In the English language, there is no direct translation for the French word flâneur. Possibly over looked due to cultural differences, it loosely translates to one who strolls or explores a city on foot in order to take in the ambience of a place.
To enter the Blue Grotto, is to swim into a cool dark womb.
I’d set out early that morning, taking the first train to Monterosso al Mare. The view from the first hill, revealing the five towns of the Cinque Terre.
It’s first light, and the sun is filtering in through a thinly veiled curtain. I’m on route to Brindisi Airport to board the 6:50am flight to Bologna. In Bologna, I will board a train to Venice.
44 degrees. No queue today at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
Roof top bar of the Caravelle Hotel. A popular location for war correspondents and photojournalists to gather during the Vietnam War. The sun sinks behind the city skyline, changing from tangerine, to magenta, to a rich violet.
A blanket of darkness descends across the town of Sadec, revealing street lamps and the tail lights from passing motorbikes. Walking along the roadside, I wipe the sweat of the day from my forehead. A light breeze blows in from the Mekong, providing a moment of relief.
The lure of Iceland was for me very much influenced by it’s strong independent music scene. In particular, the work of Sigur Ros, a band that I’d always make the effort to see whenever they were in Sydney. Coming form Australia, Reykjavik ready did feel like the furthest place on earth. It was while on a work trip to Europe in 2014 that I came to visit the island as part of a photography project I’d been working on.
On arrival I set to work on my assignment which was to comprise of a series of editorial portraits and interviews. To my surprise, finding people to participate as subjects was relatively easy. I’d heard that Iceland had a strong arts culture. What I’d never imaged though was the generosity and support I’d encounter.
Speaking with the locals, one of the first things I’d picked up on was a sense of cultural isolation. While trips to New York and London were popular amongst the younger generation, people still seemed to retained a strong sense of independence. There was a candidness and an honesty about them that really struck me. As a portrait photographer, one of the key elements when working with people is trust. To have complete strangers open up to you in this way is without doubt one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
On the last day of my visit I decided to take a trip to The Blue Lagoon, a thermal volcanic spa in the south east of the island. It was one of the most beautiful and surreal places I’ve ever experienced. The air around the lagoon was thick with humidity. While not the most camera friendly environment, there was no way on earth I was going to leave without a few good pictures. Within minutes my Nikon was covered in a thick film of mineral salts. Wiping the condensation from my view finder though revealed a pool of pale aqua blue water set against a ridge of grey volcanic rock. I set about capturing people as they appeared and disappeared behind clouds of mist. It reminded me of some of the theatre sets I’d photographed in my earlier years at the opera. I could never have imagined back then that places like this really did exist.
According to locals, Iceland's colourful houses are part of a program to offset the climactic depression brought about through the lack of sunlight in the winter months.
Somewhere in the backstreets of Palermo, there is an old wooden hall, where couples dance and an old man sits with his cat playing the violin.
I’ve often heard the Planetario building in Buenos Aires likened to a flying saucer. After discovering that the place was still operational and screened daily shows at 3pm, I decide to go along.
I am greeted by a small meteoroid in the court year. Unable to resist the urge, I reach down and touch it, wondering how far it must have come before ending it’s travels here. After entering a glass foyer, I scale a steel staircase. There is a sense that I am embarking on a journey. Once inside, I take a seat in the theatre. Gazing up into the spherical ceiling, I am captivated by an image of the galaxy. I sit, patiently awaiting transportation.
In a roof top cafe in Marrakech, light from the setting sun, is reduced to a ball of amber, as it filters through my glass of apple tea.
In the town below, a labyrinth of streets feed into an 11th century square. Vendors, begin to wheel their carts and trollies into position, in preparation for the Jemaa el Fna Night Markets. Aside from the invention of the gas cylinder and the electric light bulb, it’s a procession that I can’t imagine would have changed much over the last few centuries.
Along with the restaurant carts, there is a young boy with a snake in a basket, a small troupe of dancers, and a story teller. All of which will provide entertainment for the hungry crowds of people that are being to gather.
I have long believed that the mountain ranges of New Zealand hold a deep resonance within their core. It’s almost like a sound or a vibration that, if you stand still long enough, you can hear. The only time I have experienced something similar, was at a Mark Rothko exhibit at the New York Met.
The longer I stayed on the more I came to accept that random events were just part of daily life there. One morning, I'd wake and find an elaborate shoot taking place outside my door (fashion photographers such as Ellen Von Unwerth would often use the location for their editorials). Another morning, NYPD would be sealing off a door with police tape where a body had been found.
The hotel roof top had a flat, black tarred surface with a panoramic view of Manhattan. There were walls facing off in a various directions meaning it could be used through out different times of the day depending on the angle of the sun. It was by pure accident, the perfect roof top photography studio. Using a scrim which I erected on sunny days to diffuse the light, I assembled my medium format camera and quickly got to work.
