FOR­GOT­TEN SUB­UR­BIA

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Cartier-Bres­son’s for­mula, search­ing for the de­ci­sive mo­ment. That mo­ment is, by def­i­ni­tion, gone. It oc­curred be­fore the pho­tog ra­pher ar­rived. What he en­coun­ters is a place where some­thing has hap­pened that has left be­hind traces and clues in the still­ness.

The aes­thetic of the po­lice pho­to­graph is thus not tem­po­ral but spa­tial: it is con­cerned to record the ap­pear­ance of a site — whether in­te­rior or ex­te­rior — the lo­ca­tion of fur­ni­ture or other ob­jects, for ex­am­ple, es­pe­cially any that show signs of dis­tur­bance and may of­fer clues as to the move­ment of now ab­sent fig­ures through this space as the crime took place.

It is also con­cerned to show how spa­ces lead into other spa­ces: where is the en­trance from the out­side land­ing into the apart­ment, or the hall­way or door that leads from the liv­ing room to the bed­room? How many steps away was it? Was there an­other way out, an es­cape route? For this rea­son there are nu­mer­ous shots in which rooms are framed by door­ways or taken from the dif­fer­ent an­gles of vi­sion.

Part of this aes­thetic is the nec­es­sary em­pha­sis on clar­ity and sharp fo­cus; ev­ery­thing is in crisp, fac­tual black and white, brightly lit by the flash, which il­lu­mi­nates gloomy cor­ners but also bleaches out any sub­tleties of nat­u­ral light­ing. If these in­te­ri­ors once had any kind of wel­com­ing do­mes­tic am­bi­ence or erotic in­ti­macy, it is abol­ished in the rad­i­cal tonal read­ing of the cam­era, and this it­self seems al­most like a metaphor of the way anger, de­spair and vi­o­lence have al­ready de­stroyed the hu­man­ity that may once have reigned in these homes.

The vi­sion is bleak but not sen­sa­tion­alised, and the ef­fect is en­hanced by the pre­sen­ta­tion, not as a se­ries of prints on the wall but edited into a doc­u­men­tary-like se­quence pro­jected on to the wall.

This for­mat al­lows for the in­clu­sion of many more im­ages than would have been pos­si­ble in a show of prints, but also makes it eas­ier to un­der­stand the con­text of and con­nec­tion be­tween in­di­vid­ual im­ages.

The se­quence is ac­com­pa­nied by Doyle’s out­stand­ing nar­ra­tion, which is con­cise and even terse, in a style that echoes the dry, la­conic style of clas­sic crime fic­tion. In a few well-cho­sen words, Doyle man­ages to set the scene — nam­ing the sub­urb, for ex­am­ple — and briefly char­ac­terise the sit­u­a­tion, the kind of people in­volved and the pre­sumed course of events. Fre­quently, he draws our at­ten­tion to one of those small de­tails of the set­ting that turned out to be sig­nif­i­cant.

Ev­ery now and then Doyle al­lows him­self a brief re­flec­tion, wry or wist­ful, on the mean­ing of what has hap­pened, or on the time and so­cial cir­cum­stances. For these im­ages, in their dis­pas­sion­ate record­ing of anoma­lous events in very or­di­nary set­tings, of­fer us a win­dow into the cul­ture of Aus­tralia in the 50s and 60s.

It’s a de­press­ing spec­ta­cle: a time of grow­ing wealth, the spread of sub­ur­bia, the ob­ses­sion with cars and other sta­tus sym­bols. Re­li­gious and spir­i­tual life are at low ebb in a world of ob-

From Sub­ur­ban Noir, clock­wise from top: car crash, North Syd­ney (1958); po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Bankstown (1964); car crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Padding­ton (1964); stolen goods, Can­ley Vale (1964)

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