the happiest place on earth

Admittedly, I've never been to Disneyland. But I understand why the folks with the mouse ears claim to have built the most wonderful, joyous place that the young and young at heart could ever dream of. I have always loved Disney cartoons, and as a child the idea of a journey to that World really was the ultimate dream; watching lucky strangers win trips to the holy grail week after week on Saturday Disney was about as torturous as it got in my life as a seven-year-old.

The thing is, though, while I don't deny the magic that Disneyland creates for children who are lucky enough to get there, for the rest of us it is simply a reminder that we can't go to the Happiest Place on Earth: we're too unlucky, too far away, too poor. Which means that Disneyland, and to a lesser extent, local theme parks like Movie World, are for most of us a slap in the face, taunting us with what we will never have. That we somehow aren't good enough to experience real happiness.

While I'm sure that kids visiting Disneyland do experience a large dose of happiness, they do so at the hands of a global corporation that uses its theme parks to push endless multimedia properties and sell millions of utterly disposable souvenirs, and they also do so at great expense to their parents.

I know at this point I sound extremely cynical, and I could also quite justifiably be accused of killing large amounts of joy. However, I do so only as an introduction to something that I am significantly less hostile towards.

The wonderful place that is Darwin has a little park located just a short drive from its city centre. It has three super-dooper water slides, a large man-made lagoon, a water playground complete with a giant bucket that periodically dumps its refreshing contents onto whomever happens to be standing below it, and plenty of communal BBQs for those all-important meals. While this park, the Leanyer Recreation Park, probably doesn't bring as much happiness™ as the land of the Mouse, I guarantee that it brings a whole lot less unhappiness to children that are aware of its presence. The simple reason is this: the park is free. Open to all. Unlimited, free rides on the water slides. You can slide all day if it takes your fancy. (And in Darwin weather, it just might.) Unlimited opportunities to stand under a giant bucket full of water, waiting nervously for the drop while surrounding kids giddily tell you that you're not allowed to look at the bucket for fear of ruining the gleeful shock of the water dump.

Its well-worn playthings, with their bright, non-corporate colours, are as wonderful now as I imagine they were for the first children that used them, simply because they are free and available to use. Like the toddler who gets more joy out of the cardboard box than the overpriced toy within, kids at this park don't need fancy cartoon characters or overblown gimmicks, they just need a place that facilitates their energy and their imaginations, a place where they can play together without worrying about where they come from or how much money their family doesn't have.

I went to this park earlier this year with my family - me, my older sister, my mum and my dad. Four adults. We all went on each of the three slides at least once, and stood under the bucket together, letting out hilarious cries of suprise when we got drenched (much to the delight of the more experienced nine-year-olds watching on). It was one of the few totally free activities we took part in on that trip, and it was truly one of the happiest. No trademark necessary.


saskwatch through a plastic lens (or two)

Why do people in big bands keep asking me to take photos of them?

Well, to clarify, there are only two bands. And actually, I love shooting Eagle and the Worm. I also loved shooting the marvellous group of cool cats that make up this most excellent band, Saskwatch. Apart from the fact that it was a lovely group of people to be around for a few hours on a cold Saturday afternoon, I think I enjoyed doing this largely because Liam really did all the work; I simply loaded, pointed, focused and clicked.

Liam had scouted all the locations (which were very usefully within walking distance of one another), and he basically directed the whole thing. With so much excellent input on his part, I imagine he could have asked anyone who is handy with a camera to take the shots and he still would have ended up with some pretty bangin' images of the band. But Liam had previously expressed a preference for authentic film photography, so I suppose that's why he asked me. And if I don't say so myself, the above image is something that most other photographers would never have produced due to the specific combination of film, camera and developing process.

This is the stand-out image of the day for me. I've never seen this film produce these colours. It's totally wild. The actual subjects are very typically composed for a band shot, and I think that familiarity makes the psychedelia of the colours more effective.

Most of the film I shot on that awfully windy and icy afternoon was actually 35mm in my SLRs. But knowing Liam dug the ultra-film look, I went out of my way to shoot with my plastic cameras too. The results, as you can see, are pretty interesting if nothing else. While the lack of clarity may not be ideal for many publicity purposes (which I have written about before), they add something to the images that is really special.

