The art of photographing strangers on the streets of Sydney

Posted February 12, 2018 08:00:39

Everyday photographer Jon Lewis hits the streets to document the ever-changing cosmopolitan face of Sydney.

“What I’m trying to say in it is everybody is important, it’s not just us long-legged white fellas,” he said of the purpose of his work.

“It’s also Asian people, it’s also Indigenous people, it’s also religious people, it’s all that.”

Over the past four years his daily ritual has involved pulling up strangers to make impromptu portraits with the available light.

Lewis can’t predict who he will encounter or what will attract him to certain characters on his journeys.

“I have no idea until I see it, but up until that stage it’s always been a time of wondering what’s going to surprise me or indeed talk to me.”

Last year the State Library of NSW acquired a selection of 50 images from his growing street portraits series that currently includes more than 750 pictures.

Lewis’s portraits appear compositionally straightforward, but it’s a technique he has worked to perfect over a career spanning five decades.

“I’ve always loved [photography] through my adult life.

“Anything good is a gift in this world because the world is so buggered.”

Born to an Australian father and Jewish-American mother in Maryland, USA, Lewis came to live in Australia in 1951.

In the 1970s he co-founded Greenpeace Australia and rubbed shoulders with other prominent creatives as part of the Yellow House art collective in Sydney’s Potts Point.

The profession took him to Europe, Asia, the Pacific and outback Australia, and led to his documentary-styled images being acquired by cultural institutions and private collectors around the globe.

“It’s nice to have the world seen in photographs, of things that actually happened and meant something to a great deal of people.”

Lewis’s assistant Sarah Barker plays a critical role in curating, exhibiting and highlighting the photographs through social media.

“I think it’s important work that needs people to see it,” Ms Barker said.

“It says a lot about society, our shared humanity and how we have more in common than we do different.”

In her opinion the best of Lewis’s images are the result of his friendly and transparent approach with the subjects.

“Most street photography is done with the people unaware that they’re being photographed, whereas he really wants them to be an active part of what he’s doing,” she said.

“So that’s why he seeks permission; engaging with them, it makes them a very interactive part of the photograph.”

“I think it’s dignified and the way to get good work is to acknowledge the person that you’re photographing,” Lewis added.

Although he’s a veteran behind the lens, Lewis admitted that approaching people could still be a challenge.

“Every time I make a photograph I get a little frightened; I’m not particularly comfortable.

“But generally speaking people are wonderful and they’re most accommodating, and if you’re correct and happy with them they will usually be easy to photograph.”

While he always carries a light camera kit, Lewis let in on one tip for making engaging portraits of strangers.

“Humour is a wonderful thing to bring along when you photograph people that you don’t know.”

His exhibition Perfect Strangers is on display at The Photography Room in Canberra until March 4.

Topics: fine-art-photography, photography, human-interest, people, multiculturalism, community-and-society, sydney-2000

Folding umbrella’s ‘flirtatious’ history never forgotten

Posted February 10, 2018 09:00:40

February 10 is World Umbrella Day, an occasion not typically marked by raucous celebrations but one always remembered in Melbourne’s east.

In East Malvern is the former home and studios of Karl and Slawa Duldig, which is now a museum of their impressive artwork including bronzes by Karl, a renowned modernist sculptor.

It also holds an early prototype of an Austrian-invented folding, collapsible umbrella.

Slawa Duldig invented and patented the umbrella design in 1928 when she was still Slawa Horowitz.

Both Polish-born, she and Karl met while studying sculpture in Vienna.

The two would frequently draw together on Sundays in the surrounds of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Their daughter Eva, who founded the Duldig museum, said it was on one of the drawing excursions that Slawa came up with the idea for the folding umbrella.

Writing before her death in 1975, Slawa recalled that it was a rainy May day in 1928.

“I armed myself with a big umbrella and muttered to myself: ‘Why on Earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing? Can’t they invent a small folding umbrella which could be easily carried in a bag?'”

She went home and spent some time coming up with her design.

A prototype was built with parts from watchmakers, and she made sure not to buy too many parts from any one place.

“She didn’t want anyone to cotton on that she was doing this umbrella thing,” Eva said.

The ‘magic umbrella’

Slawa obtained a patent for her invention in 1928 and successfully licensed the design to manufacturers in Austria and Germany.

Patents for folding, telescopic umbrellas date back to at least 1896 but Slawa’s improvements were elegant.

She simplified the folding mechanism, allowing the whole umbrella to be smaller and more practical.

The umbrella went on the market with an unusual name.

