New York City

After a conversation one morning with a barista on Prince Street, curiosity and the need to find more permanent lodgings lead me to a hotel near Union Square. Hotel 17 was a local hub for rising artists, actors, drag queens and photographers. Thinking that perhaps this was fate, I decided there and then to make this the launch pad for my new city. The following week I checked into a room on the 5th floor. The window had a view of the neighbouring rooftops, in an Alfred Hitchcock kind of way it became a source of constant fascination, offering a ‘behind the scenes’ insight into the workings of my new neighbourhood. The room itself which was covered in original 70's flock wall paper consisted of a single bed with a chenille bedspread, a writing desk and a lamp for reading. As simple as it was it had everything I needed to begin my new life with.

It was n’t long before I was taken in by the local community. There were weekly invitations to social events ranging from talent nights at Jackie 60, a new underground club in the Meat Packing District. There were also writer’s talks held at the local bookstores, where surprise guests such as Susan Sontag, an early inspiration from my art school days would drop in.

Once a month the hotel would host an art night, converting it's spare rooms into pop-up spaces and galleries for performance based and visual artists. Walking the corridors of this 7 story building, particularly on Art Night often felt like being on the set of a David Lynch film. You could never be too sure who you'd run into around the corner or what you would find behind the next door.


Hong Kong

I’ve often thought of Hong Kong as ‘the New York of Asia’. While it’s a business powerhouse, it’s distinctive lack of ego gives it a warmth that is often lost in other cities it’s size. I’ve worked there over the years as both a photographer and a model. I recall one of those occasions, in 2005. I’d been offered a contract by Models International and was to be staying at the model’s apartment located on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong harbour. My room mate was to be Dora, a slender German model from Berlin. We had met a year earlier, forming a friendship that had gotten us through some challenging times while working in Guangzhou.

It was n't long before I got around to meeting the other models from the agency. Each assigned to various levels of the New World Apartments. Basically when you sign with a model agency as an overseas model, the agent sets you up with accommodation on-arrival, a metro card and a city map for castings. They later deduct it all from your earnings. Most agencies are connected to sister agencies around the world, making it easier to fly in and out of cities and work for short periods of time.

On Friday nights everyone would meet at a club in Soho called Dragon-i. It was an opportunity to catch up and talk shop with the other models in town. With their flawless olive skin and chiseled bodies, it was hard not to notice the Brazilian models when they entered the club. Amongst the other regulars were a group of Australians, some Dutch, and a Latvian by the name of Olga. I recall meeting her for the first time. Wide eyed with translucent skin, Olga walked with the grace of a gazelle. Through her many travels and her love of books, she had a quiet wisdom about her. One of our favourite topics of discussion was to compare the traits of cities as if they were people, dividing them into masculine and feminine. Paris and Riga were both feminine, London masculine, while Hong Kong was left undecided. Perhaps one has to spent time away from a place to truely have an objective view.

Because we’d all come to the city for work, the idea of having a night out on the town, and paying for it the next day was indeed rare. Often, we’d leave the club by ten in order to make the last ferry crossing for the night. From the outer deck of the Star Ferry, we’d sit, watching the neon lights of the city  as they danced their way across the waves. For less than a dollar a ticket, it was easily the best show in town.

Hibernian House, Sydney

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.