some thoughts on the beach

Ah, the beach. That wonderful space unlike any other imaginable, which we in Australia are lucky enough to have at virtually every turn. It's a place that is governed by nature alone: witness her mockery when she buries man-made infrastructure over just a few years of changing tides; her majesty when she conjures up thunderous waves that only the most foolish surfers dare to face; or her wrath when she claims a small boat in a rip despite the best efforts of lifesavers, as was happening in the photo at the top of this post. Sometimes she is calm enough to bring serenity to the most tumultuous soul, other times she has enough powerful anger to frighten the most salt-encrusted seaside dweller. No matter the mood she presents, though, she is always raw beauty.

Could this explain the infinite allure of the beach for me and my cameras? Certainly, it plays a part. But there are other factors. As with so many other beloved photographic subjects, there is nostalgia. A childhood by the coast means that I have an essentially neverending store of memories on the sand and in the water. It's also part of the broader national memory, as we Aussies like to take pride in our beautiful beaches, which we have been doing for decades. For what is an Australian summer without the beach? One trip to Bondi is enough to confirm that tourists from all over the globe are fascinated by our iconic shores.

Beyond these somewhat obvious factors, however, there are also social and anthropological aspects of the beach that have long fascinated me. Socially, the beach is the great leveller. Rich, poor, young, old, white, black, thin, fat, devout, athiest - in theory, the beach unites people like very few other spaces can. All those things that govern our behaviour and define us in the real world - from race and class to religion and physical beauty - matter little once we are on the sand. It's as if by stripping off our clothes, we remove our superficial identities. As the immeasurably wise Rennie Ellis wrote of Australian beachgoers in his 1980s photography book Life's a Beach, 'Here, on neutral ground and stripped of their uniforms of pretension, they enjoy easy camaraderie that social convention may not have encouraged elsewhere.' We are all hot, and so we are at the beach. It's often as simple as that.

The beach is also a fascinating space in terms of the behaviour it fosters. The mere fact that walking around half- (or sometimes fully) naked is acceptable on the beach is an indication that there are a different set of rules down there. Inhibitions disappear, sexual energy is rife and people epitomise the carelessness of summer. This is reflected in countless movies: summer flings that take place at the beach struggle to transition into the real, class-defined world (Grease, Cocktail); teens go through rites of passage on their journey to adulthood, learning valuable life lessons before moving on to the next phase of their lives (Where the Boys Are, The Bikini Shop); and irresponsible youths are punished for their reckless abandon through death (Jaws) and law enforcement (Blackrock). The idea of the beach as an environment that cultivates extraordinary behaviour has been linked to the fact that the physical space of the sand - as it lies between land and sea, incorporating both but belonging to neither - is a liminal space whose separateness means that it rejects everyday society's customs. A rebel; volatile like its moods.

So these are a few of the reasons I am completely fascinated by the Australian beach. It's a special place that deserves awe, fear and respect. It deserves to be looked after. And, despite the massive volume of sometimes boring images that result, it truly deserves to be photographed.


one afternoon in camberwell

I associate a lot of things with Camberwell. Penguin Books, where I used to work. Excellent hot chocolates from Cattivo. Four wheel drives. Rich, bratty teenagers loitering around Boost Juice with their fake tans and upturned collars. Money.

Here are some things I definitely do not associate with Camberwell: Crummy share houses. Afternoon house parties. Kids with wild haircuts and tattoos drinking longnecks in the front yard. Live music. International screamo bands.

Yet these are the things that I was confronted with one recent Saturday afternoon in that very white, very middle class suburb.

It was muggy outside, which meant that the temperature and humidity indoors was threatening to rocket off the scale. Dozens of people - mostly male, mostly under 25 - were crammed into the sparsely furnished and badly carpeted loungeroom. And there, in the corner, below the clunky (and presumably decommissioned) air conditioner and in front of some I-just-moved-out-of-home wall posters that included Mr T and Super Mario, was a five-piece Italian screamo band.

And then they started to play.

The air became even thicker with the sweat of passionate screamo fans, who writhed in that small room as though they were in a Soundwave mosh pit. Luckily for me (and my cameras), I had managed to secure a position standing on the couch, which was pushed against one of the walls. There was another photographer - a pretty large bloke - who thankfully provided a barrier between me and the testosterone junkies. It got pretty wild, which is only partially captured in these photos. This clip of the final song (by which stage I had run out of film - rookie mistake!) communicates the chaos a little better.

The band - called Raein - seemed humbled by the enthusiasm in the room on this, their final show of a small Australian tour. I didn't know what screamo was before this day, but I kind of dug the band. The music reminded me of my own teenage years. But perhaps more than that, the immeasurably intense passion coming from the varied but momentarily united audience was both inspiring and infectious. And kind of what live music, regardless of genre, should be (and often is) capable of eliciting. This is the kind of gig that makes you feel privileged just to be a part of. I love shows like that. They are rare and extraordinarily memorable. And something I would never have expected to find in Camberwell.


aussie christmas

I like to think that there's nowhere else in the world that celebrates Christmas like we do in Australia. (By 'we', I mean my family, and many other Australian families - but not all other Australian families! In such a multicultural society, there are obviously many different global customs being observed throughout the country - not to mention those many Australians who do not celebrate Christmas at all. Just in case you were worried about such a generalisation.) Back to the classic Aussie Christmas - or, should I say, Boxing Day. We've always done a Boxing Day BBQ with extended family. Christmas Day has traditionally been immediate family celebrations, but on the 26th, many members of our large, widespread Irish-Catholic clan get together for a lot of food, booze, kids, cricket and, hopefully, sunshine. The Christmas just gone gave us some spectacular weather, perfect for all of the things I just listed as essential ingredients for a great Boxing Day bonanza.

Being a family event, it is only natural that such traditions bring with them a lot of memories of Christmases past. As such, there is inevitably a certain degree of nostalgia involved. I think that's why I love that these shots are faded, sun-drenched and sprocket-holed - they just remind me so much of the giant old photo albums, with that strange sticky cardboard under the flaps of cellophane, and the falling-out images that discoloured long ago.

This is the first time I've taken sprocket shots without overlapping the images, and I'm happy with the results. In the absence of the multiple exposure trickery, the simplicity of the photos can be more easily associated with old family photos, so it makes the nostalgia more accessible.

Aside from the physical properties of these images, the content also evokes a lot of memories. Stubbies, those stackable plastic chairs, lawn cricket, swingsets, silly children, irresistible children, sunshine. Christmas. Family.