welcome to the family

Quite by chance, I came across an unusual toy camera that I had never heard of before. It was designed as a novelty camera - presumably before Photoshop was widespread - that allowed you to divide the frame in two horizontally so that two images merge into one, overlapping slightly in the middle. The reason I believe it was a pre-digital novelty item is because according to the packaging, the highlight of this camera is its ability to put a dog's head onto a person's body - something incredibly simple to do on a computer, and something that very few people would buy a cheap film camera just to do.

At the risk of disappointing you, I have to confess that I did not buy this camera to create strange canine-human hybrids. Rather, I was intrigued by the idea of merging two images without overlapping them completely; unlike a standard multiple exposure, this camera allows you to keep the top and the bottom as a single image, with only the middle combined. In some ways this makes it more interesting than a straightforward multiple exposure, because it takes a while to figure out what's going on: the top and the bottom look normal, but there is definitely something strange happening.

Admittedly, this is something that could also be done quite easily in Photoshop. So why use a dodgy old film camera? Well, a few reasons. Firstly, there's no way that I would sit down at my computer and put some street lamps over a Hungry Jack's neon sign. I wouldn't think to do it, and I wouldn't waste my energy on something that isn't very spectacular. But out on the street, when you can't see the results and you are figuratively (and sometimes literally) in the dark, you have to shoot on instinct, and spontaneously. All the 'work' is done in that moment, and it's exciting not knowing what the hell it's going to look like. And sure, the image above isn't great, but it's still interesting, and it's a reflection of what I saw at that time. It allows no time for post-production perfectionism or self-doubt. This is one of the greatest things about dodgy, experimental plastic cameras, especially for someone who is prone to perfectionism (e.g. me).

I would never take the time to digitally construct these two images. I like to shoot in the moment! And doing so early one winter morning has given me two pretty successful representations of one of my favourite CBD photographic locations, Bourke Street Mall. The second one is particularly impressive to me, because the transition between images is pretty seamless, making the oversized tram timetable really unnerving above the small seated woman. The image at the top of this post is another Bourke Street success - I particularly like that the GPO tower is pointing right at the rays of sun in the top image.

Seeing as these images are all from my first test roll, I'm pretty pleased with the results. Not because I think they are all wonderful, but because they reveal some of the effects this camera is capable of, and the potential for creating an entirely new array of unusual, layered film images with absolutely no Photoshop necessary. Thank goodness.


two people

I've been thinking a bit lately about the connections people make with one another. Two strangers, for example, meet and become close. They share a lot and grow to care immeasurably for one another. They take a kind of journey together. Sometimes a long one, sometimes a short one, sometimes a never-ending one. Or to put it another way, each person shares part of the other person's journey.

My first relationship was a very serious one, and very long one. When we came to the end of our time together, we went in wildly different directions: he chose tradition, family and stability, and I chose personal exploration, career progression and, for lack of a better word, creativity. In the immediate aftermath of the relationship I was struck by how incredibly strange this was. For so many years we were travelling down the same path, and sharing that journey, and then this fork in the road seemed to appear out of nowhere, and sent us in completely opposite directions. I'm sure there is a lot that could be read into that situation, but I'm not going to attempt to analyse potential mistakes made or judge my younger self for her decisions. I now look back at that as a very simple situation: we took one another as far as we possibly could; at a certain point, we could accompany one another no further. Our paths just went in different directions.

I think this basic principle is applicable to many relationships - and to their beginnings and their endings. Sometimes, as is the case with the relationship I just referred to, the two paths end up being so far apart that they simply don't intersect in any way anymore, and so the two people leave each other's lives absolutely, and often for good. Is that a good thing? I don't know. Perhaps in some way it is - though I don't doubt that such judgement could only be made on a case-by-case basis. On the other hand, sometimes the paths - while diverging - remain in the general vicinity of each other, and so the two people remain in each other's lives in some other way.

My sister's path aligned with Hugh's for a while last year. Because I live in another state, I didn't spend a lot of time around the two of them - though I did spend a week in Darwin while they were seeing one another. They got along really well for the most part, but they also bickered a lot. They seemed to get on each other's nerves. Despite this, they were tremendously comfortable with one another, like they had known each other for many years (and perhaps this also explains the bickering). I think the second photo shows that comfort and lovely familiarity. The first photo, which shows them sharing a beer over a game of chess, shows the friendship - or perhaps mateship is an even more suitable word - that they had.

