Having spent three years with Opera Australia as their company photographer, I felt it was time to take a leap and make a go of it on my own. My then partner, actress Miranda Otto and I made the decision to lease a large warehouse space in the inner city neighbourhood of Surry Hills. Hibernian House was a 1920’s style building. In it’s heyday, it’s art deco facade was rumoured to have originally housed poets and artists of the time. It was now the late 90’s, the era of heroine chic, grunge and Nirvana. The building had since taken on a far edgier theme.
The floor we moved into had previously been home to a garment factory. There was a great deal of work to be done, from dismantling the lighting fixtures that would once have hung above the many rows of sewing machines, to removing the hundreds of sewing needles that had lost their way over time into gaps between the floor boards. For this, we devised a simple tool consisting of a magnet attached to a string. Running the magnet along the floor length ways enabled us to collect cluster upon cluster of rusty needles and spikes.
Eventually, after a mountain of sawdust and numerous coats of paint, the studio began to take shape. For our bedroom, Miranda had constructed a circular ruched curtain. Made of rust red silk, it could be raised and lowered whenever guests were over. In the bathroom, we installed a cast iron tub complete with its own cast iron feet.
A week after opening, I had my first commissioned photography shoot. It was to be a marketing project for Belvoir Theatre. I‘d already known the art director Baz Luhrmann and his partner Catherine Martin from a number of previous productions we’d worked on together while at the Sydney Opera House. Their energy was infectious. The shoot was to consist of a series of black & white portraits, featuring the principle actors that were to appear in the next season’s line up. They included Robyn Nevin, Richard Roxburgh, Jaqueline McKenzie, Jacek Koman and Neil Armfield. Hair & make-up was to be done by Chris King, whom I had worked with earlier at Vogue.
Having an abundance of space gave me free reign to collect a diverse range of props, and paint an ever growing collection of back drops. My connection to the opera company enabled me to borrow costumes and wigs from almost every era of fashion. Eventually, Miranda and I would discover other artists, designers and fashion photographers in the building. Although people kept to themselves, there was still a sense of community.
The 5th floor of Hibernian House was home to the Korean Pool Parlour. Behind closed doors, the club attracted a constant flow of visitors, many of whom would come to pick up and drop of mysterious packages throughout the night. Above the parlour was a communal roof top, which for a photographer, opened one up to limitless potential of natural light photography. Once scrimmed through a white sail cloth, the sun’s rays could be refined to a soft translucent glow, perfect for beauty and fashion photography. In good weather, I would often find myself up there each week, photographing fashion editorials, writers portraits, model portfolios and actor headshots. Hibernian House was very much the beginning of a new era for me, both in terms of creativity, and more importantly independence.