Lyn­dal Irons

A de­sire to cap­ture the essence of a place and ex­plore “ev­ery­day mys­ter­ies” has chal­lenged Syd­ney pho­tog­ra­pher Lyn­dal Irons, but in the process of pur­su­ing her projects she learned to be re­cep­tive to what­ever hap­pened, and to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence.

ProPhoto - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW BY BRUCE USHER

A de­sire to ex­plore “ev­ery­day mys­ter­ies” has led pho­tog­ra­pher Lyn­dal Irons to doc­u­ment real-life Syd­ney with some re­mark­able port­fo­lios of images. She tells Bruce Usher about how her projects have al­ways evolved be­yond her ex­pec­ta­tions.

When Lyn­dal Irons first saw Swiss-born pho­tog­ra­pher Robert Frank’s at­tempts to cap­ture an en­tire coun­try in his highly in­flu­en­tial book The Amer­i­cans, she started to think hard about what it meant to try pho­tograph­ing places and be­gan a few less am­bi­tious projects just to see if she could do it. Places with po­ten­tial for some­thing to hap­pen.

She be­gan walk­ing around her in­ner Syd­ney neigh­bour­hood of Peter­sham with a cam­era.

“When you first start off, you’re too shy to shoot peo­ple and you end up shoot­ing a lot of signs, things on the ground, things that don’t look or talk back or yell at you,” she re­calls.

One of those signs Lyn­dal found in Au­gust 2009 was out­side the Hunts­bury Ho­tel, which she de­scribes as “an un-gen­tri­fied Aus­tralian pub on the brink of be­com­ing a lit­tle friend­lier to out­siders”. The sign read, “De­spair, Pity, Com­edy, Mu­sic, Beer, Live Mu­sic at 7.30pm on Thurs­day”.

“That sounded like it might have a lot of pho­to­graphic po­ten­tial,” Lyn­dal says with a smile in her voice, and she even­tu­ally turned up with a cam­era on Aus­tralia Day in 2010. “It was a fes­tive at­mos­phere. It wasn’t about the pub, it was about Aus­tralia… see­ing what would hap­pen. It was a good ‘in’ – peo­ple think you are pho­tograph­ing an event rather than them.”

The pub­li­can was sup­port­ive and happy to have her there. There weren’t a lot of fe­males in the pub at that time, Lyn­dal says, but she did learn a lot about meet­ing peo­ple and get­ting the pho­to­graphs. Some days she would end up just talk­ing rather than pho­tograph­ing. The Hunts­bury was happy to have her shoot­ing and she was happy to give them images for so­cial me­dia.

She didn’t think she got many good pho­to­graphs on that Aus­tralia Day, and then she started work­ing on a se­ries of por­traits, which she ad­mits isn’t her most im­por­tant se­ries (or, in­deed, one that’s fin­ished), but again the ex­er­cise has taught her a lot. In the pub she’d see the faces of neigh­bour­hood peo­ple she was in­ter­ested in pho­tograph­ing. She re­alised that, when you ac­tu­ally start a project, things come to­gether.

For ex­am­ple, “There was Kevin, an­other Hunts­bury drinker, but not a par­tic­u­larly so­cia­ble guy”.

Lyn­dal wanted to pho­to­graph him, but wasn’t sure what ap­proach to take, even though she had per­mis­sion to use the space and no­body was tread­ing on her toes. She still had to de­velop re­la­tion­ships.

“Kevin was a pretty pri­vate guy and not re­ally into be­ing pho­tographed, but he tol­er­ated me and he started to get to know me. He would walk out­side for a smoke, pos­si­bly seven times a day. I’d pho­to­graph

the same scene over and over, notic­ing sub­tle dif­fer­ences and strengths.”

Chang­ing Mean­ing

“You aren’t very threat­en­ing,” I com­ment to Lyn­dal. She laughs and says, “I used to think that was a bad thing. When you see street pho­tog­ra­phers, you see the charis­matic ones – the ones that can win peo­ple over. I’m not re­ally like that and I thought it might be a weak­ness, but you re­alise that be­ing non-threat­en­ing can be a big bonus”.

She be­came ‘ The Girl With The Cam­era’. Lyn­dal sub­se­quently had an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Hunts­bury (it’s still on show there) and the pub also helped fund it.

From this she also learnt how the mean­ings of pho­to­graphs can change.