In my opinion, they weren't right for one another. It seemed like it was often a rocky road that they were on. But they did see one another through a small period in their respective lives, and I have no doubt that that was largely positive for both of them, in the broader scheme of their lives. Lately, Hugh has shown up in my sister's life again in a different form: helping her out while she goes through a bit of a tough time. They remain in each other's lives as friends, which is a really lovely thing.

After they broke up earlier this year, I was reluctant to post these two gorgeous photos because I thought it might be painful for my sister. But in light of the way things have panned out, I think it's a great lesson that can only be positive: people come in and out of your life, and their role in your life changes, but different doesn't mean bad. And sometimes - maybe even most of the time - different works out pretty well.


mel & jules

There are several reasons why I think this photo is pretty special. For one, Mel is a great friend of mine, and she herself is pretty special. Also, I took this on her birthday, and isn't it always nice to have a visual memento of such an occasion?

While Jules isn't a great friend of mine (at this point) because I have only recently met him, I already like him very much. He is not only a friendly, funny person, but he adores Mel (very important) and from all accounts he makes her happy (very very important). Both of these things come through in the image - in their body language (facing each other and Jules embracing her) and in Mel's gorgeous, genuine smile.

Moving away from sentimentality, the portrait is also successful (or at least interesting) because of its layers. Obviously the yellow is the primary image, but the other two layers, though more difficult to find, add visual (and sentimental) interest to the image. The blue layer, which is the easiest of the two to see, shows the two of them interacting with someone else (by the look of it) - it is a candid, casual, social shot. Once you've focused on the blue image, it's really difficult to see the red one - it must be some kind of optics thing that I have no idea how to explain. But then all of a sudden it appears to you, and you realise you're seeing Mel about to kiss Jules. It's so subtle - a private moment that I really didn't have any right to capture - but its lovely intimacy is a really special element to the overall portrait.

So cheers to Mel and Jules - the kind of couple that it's genuinely heartwarming to witness.

some darwin moments

I'm not super thrilled with this roll of film as one united piece, but broken up into random snatches like the one above, they tell some interesting stories about my recent trip to Darwin, and about the place in general. So there's palm trees on the beach at sunset: this is something that Darwin does incredibly well and with astonishing consistency - in the dry season, at least. Countless bars and restaurants take up real estate along the shore to capitalise on the nightly show that nature in the Top End presents. It's glamourous, it's excessive and it's timeless. Yet to presume that this aspect of Darwin somehow epitomises the whole city (or large town, depending on your definition of city) is just plain wrong. Darwin is also wonderfully ordinary in a lot of its architecture and other non-natural sights (I wrote about the architecture here). So the daggy and very ordinary bathroom sinks and mirror bring that element of Darwin into the picture - and I like the juxtaposition.

That faded, endless summer beachy palm goodness is on full display in this one. It also includes the man-made beach at the Darwin waterfront, which is a pretty interesting concept. Growing up by the Victorian beach I was never faced with the idea of not being able to swim due to the threat of crocodiles and jellyfish killing you. But that is precisely the case in Darwin. As a kind of compromise, I guess, they built this small pool, or 'beach', that is connected to the ocean but 'fenced off' so that the nasties won't get through and eat you.

I like both of these, but ideally I would combine them so that you get all of this in one frame. In the first frame here, what looks like a Greek Orthodox church overlaps the girl with a sign advertising a bikini car wash. Seeing this girl - who was in a bikini and trying to attract passing traffic with the homemade sign - was so marvellous for me, mainly because I find smut so hilariously appealing (putting aside any ideological or ethical issues that it usually raises). Novel and bizarre, but not to be unexpected in a place that consistently hires hot girls to 'work' (i.e. stand on the side of the road) as traffic controllers on construction sites. The second frame shows the church overlapping a typical NT News headline about crocodiles and killing.

It was a pretty quick visit this year, so the things I did and saw were all in rapid succession, making it hard to remember all the details with any coherency. In this sense, the rather incoherent visual impressions above are quite apt. In typical fashion, however, this is only a tiny fragment of what I shot over the few days I was there. Needless to say, then, there are a lot more palm trees and Territory anomalies to come.