“The little umbrella was called Flirt, which was very with it,” Eva said.

“It was still seen as quite a luxury item; it was beautifully finished and made out of nice materials.”

The Flirt was featured at the 1931 Inventor’s Fair in Vienna, with the press describing it as “the magic umbrella of the sculptress”.

Slawa married Karl that same year and her business helped to fund their new life together.

“She was able to furnish the whole house with this beautiful customised art furniture made by a very well-known firm in Vienna,” Eva said.

Secret stowaways

Slawa gave birth to Eva on February 11, 1938, one month before the Nazis marched into Austria.

The young family fled via Switzerland, but under pressure from the Nazis Slawa sold her rights to the umbrella to company Brüder Wüster.

She was, however, able to evade the authorities and secretly put the umbrella prototypes into storage.

Eva’s book Driftwood tells the remarkable story of how her parents escaped Austria and wound up in Australia while keeping their possessions hidden from the Nazis.

She said she applied an important lesson from her mother while writing their history.

“Even though I was writing the book for 40 years, I didn’t tell anyone … I kept it quiet until it was out.”

Topics: inventions, 20th-century, design, history, people, human-interest, malvern-east-3145, melbourne-3000

Helpful advice for children starting high school

Posted February 07, 2018 07:00:02

When you start high school you’re suddenly one of the youngest, smallest, newest kids in school all over again.

That journey is captured in the series My Year 7 Life on ABC ME that follows 16 students around Australia, documenting their lives as they transition into high school and begin puberty.

Karla Burt, a producer on the series, said watching the children adjust brings a lot of insight into what young teens are going through.

“It is a fundamental stage of life,” she said.

“The transition between Year 6 and Year 7 is one of the biggest jumps in a child’s life.”

In the spirit of lending a hand to the latest generation of students, we asked ABC Radio Hobart’s listeners for their advice on how to handle the change.

Stay in school and keep up maths

Ms Burt said a common theme from the children in the series was a feeling of being swamped by the jump in school work, especially the level of homework.

“The kids were overwhelmed with the amount of homework they got straight up,” she said.

Jim: “Take your approach to mathematics more seriously. Something that I have now fixed but it held me back for some years.”

Sharon: “Keep going … I have never stopped thinking ‘what if?'”

Johnny: “Don’t try to make people laugh at the expense of your education.”

Don’t wear yellow socks and get the right uniform

Year 7 and the start of puberty can be an awkward time with plenty of embarrassment.

“They are at the age where they’re trying to find out who they are,” Ms Burt said.

“They are asking: ‘Am I normal? Where do I fit in?'”

Those social faux pas, mostly imagined, sometimes cruelly ridiculed, are hard things to negotiate.

Marcus: “I turned up to the first day of school…wearing a pair of long green and yellow tartan shorts followed by high-knee yellow walk socks, black shoes, a yellow short-sleeved shirt and a short tie. I looked like a complete prat.”

Peter: “Don’t take your Power Rangers lunchbox to school.”

Rod: “Don’t wear a Deloraine Primary School tie on first day of Grade 7, especially if you are the smallest kid in school already.”

Mary: “Don’t let your mum anywhere near your fringe and your hair.”

Be yourself and don’t panic

Perhaps the most important bit of advice for Year 7s, and everyone, is just to be themselves and remember that high school is not the be-all and end-all of their lives.

Anna: “Just be yourself. You can’t be anyone else but yourself. I am different, I’ve always been different and I never fitted in … People will find you, likeminded people.”

Claire: “Don’t be intimidated by the egotistical cool crowd; be proud, damn proud of your individuality.”

Midge: “Stay calm and remember that there is life after high school.”

Matthew: “The only thing in this world you have control over is your actions, so do the best you can and learn to accept the rest.”

Bonnie: “Don’t believe it when they tell you at 14 that you have to decide what you want to be when you grow up.”

You can watch My Year 7 Life on ABC iView.

Topics: secondary-schools, children, family-and-children, human-interest, people, television, hobart-7000

‘Time capsule’ web series celebrates characters of Melbourne’s west

Posted February 02, 2018 12:28:48

A new series of short web documentaries celebrates the characters who define Melbourne’s western suburbs.

We Are West has so far featured little-known locals as well as household names such as furniture retailer Franco Cozzo and youth worker Les Twentyman.

Local filmmaker Laurens Goud moved to Williamstown with his mother he was 11 years old and now lives in Altona.

“I didn’t move too far,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne‘s Richelle Hunt.

He said the idea for the web series came from local businessman Marty Rankin.

