These photographs were taken over 11 years in and around high density housing in Redfern and Waterloo, Sydney.
The area contains one of the largest public housing developments in Australia, situated near the centre of one of the world's most expensive cites. There is very little affordable housing in a town where the percentage of public housing is also relatively low. The location is of particular historical significance to the aboriginal community of Sydney and beyond. In 2018 the State Government is planning to demolish the high density towers and other dwellings to make way for a train station and other new developments (including, the government says, replacement public housing). Many in the community, including the large number of elderly residents, however, are concerned about their future.
I’ve spent a long time in these buildings and with this project partly because I get wrapped up in hearing peoples’ stories: escapes from Eastern Bloc countries during the Cold War; journeys through addiction, then prison, then recovery (or relapse); involuntary relocation, toddlers in tow over Christmas, destination unknown. Such stories can be found in many places but not often so densely packed within one city block or one neighbourhood.
Wollongong is the place I've lived for most of the past ten years. Some of these pictures are of people I've known for some time; some are of family, others are of strangers. The landscape also features in this series, a work in progress.
work in progress
At the beginning of the summer of 2016 I started photographing with a very simple, plastic-lens camera. Having spent much of the past twenty years working on visual documentary projects that involve a degree of research, planning and accuracy, I wanted to make pictures that were more about direct experience of the world, without the structure and precision that’s usually involved in telling someone else’s story.
Time was spent on the road, and in my home town of Wollongong; I always kept the camera and film with me and appreciated the freedom granted by the uncomplicated nature of the mechanism: even photographing strangers felt like interacting with friends because the camera was a curious novelty. And despite the soft focus of the rudimentary lens, the images sometimes offered perspectives and surprises that weren’t apparent to the eye.
These pictures are part autobiography, part visual document; and part optical (and chemical) transformation nearly as unpredictable as the unfolding of life.
I began photographing at Brighton Beach, Sydney, when I read an article written by a journalist of Lebanese descent. Surfing in Bondi, she had been told, “Go to Brighton where you belong”.
The Cronulla Riots had taken place in 2005 and, possibly more than any other event or dispute involving multiculturalism, had altered the self-perception of Australia as a ‘tolerant’ society to one where xenophobia and racist violence could erupt; where an unofficial form of apartheid could come into play; and where people of ‘Middle Eastern Appearance’ were often associated with suspicious forms of otherness.
These are images of Australian people doing everyday things.
Guatemala City is home to a large number of sex workers who cross-dress and wait for customers on streets where violence is omnipresent. Many of them are refugees from other parts of Central America or small villages in Guatemala where their sexuality is not tolerated. They are frequently assaulted and murdered on the streets: in 2006, 13 violent deaths were recorded. Various NGOs have alleged that the National Police force has a policy of 'social cleansing', which permits violence against sections of the population - particularly women and gay men.
La Santa Muerte is a misunderstood religious cult that emerged in Mexico in the 1960s and has expanded as the long and murderous 'drug war' has escalated.
Kings Cross is Sydney's red light district. When I began taking pictures there in 2004 the sex trade was on the wane due to stricter erotic nightclub regulations and what some refer to as the 'gentrification' of a place that has tended to be bohemian and wild. Alcohol, drugs and crime remain significant problems but at the core of The Cross remains a strong community that's proud of its social and cultural history.