Lives through a Lens

Photographer Duncan Wright didn’t shoot a single frame for months. Instead, he made almost weekly visits on Wednesdays to Wandana to get to know the residents, listen to their choir, attend morning teas and volunteer.

It was Duncan Wright’s slowly and gently cultivated connection with a handful of the residents who live in the Subiaco social housing residence which eventually allowed him to take his camera out. The result is an intimate black and white portrait series of Wandana residents called Complex Space. We see Tammy and her collection of sneakers and bags, Elly singing along to Elvis on her record player and portraits of Joe, Domenica, Marion and Katherine. Located near Kings Park, Wandana is Western Australia’s oldest social housing block and an architecturally significant building. The series includes photographs of spaces around Wandana as well as residents inside their apartments. “I sang with them, even though I can’t sing,” says Wright. “It was really important to develop respectful relationships with the residents. “I shot in black and white because I liked it better for this project. With colour, you can interpret things in so many different ways, but black and white is straight down the line and matter of fact.” Wright is one of five photographic artists who were commissioned to create new work about Subiaco as a response to archival photos from the 80s and 90s held in the Subiaco Museum.

The archive collection was created to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary and document the significant change in Subiaco by Edith Cown University photography students and artists, Sonya Sears and Michelle Taylor. The new project titled Subiaco: A Portrait was produced by photographer and journalist Emma Pegrum with collaborative creative direction from Wright. Joining them in creating new works were artists Aaron Webber, Billy Reeves and Claudia Caporn. Part of Pegrum’s interest in the project was to give a collection of other emerging artists an opportunity to create a body of work in space that might otherwise be inaccessible. “I was particularly excited about creating a platform for people who are trying to make a career as photographers,” she says. “Subiaco: A Portrait is a great example of how an institution or local government can take a different approach to a commercial or artistic project and create more opportunity for different types of artists.” Subiaco: A Portrait considers the themes and social values reflected in the archive and looks at them with new eyes for these contemporary commissions.

It explores the nature of institutions and work in Subiaco, as well as the enduring presence of community groups and clubs. It also considers housing, heritage, construction and the built environment, family and demography. Each artist has chosen a different and personal interpretation. Webber’s Ground Work records the unique world of the Subiaco Tigers Wrestling Club as the area around their practice space is demolished and redeveloped. Growing Pains by Caporn recognises stories of people at King Edward Memorial Hospital and Bob Hawke College, capturing the self-conscious, awkward unfolding of young adulthood, the life-altering passage into motherhood and journeys through trauma. In contrast Reeves’ Untitled explores people, the built and natural environment and details of Subiaco’s eastern end, whether it’s decorations in a shop window, a stranger’s tattooed legs or construction scaffolding. Using the archive photos (which were physical photos shot with film) as a jumping off point, Pegrum says she and Wright were almost more interested in what wasn’t included in the photos, instead perhaps refocussing on aspects of the suburb that weren’t often portrayed. “What I thought was really interesting was that the archival photos didn’t only contain narrative of the affluent, inner-city neighbourhood we know today,” says Pegrum. “Subi has a working-class history and the photos from the 80s capture the beginning of the process of transformation, but of course, not everything was included in that view.

” Pegrum’s series, Under Her Watchful Eye We Dance and Sing, was shot over three weeks at the Shenton Park Community Centre and showcases three very different groups who use the space: Cloverwest Square Dance Club, Voiceworks Plus Choir and Tiny Tutus Ballet School. “The community centre is steeped in nostalgia for a particular time,” Pegrum says. “It’s an interesting space. I saw lots of groups come through and they all relate to the space differently, but ultimately it provides a really functional, accessible place for people in the community to come together and do meaningful things. “The square dancers were there until 11pm and that group had people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. I really enjoyed soaking up their energy and getting to know them. “I’m grateful to the groups because they really collaborated on this project with me. They were so welcoming.” To view the full online gallery visit subiacoaportrait.com.au

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Lives through a Lens