“[He] came to us and said, ‘I want to make a time capsule of the way that the west is’,” Mr Goud recalled.

Together they came up with a plan to produce a series of short documentaries featuring “some of the characters that are famous, and even some of the stories that are less famous”.

“We’re not all going to be around forever, so if we don’t go about capturing the way that the west is now, we won’t be able to remember what it was.”

Famous and not-so-famous

The series started in November with a video telling the little-known story of Peter and Lola Anderson from community group Friends of Cruickshank Park.

“[They’re] an adorable pair who put in a lot of work to make Cruickshank Park what it is today,” Mr Goud said.

He said the Yarraville park was “an amazing resource for the west”.

“I walked my dog there so many times without any idea about the amount of work that went into creating that.”

The series returned this year with a video featuring high-profile youth worker Twentyman, before releasing its most recent episode on the furniture king Cozzo.

The Italian immigrant is famous locally for his television commercials and love of baroque furniture.

Mr Goud described Mr Cozzo as “genuine” and said he was “one of the most amazing people to meet”.

“We actually just walked in [to the furniture store] and he was at the back of the store in his office,” Mr Goud said.

“We said, ‘We’re doing this series, love to talk to you’, and off we went.

“We could have cut a much longer story there; he wasn’t afraid to talk, as you could imagine.”

In the video Mr Cozzo talks about the early days of his business, and says the inner western suburb is “better than Toorak”.

“I will say, ‘West is the best’.”

‘Genuine’ stories for social media

Mr Goud said with the first few episodes the producers were testing to see if there was an audience on Facebook for these sorts of local stories.

“Social media, there’s so much action and people jumping up and down for attention,” he said.

“We sort of thought: ‘We think that there’s an audience for genuine stories, for real people, but let’s go out and find out if that’s the case’.

“If we have people watching and enjoying what we’re trying to do, then we’ll keep making the stories.”

Topics: documentary, internet-culture, social-media, television, community-and-society, people, human-interest, footscray-3011, williamstown-3016, braybrook-3019, altona-3018, melbourne-3000

‘I’ve gotten some great stories in Australia’: No encounter is safe from David Sedaris

Posted January 14, 2018 05:44:40

Ahead of his Australian tour, author David Sedaris chats to ABC News about diary-keeping, how a Trump presidency has been worse than he anticipated, and why the world is getting better for LGBT people.

David Sedaris has bought a pillow.

“It seemed like nothing much happened yesterday,” the writer confides in the opening moments of our interview, the West Sussex phone connection he’s speaking into faint.

“But I bought a pillow. It was made by a prisoner.”

Intrigued — am I about to hear a famous David Sedaris bit? — I lean closer into the receiver, as the best-selling author, humourist, noted garbage collector (actually), keen human observer, and mundane memory collector, continues.

“I was at a decorative art and antiques fair, and I saw this pillow and it said, ‘Handmade in prison’,” Sedaris says softly.

“It’s a scheme to rehabilitate prisoners by getting them to embroider pillows, right?”

“Right,” I parrot.

“Anyway,” he explains, “I got the pillow and it wasn’t cheap, you know — it was GBP 120. And the woman selling them explained to me that most of the money goes to the prisoner, and she said there’s a tag on the pillow with his name.

“She said, ‘I think you should write him a thank you letter,’ because it really improves their self-esteem.

“And I thought, ‘You know, if a prisoner gave me a pillow that he made, yeah, I’d write him a thank you letter. But if I paid 120 pounds, actually I think he should write me a thank you letter.’ And I’m the king of thank you letters, OK?

“Like, no one comes close to me when it comes to thank you letters.”

‘It is important for me to be widely adored’

Whether or not this anecdote — typical of the sort of thing Sedaris finds amusing and noteworthy — makes it into one of his future short stories or essays is yet to be seen.

But, he tells me, he spent a lot of time writing about it in his diary this morning, a daily habit he’s had for the last 40 or so years, and the basis of his latest book Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002), a 500-page tome released last year.

Back in Australia this month for the fourth time in his career, Sedaris plans on using his national tour, An Evening with David Sedaris, to read aloud from old and new diary entries, as well as test and refine fresh material for a forthcoming book.

It will be a glimpse into a writer’s mind in real time, as Sedaris — who says he often writes 20 or more drafts of each story — will reshape and rephrase elements of a piece depending on the audience’s reaction.

Asked if it is important to him that he is widely read, Sedaris responds, deadpan, “It is important for me to be widely adored.”

