras into the late afternoon sun, let’s make the best of a bad situation and use this time wisely. If anything this situation has reinforced how fragile and limited our time on earth is.
Travel is intoxicating. When we travel our senses are on high alert, open to sights, sounds and smells purely because they are new to us. As a photographer, or creative of any kind, it’s hard not to be inspired by all this newness. Traditions, clothing, food or architecture like we are unused to tend to light a fire and before we know it we’re off creating something, capturing the things we are learning about this new place. Inspiration comes easy.
Conversely when at home we tend to miss things. We are so used to the details of daily life that it becomes hard to see the beauty of our own home. We walk right past streets, people or landscapes that to any visitor are new and exciting. We are complacent and our creativity suffers, and it takes something big to make us look up and take notice.
I’ve been as guilty as anyone of this. I’ve often spent weeks or months between trips without making a single photo. Feeling uninspired or just being too “busy” (busy being code for laziness). Then it takes me a few days each time to get back into the swing of things. So I’m starting a project. This project is to document my home town of Melbourne. The idea is both to get myself out more often to keep creating as well as take a look closer look at the place I live, exploring the pockets I haven’t seen before and finding new things in parts I’ve visited many times. Melbourne is a big, multicultural place, so there is plenty to find if you look for it. This should be fun.
I’ve made a start already by exploring the banks of the Yarra River, finding compositions of the skyline from both sides. It’s kind of low hanging fruit- Melbourne’s a pretty place- but it’s a start. I don’t know what this idea will turn into. I think I’d like to just see where it leads rather than plan too much out, but whatever comes of it I do know I’ll at least be better for the exercise. Here are some of the first shots for this series.
Earlier this year I found myself back in London for the first time in 10 years.
London has a special significance for me. This is the first place I ever travelled overseas, having quit a job and a life I was unhappy and bored with and leaving small town Australia for something- anything- new. I’ll always remember stepping off the tube and dragging my suitcase up the stairs into Picadilly Circus and right into the middle of it all. This city has helped to change my perspective on the world and given me many more opportunities for travel, new friends and new adventures. I left a small town country kid with not much of a clue of the world and came back years later with eyes wide open, a love of photography and a new fiancée. Its safe to say London has been good to me.
So how to thank the old mare? Make it look pretty in some pictures I guess.
They have a thing for bugs in Mexico. Not the street side grasshopper snacks, although they have a thing for those too. Volkswagen Beetles. Cars. They’re are everywhere, and in all forms. Rusted out, dead or almost dead, patched up or someone’s pride and joy lovingly restored and customised, they are impossible to avoid.
First introduced to Mexico in 1954, and produced locally in Puebla from 1967, these little cars have been an institution ever since. Providing an affordable, easy to fix and fun ride, the “vocho” became nothing short of a love affair for Mexicans.
“You could replace the fan belt with panty hose,” recalls one Mexican taxi driver fondly.
However like many love affairs, the attraction began to fade in the late 1970’s and 80’s, with the event of an oil crisis and Beetles were suddenly seen as too polluting and noisy, and eventually the number of cars on the road dwindled. In 2012 taxi drivers were offered a significant lump of cash to trade in their iconic green and white vehicles.
These days, all of the cars to be seen are private, often painted eye catching colours and are as much Mexico as colonial architecture and the cobbled streets they drive on.
This is Paco. He’s an 82 year old Cuban farmer who I met on a visit to his farm in the Valley of Viñales on the western side of the island.
Paco was happy to sit down and discuss la vida como granjero over breakfast which was, for him, coffee and a cigar, before heading out into the fields for another long day of labour under the Cuban sun.
Born on this same farm, he has barely left it save for journeys into town to sell at the local market and pick up his rations. Cubans are issued with a monthly ration card which they use for essential items such as rice, eggs, cooking oil, sugar, rum and cigars- yes, rum and cigars- and bread. Everything else he and his family eat, they grow themselves.
This includes tobacco, 90% of which he is obliged to give to the government, and the smell of the drying leaves winds its way up to the farmhouse from the drying shed that sits at the bottom of the small slope where the house has been built.
The farm house itself is older than him, he tells me through an interpreter (he has no English and my Spanish is laughable). “Mi padre lo construyó”– My father built it. A chipped, battered weatherboard construction it is, kitchen in an adjoining building and without plumbing, and if the walls were ever straight they certainly aren’t now. Paco now lives there with his wife and two of his brothers who also work the farm. One of 11 siblings, all of the brothers and sisters are involved in farming. In fact, one of Paco’s brothers, who I meet later that same day, runs the neighbouring farm. Like him, they all started early. In Paco’s case this was at the age of 14 and he’s hardly had a break since.
This past year has been hard. A farmer’s prosperity depends largely on the weather and it hasn’t been kind recently. With little rain over the past wet season and now heading into dry season, the immediate future is looking bleak. Lately there hasn’t been enough to eat. The sweet potato and sugar cane haven’t yielded as hoped, and the already dry red soil doesn’t bode well for the next planting.