“My Hunts­bury images were a se­ries of por­traits that didn’t seem quite fin­ished, but then, over time, some peo­ple were barred or started drink­ing else­where. Oth­ers, sadly, have passed away. Now it starts to feel dif­fer­ent to me. Jo­han was one of those peo­ple with an amaz­ing pres­ence I’d seen around the neigh­bour­hood and won­dered about un­til he walked into the pub one day and I started to pho­to­graph him. But he didn’t talk much – I didn’t re­ally get to know or cap­ture his story. When he passed away re­ally sud­denly at 57, my pic­tures were used in a mon­tage pre­pared for the view­ing of his body, and then they took on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing for me. In his ear­lier life, he ap­peared con­fi­dent and happy with his fam­ily – he looked like a cross be­tween Elvis and John Tra­volta. But, apart from mine, there didn’t seem to be any pic­tures of Jo­han from the most re­cent chap­ter of his life, the one where he had grown the thick­est beard I’ve ever seen and come to live alone in af­ford­able hous­ing. I am not sure what hap­pened in those years, but go­ing to his fu­neral and be­ing able to give that to his sis­ter and his daugh­ter gave a new mean­ing to photography. It made me re­alise that even in this era of In­sta­gram and self­ies – where ev­ery­thing feels like it’s been over-recorded – there are a lot of things, places and peo­ple that are not pho­tographed at all. Peo­ple have blank sec­tions in their fam­ily albums… and his­tory has them too. There are parts of our life we don’t pho­to­graph, maybe be­cause it doesn’t seem im­por­tant, or be­cause it is not ob­vi­ous how to do it. Or be­cause we just don’t think to record it. Those mo­ments in­ter­est me as a pho­tog­ra­pher.”

Con­se­quences To His­tory

Lyn­dal has also been pon­der­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of pho­tograph­ing ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ments in a high pri­vacy, pub­li­cre­la­tions-con­scious world.

“In­creas­ingly there is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­part­ment to go through and a cer­tain way a busi­ness must be pre­sented if you are go­ing to be al­lowed to shoot it. There are rea­sons for that, but there are also con­se­quences to his­tory.

“When a sec­ond man pic­tured in my se­ries died, we had a wake at the pub and I brought in all the pic­tures I had of him. I was sur­prised to find out that a man in the back­ground of one was wanted by po­lice on drug charges and was sus­pected to be in Thai­land. I had no idea. That photo used to be in­signif­i­cant to me, but it has a story in it now.

“Things of­ten feed into each other in my work, and my next project was start­ing to pho­to­graph the life of Kiet, an­other Hunts­bury reg­u­lar. Kiet knows ev­ery­body in the neigh­bor­hood… ev­ery­one in the pub… been drink­ing there for­ever. He’s been my fixer and an im­por­tant friend.”

Kiet kept cer­tain peo­ple away from Lyn­dal and in­tro­duced her to oth­ers.

“He came here by boat from Viet­nam when he was 17,” she ex­plains. “Then he had a car ac­ci­dent and is now in a wheel­chair, but he’s the most pos­i­tive per­son I have ever come across.”

At­tempt­ing to pho­to­graph his life be­came Lyn­dal’s next project. Be­cause Kiet had a stan­dard rou­tine – Dul­wich Hill to the pub, a cof­fee and the TAB, the casino on Sun­days and the Ox­ford Tav­ern on Tues­day af­ter­noons, she would al­ways know where to find him.

Mak­ing Notes

Lyn­dal Irons grew up in Cat­tai, a semi-ru­ral town 60 kilo­me­tres north­west of Syd­ney,

Even in this era of In­sta­gram and self­ies – where ev­ery­thing feels like it’s been overr ecorded – there are a lot of things, places and peo­ple that are not pho­tographed at all.

close to the Hawkes­bury River. Both her par­ents are keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers. She learned cam­era and dark­room ba­sics at high school – “we all pho­tographed each other a lot at high school” – and then at TAFE, as part of her Higher School Cer­tifi­cate. She used a 35mm Ri­coh cam­era.

When she was in her early twen­ties, Lyn­dal moved away from Cat­tai and put photography aside to do a Com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­gree in writ­ing and pub­lish­ing at the Univer­sity of Western Syd­ney. She says she has “al­ways been a writer in a way” and, be­fore univer­sity, she was the type of per­son who would al­ways be mak­ing notes.

Af­ter univer­sity, Lyn­dal worked in not­for-profit com­mu­ni­ca­tions for nine years as a jour­nal­ist and sub-ed­i­tor. She was in­volved with news re­port­ing, cre­at­ing pro­files and writ­ing for Web­sites, but then in­creas­ingly took on pho­to­graphic du­ties. She then did courses in street and doc­u­men­tary photography at the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for Photography with Marco Boc, and says that these gave her a bet­ter sense of what a cam­era could be used for.

