seven thousand oaks festival

Digging the dirt
I came across two ladies digging the dirt in the middle of the city...

When I shot the photos of wall art spray artists on Saturday, I was actually on my way to a lunch and to photograph something else. Earlier in the week, I was walking around the city just before sunset, and I saw something rather strange. Two girls in black were digging the dirt in City Square, in the wide view of cafes, Westin Hotel and passing trams and pedestrian on Swanston St. I waked up and asked the two smiling ladies what they were doing. (Not quite, ‘what do you think you are doing?’ but more normal, sheer curiosity :p ) They’d told me that they were preparing an installation piece as a part of a festival that has to do with sustainable living, and gave me a brochure. It would be up and running on Saturday. Cool. I’ll be back! I snapped a couple of frames (I was working on Black n White that day) which I expected to be used as ‘making of’ shots and left.

In the late afternoon on the day after, I was sitting at the Brunetti Cafe on the edge of the same City Square having a coffee. Don’t you just love the coffee and biscuit there? I saw 4-5 people gathered at the same spot, with a couple of flood lights and shovels. I wished I could say hello and snap a few more shots, with more advanced stage of their preparation. Also I was interested in how it would look with light on it as I mentioned to them the day before, and that would have been a perfect opportunity. But the problem was that I was carrying a box full of mounted prints and it was not something I wanted to put down on the dirt ground, so I had to give up on that shoot.

And the Saturday came…

After a nice lunch at the very clean and beautifully designed Danish Club in the city (not the old place on Beacon’s Field), I walked back down to the square. Drizzle was coming through and not much was happening. Blue plastic sheet was spread across and there were not many people around. I walked on down and around the city taking a few shots and came back later when the sun started shining. The steam was not out but I was told it won’t be long.

weird mushroom in the field of snow
weird mushroom in the field of snow, ARENA, seven thousand oaks festival / artist: Jen Rae

While waiting for the steam, I went around to check on other artists’ works. There was a small field of snow with tree stumps and weird blue-coloured mushroom growing on them. Handing me a brochure Jen told me she was coordinating the artists in this exhibition called ARENA which is a part of seven thousand oaks festival. There was a problem of this fungi spreading across the forests, killing lots of trees, which had not happened before the global warming. With that narrative, I can understand the choice of blue, which look very unnatural, and very realistic looking snow.

a street parking sign used as a broom
a street parking sign used as a broom, ARENA, seven thousand oaks festival / artist: Ceri Hann, Public Assembly

This, I could more easily relate to. If you have studied the fundamental philosophy of Buddhism and then saw the sand and stone garden at a Zen temple in Kyoto, it is not difficult to put Ceri’s work into the context of sustainability. In addition to the idea that ‘nothing lasts forever’, he also value the meditative nature of the act of sweeping the sand, which anyone can participate in. What was unique with his work was the choice of street sign as the broom. Something that we find in daily life can be utilised to make something beautiful. He gave me some explanation on where his ideas came from, but I was unfortunately beginning to lose my focus, as I could see the mist coming up now behind him and the light was just perfect, nobody was around yet… (Sorry Ceri!)

Artist Ceri Hann of Public Assembly
Artist Ceri Hann of Public Assembly
A boy enjoying the adventure through the misty fog
A boy enjoying the adventure through the misty fog - ARENA, seven thousand oaks festival / artist: Sarah Duyshart

By the time Ceri finished explaning his work and I excused myself, there was a big circle around the mysterious mist or fog that seem to appear from below ground. The light was a bit more interesting a few moments ago, but I captured a few clicks of soft vision moments (intentionally out of focus) and use the contrast to set the mood.

It was a bit difficult as this was much larger than I had expected. When I’m out and about, I use an old 24mm lens on my camera. It is a small 58mm diameter piece which make my camera look smaller. Together with blacked out front of my Canon, it gives me a better chance of getting closer to poeple in a candid moment. Also it is a relatively wide lens which force me to really work the composition. But it is an old design lens and its auto focus is not very fast (and noisy) so I set it on manual focus all the time. You just have to open your eyes and look through the view finder, and you’ll see where you are focusing. As a backup for the time when I want to crop out a person from the scene, I carry another lens, which is 70mm macro. If you know camera you know 24 and 70 are very different perspective. 70mm is very narrow when used on APS-C camera and belongs to telephoto in terms of its angle of view. I was hoping that the installation would be much smaller and I could capture with 24mm easily. It wasn’t so. 70mm was too long to get what I wanted, but as a photographer you just have to make do with whatever you got there and then. I was a few more steps back from where I would have otherwise be, and shot the photo of the kid jumping and running around the misty steam. It was pretty tight and my equipment was far from ideal for what I was trying to do, but I am pretty happy with the outcome.