“How do you survive?” I ask him. “Why do you stay?”. He gives a slight shrug, palms facing upwards, corners of his mouth downwards, “Aquí es donde siempre hemos estado.”– This is where we have always been.
It seems that the sense of home outweighs the hardship. Would he leave his farm behind for an easier life if he could, I wonder? Paco considers this, before rising slowly having finished his coffee and ready to start another day’s toil. “Esto es casa,” he says to me as he trudges off down a red dirt track, cigar in mouth and horse bridle in hand.
I spent a few nights recently at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania and this has instantly become one of my new favourite places on earth.
This is alpine country. A rugged place of glacier formed mountain peaks, lakes and tarns, inhabited by curious wombats and pademelons. The shy Tasmanian devil and platypus are also known to live in these parts but are much harder to spot. Weather here is changeable to say the least, with bright mornings giving way to steel grey afternoon skies and vice versa.
The air here is pristine. You can feel it fill your lungs, pushing out the city and refuelling you. Its as if the air itself provides a sense of calm and wellbeing. This peace stays with you as you trek the craggy mountain paths, sometimes hearing birdsong, sometimes just the wind. In the green lushness of the forest floor, moss absorbs the sound of a nearby creek causing the flowing water to sound much farther away than it is. Waterfalls dot the path and provide a welcome spot to stop and rest. It is one of those places where, although the signs of civilisation are never far away, it is easy to feel like the first person to step foot here.
In Hong Kong, where the air smells of fermenting tofu and the ever-reaching skyscrapers brood over narrow streets, the tradition of the street market is still being upheld in this fast paced, fast modernising city.
Hong Kong’s street markets are places for meeting old friends and buying daily supplies for those living in small apartments with little or no storage for food. Everything can be found here from dinner ingredients to healing potions, shoes and clothing. Tourists come to take in the chaos, locals come to buy the food.
Red is the dominant colour. Red from the overhead lamp shades installed in every stall, red from the meat of the butcher’s shops and the blood on the fishmonger’s knives and aprons as they expertly descale and fillet fish that was moments ago still swimming in plastic buckets. Roasted Char Siu Pork hangs on hooks alongside chicken and duck dripping with fat.
Smells of chilli oil, dried fish and chrysanthemum tea rise with the steam of freshly made congee, while delivery boys on bicycles navigate expertly between the pressing crowds, carrying sacks of rice and baskets of eggs to local restaurants.
Shouts of “Yau pang yau lang” and “Sun seen yau shui” punctuate the air above the din of haggling as hawkers tout their wares, extoling the freshness of vegetables and fleshiness of seafood. Entreating shoppers to their stall with short, sharp sentences.
These atmospheric markets are an endangered species, with a shift by younger generations to supermarkets and convenience stores and moves by the government to either move them inside to more sanitary premises or close them completely, but for now a slice of traditional Hong Kong life is preserved.
Under the watch of Mehrangarh Fort, within the twists and turns of medieval laneways and alleys, Jodhpur’s Blue City feels a world away from the chaos of Rajasthan’s second largest city. An oasis of calm in the midst of the noise and calamity that is India.
Under the clock tower, a bustling market signals the beginning of the old town. This is the unofficial border between modern Jodhpur and the city’s origin. Indeed this is the part of the city that attracts most tourists, however as I make my way uphill slightly and through streets that become narrower with every turn, theÂ clatter falls away and a sense of calm begins to take hold. It is as if the Brahmin blue painted cube houses themselves are having aÂ soothing influence. The streets smell of spices andÂ burnt votive candles.
After a few minutes I’m lost. In a good way. I have a map I could check, but somehow it doesn’t seem important. This is a place to wander, the ideal setting for being lost. I wander up and down, taking a left turn here or a right there, with no other intention than to see what might be around the corner. I pass children playing in the street, old men and women sitting on doorsteps, sleeping dogs, tiny neighbourhood temples and shops. Occasionally the peace is disrupted by a motorbike barrelling through the narrow lanes, but soon returns to normal. The day is warm but it feels cool in here, partly because only shards of sunlight filter down through the buildings, and partly because the coloured walls soak up the heat.
Around one corner, a grandmother sits with her grandson on her lap, playing a game of peek-a-boo. I wave as I pass and they both waive back, both surprised that a foreigner has wandered this far away from the tourist area.
Around another corner, two boys are blowing bubbles, watching them float upwards into the sky. So engrossed that they don’t notice me at all.
Along another street, women in bright saris pass on their way to buy supplies for home, their colourful dress exaggerated by the soft blue walls. Some are curious I am there, others pay me no attention.
Finally and suddenly, andÂ quite by accident, I am back near the clock tower market. It is dusk now but the market is still trading, bargains being struck and goods and money changing hands. This will go on late into the night, but back in the neighbourhoods of the Blue City quiet prevails. Occasionally their is the bark of a dog, or sound of a rickshaw, but they are short interruptions to the peace that exists in the midst of the chaos.