Par­ra­matta Road

In 2010 Lyn­dal started pho­tograph­ing Syd­ney’s Par­ra­matta Road, a project she has fol­lowed ever since. Again, at the start she had no idea what she was try­ing to do. She shot street pic­tures on film and dig­i­tal and thought about cat­a­logu­ing the road from start to fin­ish, or per­haps ev­ery busi­ness or em­ployee – in an “Au­gust San­der style”.

She started pho­tograph­ing the signs and the de­cay, but in­creas­ingly she came to get the most out of en­coun­ters with the peo­ple she met – the real life.

“I gave up on the idea of any shot plan al­ready cov­ered by Google Earth, and just gave my­self over to en­joy­ing it as a road trip close to home and see­ing what it would of­fer me… and then it be­gan to make sense.”

For some lo­ca­tions she has to or­gan­ise per­mis­sions, but at other times she just stum­bles upon some­thing.

“It’s an odd way to spend time. In the sum­mer it’s of­ten re­ally hot, pol­luted and tax­ing, and it’s hard to get around as a pedes­trian. But some­thing in­ter­est­ing al­most al­ways hap­pens at any time of day.”

Lyn­dal even lived on Par­ra­matta Road at the Marco Polo mo­tel in Sum­mer Hill for a week so she could be close to her sub­ject.

She was fea­tured in the Le­ich­hardt­based CIAO mag­a­zine. The cover pho­to­graph was of Lyn­dal sit­ting in the mid­dle of Par­ra­matta Road, and peo­ple started recog­nis­ing her from this pub­lic­ity, in­clud­ing the pro­pri­etor of the Olympia Café in Stan­more.

“It’s prob­a­bly the most fa­mous thing on Par­ra­matta Road, and to­tally un­changed from the 1950s, but he hates pho­tog­ra­phers. I’ve tried to ex­plain what I’m do­ing a few times, but he hasn’t al­lowed me to take his photo yet. He’s got a cult fol­low­ing, but doesn’t want it. I feel lucky that we get along, even if he won’t let me pho­to­graph him.”

“Good­bye Ox­ford Tav­ern was an­other se­ries of pho­to­graphs that de­manded to be done,” Lyn­dal says of the clos­ing of the iconic bar in her neigh­bour­hood.

She badly wanted to record its pass­ing, but says, “It wasn’t of­fered to me on a plat­ter. I had to ask mul­ti­ple times be­fore the li­censee gave me per­mis­sion to shoot the fi­nal days of the top­less bar.”

There were so many peo­ple cu­ri­ous about the Ox­ford but had never been in­side, she felt it was a place she had to pre­serve.

“Thou­sands drive along Par­ra­matta Road ev­ery day, but they don’t of­ten get out and walk around to ex­pe­ri­ence the place. The Ox­ford sat on a cor­ner in Peter­sham for decades, of­fer­ing some­thing unique, but it was blacked out and so not many peo­ple went in­side. Some­thing I seem to do is of­fer a legacy to sub­jects that are some­how un­der­rated or de­serve a more three­d­i­men­sional ap­praisal.”

See­ing The Lighter

Su­san Meise­las’s Car­ni­val Strip­pers was one of the first photography books Lyn­dal owned, and it made a real im­pact.

“It got me think­ing about per­sonal projects and what needs to be cap­tured be­fore it dis­ap­pears.”

Lyn­dal says she loves the way that Wil­liam Yang uses words and pic­tures and

I know when a project is work­ing not by the pic­tures, but by a feel­ing I’m be­ing of­fered some­thing more than I could con­struct or know to ask for.

re­spects his writ­ing as much as his images. The Lit­tle Brown Mush­room Dis­patch col­lab­o­ra­tions be­tween Amer­i­cans Alec Soth and Brad Zel­lar are, in her opin­ion, “per­fect”. Garry Trinh is one of her favourite pho­tog­ra­phers and she has re­ally en­joyed their con­ver­sa­tions about photography and ev­ery­day en­vi­ron­ments.

She met the Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher and Mag­num mem­ber David Alan Har­vey when she was work­ing for the Head On Photo Fes­ti­val and he was one of the in­ter­na­tional pre­sen­ters. She sat in on Har­vey’s work­shops and re­calls, “The most in­ter­est­ing thing was the pho­tog­ra­phers who came along. I saw their bod­ies of work and there was some re­ally good work – not when you have six months to do a project, but when you have four days! Watch­ing what they came back with and how they strug­gled with that was very in­ter­est­ing, and also to see how he mo­ti­vated peo­ple”.