This photo is a case in point. While the colours aren't as outrageous as the previous shot (though their ordinariness is wonderful in and of itself), the fabulous square frames on the bridge effectively reveal just how much these plastic lenses distort the images around the edges. I mean, can you believe these bridge frames are actually square? The symmetry in the distortion is close to perfect here, almost to the point that it looks like some kind of amazing avant-garde structural design.

I used some standard colour film for the first set-up too, which compared to the slide film looks pretty ordinary. But I love this photo. Not just because the washed-out colours have a particularly lovely vintage feel, but because it captures a great scene that, by chance, no other camera did. The little dog came from nowhere and excitedly raced past, disrupting the perfect formation that everyone was making every effort to hold. It's a really nice, unguarded moment.

Probably one of the best set-ups, Liam came across an abandoned armchair in this section of landscaping under the freeway overpass and thought it was too good not to use. I completely agree, though I'm not sure Nkechi did - I have to give her kudos for sitting through at least one spider attack. The concrete wall at the back, though subtle, adds this great atmosphere to the shot - very grimy, industrial, and also quite fascinating in that you wonder where the hell they are that has an armchair, lanscaping and a giant ugly concrete wall.

Similar to the bridge distortion on display earlier, this image has another prominent plastic-camera side effect: the light leak. This particular feature of plastic camera photography is alternately a blessing and a curse. There is a very fine line between a leak that adds character and a leak that completely ruins a photo. Happily, the light leak in this instance performs the former function.

While the light leak is great, for me it doesn't compare to the brilliance of the incredibly gothic colour tones in this photo. The atmosphere evoked by the location, the colours, the serious expressions on each face - and even the fact that Rob looks like he's disappearing into the shadows - is really beautiful. Unfortunately, the film is slightly underexposed so this image represents a rare occasion where I have had to do some relatively significant digital setting alterations in order to get a workable result. I don't usually do that, but in this case it is one hundred per cent worth it, and I'm sure the adjustments could be made in a darkroom too, if I'm getting really pedantic about the authenticity of my photos.

There were some great results from the 35mm shots too, but it's wonderful to be reminded that these often unreliable plastic cameras are capable of producing results beyond abstract shapes and colours. That there are so many variations in the plastic camera photos from the day make this project even more rewarding, because while I will never gain complete control over these notoriously temperamental pieces of equipment, it's nice to have a vague idea of the excellent images that they are occasionally capable of.


being social, documenting it

I've posted black and white social photography several times before, and it's something that I'm still very much interested in. It seems that this time each year, the social calendar starts to fill rapidly, which continues at an accelerated pace until the end of January - or even the end of summer in some cases. Having attended several of these calendar-crowding events already, I have quite a bit of visual documentation of people in the night of Melbourne.

Andrew is the brother of one of my divine housemates, and he was staying with us while visiting from Adelaide. I took this photo at our friend's house party late on Saturday night, when Andrew was evidently intoxicated enough to pose with little inhibition. Thank goodness! What a photo!

Speaking of housemates, here they both are with Andrew's lovely friend Craig (also known as Creg). It's a wonderfully animated moment - the kind that were rarely captured before camera phones became ubiquitous. Those moments that you look at in days following the event and wonder, What was going on here? Why is Shasta doing that to Craig? Why does Craig have that expression? What does Megan think at this point? While the digital photo revolution means that we see more of these moments captured, it is something else to see them captured on beautiful film, with a good camera and with composition that doesn't recall the work of a three-year-old.

The family photo is a time-honoured tradition whereby members of the same clan pose with their loveliest faces on display so that their image, as a family, will be on record for future generations to treasure. If you take into account alcohol and a group of siblings that are awkward (Imogen), spacey (Liam) and excessively modest (Portia), then you don't really get a conventional family portrait. The thing is, those personality traits I just attributed to each subject, and which kind of ruin the photo, are also some of the most wonderful, endearing things about this irresistible group of siblings. I love you guys! And I love this photo. It's got character by the truckload, and isn't that the point of portraiture?

We took another photo that was much better, but it was so much worse. It was boring.

Like the dancefloor image above, this is another pretty standard scene - people talking, people drinking - but there's a lovely symmetry here and again, it's full of character. This particular film has been giving me a lot of trouble lately, hence the smudging and scratching (particularly that lethal-looking tear on Laird's neck), but let's just say it adds to the authenticity of the image and accept it for what it is. And smugly revel in the fact that an iPhone app would never do this.