Night photography has long been a fascination of mine that goes back to my student days, photographing rusting steelworks and dockyards. Even now, as a professional photographer I’m still drawn to this type of photography. Whether it’s a bedroom light, defused by a curtain in an apartment building or an over head street lamp. There is something about the way in which light, emerges from darkness that captivates me. Perhaps it’s more of a metaphoric relationship.
When it comes to this kind of a light source, the city of Paris has a particularly special quality due to it’s traditional and contemporary landscape. I recall a recent trip during the summer month of July. The late evening sunsets, which usually did not occur until 10pm, would create an exceptional display of warmth and colour in the air. This was even more pronounced in the southern cities of Montpellier and Aix-en-Provence, where the pink and orange dust particles in the sky seemed to reflect back to the earth. In Paris, rainy nights would not only add to the depth and richness of colour, but also cause the roads to reflect neon lights from surroundings hotels and cafes, creating a river of light.
The 18th Arrondissement is a place where I’d often stay when in Paris. With it’s cobblestone lanes lined with wrought iron street lamps, you can almost feel the layers of history beneath your feet as you pass by cafes that have served as places of contemplation for artists such as Satire and Lautrec. Despite the challenge of tourism, Montmartre has still managed to retain much of it’s old world charm. I can remember stumbling across one of the original vineyards on the Rue Des Saules, still in operation today. On the other side of the hill is the Basilica du Sacre-Coeur. Best viewed in the early morning, the steps offer an uninterrupted view of the city, in particular it’s grey zinc roof tops, secluded attics and window gardens.
The goings-on behind the scenes at the Oscars can often be far more fascinating than the actual event itself. PR companies and designers jostle to get their dresses and jewellery onto the red carpet. Julie had been approached by Dior, and was to attend a fitting the week before.
The night of the Oscars, we attended the Vanity Fair Party. A wall of photographers had taken up position on large teared platform at the entrance way to the venue. When you’re a photographer, there is something about being on the other side of the camera that never quite sits with you. Inside, seeing the familiar faces of the people you’ve watched for so long on a TV screen can be quite a surreal experience. Especially so when they’re all in the same room together. I spotted a face from back home, Naomi Watts, who I’d met earlier on a feature film. As the place began to fill, I took a seat at a booth. The woman next to me was singling along to a tune in the room. I tuned to her, realising I was a one person audience at a Diana Ross concert.
A great advocate for movements like Buy Nothing Day, Julie drove an old bottle green Toyota Hilux. I always had a great respect for her, particularly for the way in which she remained true to herself while living in a town, in awe of fame and status.
I recall seeing her for the first few times on the big screen. Working with directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Krzysztof Kieślowski, both of whom were a great influence on my work during my art school years. Later co-staring with Ethan Hawke, Before Sunrise became a personal favourite. Not only for it’s use of real time intimacy but also for the way in which it explores coincidence and fate.
Aside from acting, Julie had the ability to use any medium on hand to express her thoughts and ideas. I got to know her as a painter, a writer, a singer and even a photographer. In her handbag she kept a collapsible vintage Polaroid, which would spontaneously appear in her hands during moments of inspiration. At night, she would sing and play guitar. Writing love ballads, and eventually releasing her own album the following year.
A nightly visit to one of the city’s 24 hour darkrooms soon became a therapeutic ritual for me. The amber safe light and the sound of dripping water from the wash trays offered a creative sanctuary away from the stress and noise of the city during the day. It's a mediative process I think most new photographers will never get to experience due to the digital era.
New York City
Before September 11, New York City was an environment where brashness and creativity were celebrated without apology. Photographers were encouraged to take risks and push the boundaries. Nothing, could be too outrageous or controversial. Gaining access to places as a photographer was fairly easy, and so it was n’t long before I started to take advantage of the city’s unique landmarks and locations. At night, using only available light sources such as street lamps and neon signs, we would setup photography shoots in random locations. This would often include the subway, the Roosevelt Island Sky Tram, Coney Island and the Meat Packing District. In one setup, a waif thin fashion model would be pictured, eating pancakes at a diner in Hell’s Kitchen, in another, she is pictured waiting for the F train at West Fourth and Washington. Funnily enough, none of it seemed to draw more than a passing glance from the locals.
One of the things that has always appealed to me about New York is it’s overriding sense of spontaneity. This is particularly evident when it comes to events and collaborations between artists. I recall one evening, while walking past a church hall off Saint Mark’s, I heard a distant but familiar voice. On entering the hall I discovered Kim Deal from the Pixies, strumming away on an acoustic guitar, while the god father of Beat, Allen Ginsberg read verses of a poem he’d just scribbled down on a napkin. Another time, while getting coffee on Mulberry and Spring I came across the musician Moby. He sat quietly painting a mural in the playground, while further down the street, some local kids danced to the music of the Beastie Boys. The tune Sure Shot, blazing from the speakers of their ghetto blaster.