Even if you haven’t read his books — titles such as Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004) and When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008) that offer engaging reflections on his offbeat family, youthful misadventures and adult misgivings — his name probably rings a bell, not least because he comes so highly recommended (and gifted on birthdays).

A non-reader friend, for instance, has Me Talk Pretty One Day on his bedside; he says the short essays are easy to read and make him appear more literary than he actually is.

Another friend listens to Sedaris’s audio books while she works in her art studio, his unique voice adding an extra layer of nuance and delight to his writing.

Avid fans (there are 850,000 of them on Facebook alone) follow the American writer’s new releases closely, and click eagerly on his latest online essays in the hope of “catching up” with the 60-year-old between books.

Trump: ‘It’s worse than I even thought it was going to be’

In a piece published in The Paris Review last June, titled A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately, fans gained a glimpse into Sedaris’s psyche as he recounted 10 moments in time from the lead-up to, election and inauguration of Donald Trump.

Each snapshot — no doubt mirroring a sentiment shared by many readers — is an escalating scream of disbelief and despair at what Sedaris views as the unfolding “doom” of a Trump presidency.

It includes conversations with a racist hire car driver, a conspiracy theorist, a friend who can’t take a joke, and a screaming match with his Republican father who yells, “[Donald Trump] is the best thing that’s happened to this country in years!”

Near the end of the essay, after falling off a ladder and hurting himself badly but not critically, Sedaris writes, “It’s remarkably similar to how I felt after the election, as if I’d been slammed against a wall or hit by a car.

“Both pains persist, show no signs, in fact, of ever going away.”

Sedaris says to me now, a year into President Trump’s term: “Yes, well … it’s worse than I even thought it was going to be.

“He has an eight-word vocabulary and uses words like ‘bigly’. I mean …”

He has resolved, though, to stop bickering with his dad about politics, which he takes as one small positive in otherwise disheartening times.

“I expected him to be dead the other day,” he says of his 95-year-old father.

“I don’t want our last moments to be spent slinging arrows, you know?”

These days, Sedaris says, life at home in the UK — with his partner of 26 years, Hugh Hamrick — is a quiet decrescendo.

“A couple of days ago we [he and Mr Hamrick] had a really great day,” he says.

“We didn’t do anything special, just had a couple of meals together.

“But it was one of those times where I thought, ‘God, how wonderful to be 26 years into something and still like the person you’re with and be so happy to have him in your life.”

‘The world is a lot better than it once was’ for LGBT people

Surprised at the furore surrounding Australia’s recent debate on same-sex marriage, Sedaris (who is engaged to Hamrick but doesn’t plan on marrying him) argues same-sex marriage legalisation around the world will help the LGBT community feel less alone.

“I feel like the more time you spend hiding [your homosexuality], it just deforms you, you know?” he says.

“You don’t have to live that way anymore. Well, there are places in America where you probably have to live that way, but I mean, generally speaking, the world is a lot better than it once was in that regard.”

Long gone are the drug-fuelled, unemployed days of Sedaris’s youth spent in Chicago and New York; when he’s not writing or touring, he’s spending up to nine hours a day picking up roadside rubbish in the English countryside.

He has collected so much rubbish his local council named a garbage truck after him — “Pig Pen Sedaris” — and he has even been honoured for his dirty work at Buckingham Palace (along with many other “do-gooders“, Sedaris was invited to the Queen’s Garden Party).

And then, of course, there’s his constant observation of others.

His notebook readily available, no encounter is safe from Sedaris’s curious eyes and mind — especially not on the other side of the world.

“I’ve gotten some great stories in Australia,” Sedaris says.

“I think it has to do with how talkative people are, especially, I think, compared to England.”

Don’t say he didn’t warn you.

David Sedaris is currently on a national tour of Australia, reading his diary entries and new essays.

Topics: books-literature, performance-art, popular-culture, gays-and-lesbians, people, donald-trump, australia

Ex-Biggest Loser contestant finds strength to lift herself out of depression

Posted January 11, 2018 11:52:40

Lydia Hantke knows what it means to push her body to the limit and then keep going.

But she also knows what it feels like to come undone.

The Tasmanian changed her life forever (for the first time) in 2012 when she competed in the reality TV program The Biggest Loser.

“I discovered that I was really good at something and I discovered that I really enjoyed training,” she told Helen Shield on ABC Radio.

“And that training for me was something I was going to need to do for the rest of my life, as much psychologically as physically.”

When Ms Hantke returned to regular life after the television show she started working as a personal trainer.

It is a job she still loves.