Forest of buzzing speakers?
Forest of buzzing speakers? ARENA, seven thousand oaks festival / artist: Lynda Roberts

This was another interesting installation work by Ceri’s colleague, whom I did not get to speak to. It has this interesting mix of very urban material and organic shapes. I did not have a very interesting light I was hoping for, and I was trying to do something I probably would have done better with 24mm than 70 (the outcome was poor so it’s not here for you to see :p ), but maybe I can re-visit and see what I can make of. How would you photograph sound? That is a question that keeps popping up from time to time. The street music behind the wall artists, the buzzing static noise from the forest of speakers… Something to think about for future work.

There was another artist’s work, but it was put away by the time I had a chance to go for it.

According to the brochure, AREA is taking place on the 3rd, 10th and 24th of July in City Square, which is the dirt-covered square at the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets. For more information, check out the website as below. I’m hoping to stop by again, so gimme a yell if you see me there 🙂

seven thousand oaks – festival page

Public Assembly –

View photos on my Flickr page.


Artists at work

Artist works on the fine outline
Artist works on the fine outline

Saturday was one of those winter days when the sun shines and it’s very warm for a minute, and drizzling rain comes down and chilly the next. I was walking around in the CBD, killing time before my lunch appointment with friends, when I came across those artists at work. This laneway just off Burke St Mall has been decorated with spray paint art for some time, and today the lane was closed off while half a dozen artists put their new work on it. According to some guys I spoke to, they are paid to do this work, and they were using the 2-day weekend to complete their work.

I have little knowledge and understanding of what makes great spray paint arts, but I could immediately see different styles of work among them. There is a guy with his smooth, continuous progress, another painting background colour over his to start all over again, yet another guy using stencils to make wallpaper-like patterns, a girl whose checking and double-checking her small-size sample to make sure everything is in right balance. There is a guy who keeps stepping and out from the wall, as his friend with her camera capturing image of every addition he makes to the image that is forming something that looks like a city light from above, and I understand they are working on time delay video (a video that looks like fast-forwarding a progress).

I did not have any agreement with them. I did not even ask them whether it is okay if I took some photos. Where I come from, there is a tradition of it, reading other’s mind by feeling it. It sounds like something mysterious but it is actually quite simple. You take one step closer, and see how the other looks. You take another step closer, and see. And so on until you know when it is too close. When I lift my camera up half way, and if they looked away or stare at me, then I’d know I haven’t got their permission.

That is the fun bit of street photography, for me, any way. It is not about hiding your camera like a spy and take a shot while they don’t see it. To me it is the acceptance of my presence, their allowing me into their space, and my effort to capture that connection, that moment.

So there I was, in the narrow laneway with ladders and spray paints everywhere. Some of them are taking a couple of step back every now and then to confirm their progress, while others are going up and down the lane grabbing some equipment. I look around and find a corner, couple of steps back from them, where they can see me but I am not in their way, physically and creatively. What I mean is that I’m not blocking their path of movement and I’m not annoying them that they are either conscious of me and cannot think openly or have to avoid me when they step away to observe their own work. I spend some time just watching how each artist is working. Some of them say hello and talk to me, so I ask questions about what they do. Slowly you feel you are okay to take a step forward and capture them, not confronting them but as a close passer-by.

All I can do is make a good observation of what it looks like they are doing, and capture it. I am not close enough, I am not a friend, they don’t even know my name, and I am not in a position to take photographs from insider’s point of view, the kind of photographs that give them the voice, through my images. I’ll need to get to know them better before that can happen. And that Saturday, I had too little time for it, and definitely not adequately dressed to be standing there in the cold laneway for longer than I did. It would be great to go back and make a series of photographs that tell the story about them.

At the end of the day, I am only interested in the people and their approach to their art, and not at all in the actual paint they are making. It is quite obvious from the resulting photographs.

See the rest of images on the Flickr set: