Earlier in the same afternoon on Saturday, I came across that laneway opposite David Jones where the City of Melbourne allocated space for graffiti artists. I photographed the graffiti artists at work there before (see this Flickr set). I had about 10 minutes to kill there, so started photographing the aspects that inspire.
I love photographing artists at work. I’m hoping that I get to do a lot of it in the next project…
Apart from the one I shot the artists at work a couple of weeks ago, there are other laneways in Melbourne where wall art community seem to be actively working on. I was walking down the cobble-stone slope and a few things caught my eyes. As much as I love accidentally walking into some visual inspiration while traveling and enjoy making photographs, there is a clear advantage to the locals who can go back to the same subject again and again, under different lighting, different weather, and different surroundings. Today was one of those days, I guess. While I was going back and forth on the laneway pointing my camera to this and that, the lights came on as it got darker.
It seems to be a universal agreement that the divine existence is up there above us, and it tends to shine light down onto us. This light was just in the right spot above the wall art of a girl praying. I did not have a lens that gives me the angle that would’ve been ideal, but we always learn something new by trying to do with whatever we’ve got. I was sitting on my backside next to a tripod that is set up only 6-inch above ground, almost breaking my neck trying to look at the screen to check my framing and focus. At the end of the day, I am pretty happy with what I came out with. I do feel there is still a room for improvement in this shot, but that’s what keep me going back to the otherwise same old place in the same old city. If I get a new take on this, I’ll be sure to share with you here.
Is it that obvious that I love those classic-looking bikes?
This particular piece was painted right next to the kitchen window of the Movida Bar at the foot of the laneway. This reminded me of a painting that appear in an animated film ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ by Miyazaki. The subject matter is obviously very different (the film would probably be rated PG here – no such detailed classification in Japan), but somehow something is linked in my head. I don’t know enough about famous paintings, but maybe this follows some famous painter’s style. If you know it, I’d appreciate your info, especially if you know a gallery where you can see a real thing, an original by the famous painter. There is nothing like the real thing. The kind of art that have been appreciated over time have a strong sense of presence about them, strong ‘smell’ of the artist, or ‘aura’ if you like to call it. They overwhelm you and you just have to accept their talent. I’d love to have more of such experience, and hopefully that will help me with my own image making.
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.