Alan Davies, then Cu­ra­tor of Photography at the State Li­brary of NSW, of­fered her hon­est feedback when­ever it was needed.

“He helped make sure I chose the right fork in the road when two were pre­sented,” she says.

Early on, Alan en­cour­aged Lyn­dal not to get too dark with a cam­era. There are ob­vi­ously many im­por­tant but dif­fi­cult and some­times de­press­ing sto­ries worth telling in doc­u­men­tary photography, but they are not the only sto­ries. He en­cour­aged her to take on the lighter and the com­mon­place.

“They are tough sto­ries to tell with a cam­era, with­out be­ing ei­ther cheesy or bor­ing, but they are im­por­tant to pre­serve too. And I’ve found that peo­ple re­ally re­spond to them be­cause they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced them di­rectly.”

Open Mind

Phys­i­cal cul­ture – bet­ter known sim­ply as “physie” – is of Aus­tralia’s old­est sports. It hap­pens in cities and towns and sub­urbs all over the coun­try. Thou­sands of girls train in it, but peo­ple are still sur­prised to hear it ex­ists. This work sort of chose Lyn­dal.

Con­ver­sa­tions with a friend who has been com­pet­ing in it for a few years of­ten turned to how great a sub­ject it would be for a doc­u­men­tary or photo se­ries.

“Then one day she just told me she’d or­gan­ised per­mis­sion for me to shoot a com­pe­ti­tion cy­cle. Ac­cess is about the great­est gift you can give a pho­tog­ra­pher, so the rest just had to hap­pen no mat­ter how busy I was at the time.”

Lyn­dal’s re­sult­ing ex­hi­bi­tion, Physie, was sub­se­quently dis­played at the State Li­brary of NSW dur­ing July, Au­gust and Septem­ber in 2015

“My work of­ten be­gins with an ev­ery­day mys­tery that cap­tures my imag­i­na­tion. In the­ory, I could pho­to­graph a sub­ject I didn’t like or run an ex­posé on some­thing hor­ri­ble. I of­ten start shoot­ing with an open mind, but in­evitably I grow to love the places I pho­to­graph. I know when a project is work­ing not by the pic­tures, but by a feel­ing I’m be­ing of­fered some­thing more than I could con­struct or know to ask for. If I get that feel­ing, I know the images will be there.

“Some of the times I’ve felt most alive have been while shoot­ing so, in a way, it hasn’t re­ally mat­tered if the pic­tures came out well… I had an amaz­ing time. I think that might be the key. I live bet­ter through a lens. I wouldn’t say it’s a way of life, but it has a lot of pos­i­tive ef­fects. Pa­tience, chal­lenge and ex­plo­ration. When I get stuck at traf­fic lights now, I am pleased be­cause some­thing might hap­pen framed through my win­dow. It’s just a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to ev­ery­day life when you are keep­ing an eye out for pho­to­graphs.”

In May 2015 Lyn­dal was awarded a Pool Grant for the On Par­ra­matta Road project. The grant pro­vides $10,000 to an emerg­ing artist to en­able them to cre­ate a body of pho­to­graphs to be ex­hib­ited 12 months later at the next award cer­e­mony. Septem­ber 2015 was spent as an artist in res­i­dence with Le­ich­hardt Coun­cil, and was spent prowl­ing the streets looking for images and his­to­ries. Her On Par­ra­matta Road ex­hi­bi­tion was staged in May this year at the Ar­tic­u­late Project Space on Par­ra­matta Road as part of the 2016 Head On Photo Fes­ti­val. The Pool Grant is unique and apart from fi­nan­cial sup­port, it in­cludes ad­vice from Pool pho­tog­ra­phers. Lyn­dal de­scribes it as “an in­cred­i­ble re­source” (for more in­for­ma­tion visit www.the­p­ool­col­lec­tive.com/pool-grant).

Hope­fully Lyn­dal’s On Par­ra­matta Road project will also morph into an amaz­ing photography book with the help of a fu­ture car­ing pub­lisher, and she won’t have the same prob­lem as Robert Frank… who had to edit his 28,000 images down to just the 83 fi­nally se­lected for pub­li­ca­tion in The Amer­i­cans.

To see more of Lyn­dal Irons’s photography visit lyn­dalirons.com.au

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