“I’ve been a personal trainer since 2012 … I have never ever struggled to have work,” she said.

Then, a decision to have a baby two years ago changed Ms Hantke’s life once again.

She kept training and working hard while pregnant; she even competed in strongman competitions.

“When I was 17 weeks pregnant I took part in my first strongman competition.

“The second one that I won I was maybe 32 weeks pregnant. I had to get a medical clearance to compete.”

But despite her desire to keep active and strong pre and post baby, the reality of having a tiny human enter her world hit Ms Hantke harder than she expected.

“I wasn’t prepared for the loss of independence.

“I wasn’t prepared for how much my life changed for having a child and that’s where the wheels fell off a bit.

“I became very housebound, I didn’t want to leave the house.

“I was so self-conscious of the fact that as time went on I wasn’t losing the [baby] weight. I felt like a failure.”

Ms Hantke said she experienced feelings of anxiety and depression

“It’s very easy to find excuses, it’s very hard to keep going.”

Needing something to aim for, Ms Hantke began training again in the hope of one day competing in weightlifting.

“I wanted to be a really strong and a really fit individual.

“I like being really strong. I’m really addicted to it.

“The biggest bit of advice I can give to people is when you train, whether it’s for physical or psychological reasons or both, you’ve got to have goals.”

Lifting for competition involves three key moves — squats, bench press and deadlift.

Ms Hantke said at the beginning it was very hard.

“There were days I just wanted to cry.

“I’ve got severe osteoarthritis in my knees. We really pushed my knees.”

Then last month she entered the powerlifting competition at the Festival of Strength, and she surprised herself by winning her first deadlift competition.

“I hadn’t really thought about winning … I just wanted to lift all the heavy things.”

Ms Hantke pulled a whopping 170 kilograms in her third lift to take out the competition.

She said her fitness, both physically and mentally, was now firmly back on track.

“I felt like the strongest person in the room.

“I wasn’t, but I felt like it.”

Topics: exercise-and-fitness, mental-health, human-interest, person, television, people, hobart-7000

Life as a Hollywood location scout

Updated January 01, 2018 10:46:32

He is not a super hero, but film location scout Duncan Jones has the power to shut down city streets so Hollywood superstars can shoot their blockbuster movies.

In 2016, the Gold Coast-based location manager orchestrated the closure of part of Brisbane’s CBD while Aussie actor Liam Hemsworth filmed Thor: Ragnarok — the third instalment of the franchise.

Queensland’s film industry has been booming with 12 international movies shot in the state in the past five years.

Mr Jones said the Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast, and the large number of variable film locations makes South East Queensland a desirable location for movie makers.

“Within an hour you can either go to beautiful tropical reef, we’ve got all of these beautiful beaches here in the Gold Coast and then just up the road we’ve got the rainforest,” he said.

But the 44-year-old started as a dolphin trainer before moving into the film industry as a location scout 16 years ago.

“I used to work at Sea World and worked on Flipper for many years when they were filming that at Sea World, and through that I got to know locations managers and thought that was the way to go,” he added.

His job is to help facilitate film makers and deal with councils, property owners and community groups.

“Whoever it is that wants to make a film comes to me with a script,” he said.

“We then break it down from a locations prospective and then it’s a matter of going out and finding options that will fit that script’s needs.”

Mr Jones said he had developed strong working relationships with councils, but there were a few tense moments during filming of the $160 million Aquaman move in June this year.

The filmmakers were granted approval to construct a temporary lighthouse on Hastings Point in far northern New South Wales, but some locals felt they were not properly consulted.

The Tweed Shire Council held an emergency meeting and the situation was resolved and filming went ahead.

“All good and well to bring Hollywood to the coast or to a city, but unless you can leave on a positive footing there’s no point in going there, because all we’ll end up doing is eroding our locations if we keep knocking them about,” he said.

No more international films in the pipeline

With the filming of Aquaman now finished, which stars Game of Thrones actor Jason Momoa, there are no overseas film projects in the pipeline.

The president of Village Roadshow Studios, Lynne Benzie, said work was being done behind the scenes to secure more big-budget films, but would not discuss them.

Mr Jones was also remaining tight-lipped about any projects he was working on.

“I am pretty optimistic that they are hoping to be a lot more big films coming to Queensland,” he said.

The Gold Coast studios will not be available to filmmakers until late April 2018, with the Commonwealth Games taking over the entire site as a training and competition venue for badminton.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, film-movies, people, human-interest, southport-4215, brisbane-4000

First posted January 01, 2018 10:41:03