Snaps of Sydney

Andrew Stark is an Australian street photographer who, in his work Snaps of Sydney, captures the ordinary day to day life of his home city. However, Stark pulls the view of the city away from its most iconic scenery; drawing attention to the overlooked and possibly, purposefully ignored sites. Stark writes “for those who want to glimpse the ‘real’ Sydney, step out from the pretty postcard and blink the harbour lights from your eyes. Wander up to the corner of Pitt n Park. Stand quietly; watch intently. You’ll see it from there”.[1] The book challenges the stereotypical view of not only the city, but of the people, yet in other ways feeding the preconceived views.

Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House, are two of the most common images associated with Australia, with the same photos being captured countless times each year. Yet, this is the ‘pretty postcard’ image of Sydney that Stark attempts to overcome in his work. Of the 128 images in the book, only five include either structure, when included, they are often part of the backdrop, with the eye being drawn elsewhere. This is what makes Starks images an honest and brilliant portrayal of his Sydney. For an inhabitant of the city, these famous sites will not be a focus of day-to-day life, they would live on the periphery as they do in his images. By doing this, Stark enlarges our view what is what is worth looking at, a key tool of photography in the eyes of Sontag, achieving the motifs of his work in presenting his view of Sydney.[2]DSC01191

Stark’s images can also include irony, which can be seen as both humorous and tragic. The image titled Little Oxford Street, presents two clearly drunk men blocking a door with a clear ‘No Parking’ sign. The image can be seen as humorous through the slumped man clearly contradicting the blatant message above him. However, when taken in, the image presents a tragic scene of two men, sheltering in a vandalised doorway with fluids running past several bottles of alcohol. Furthermore, his fellow drinker appears to challenge a passer-by, yet this could be seen as challenging the authority of the property owner or law-makers, in a signifier versus signified manner. The image has clearly been taken off the ‘tourist track’, where such a scene would be swiftly cleaned and characters moved on. The image therefore, demonstrates that Sydney is not as pristine as we often see, but contains its own vandalism and social difficulties.

After publishing his work, Andrew Stark obtained the nickname ‘The Nowhere Man’, something he believes sums up his ‘lack of belonging’[3]. Yet this name fits with his ‘fly on the wall’ style of observation and anonymity, allowing him to penetrate the most intimate moments of people’s lives. This anonymity of Stark to his subjects creates a raw sense of truthfulness, we know the scenes are not staged and characters not acting, a true sense of connection between people is visible. Susan Sontag describes how a photographer, in capturing a moment in truthfulness, must disconnect themselves from the event, preventing themselves from intervening.[4] This is controversial but creates the most powerful images, such as Napalm Girl, by Nick Ut. In the image Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, Stark photographs a man receiving CPR on the pavement. In capturing the moment rather than intervening to help, Stark presents a powerful image of our vulnerability and the reaction of onlookers.

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On the contrary, the manner of Stark’s anonymous street photography, allows us to see more intimate moments of affection. Photographs in the collection such as Newtown, 1999, show two lovers embracing one another on the grass. This image manages to combine romance with humour through the dog sniffing at the two relaxed bodies. The image appeals to a sense of moderate voyeurism we have, where we desire to see others happily with one another. Joel Meyerowitz claims the best thing about street photography is that “the unpredictable occurs… anything can happen”.[5] This is something that can be overlooked when studying street photography, none of the positions or characters are staged. This meaning the expression of affection in the pictures is genuine and undoubtable. The unscripted presence of the dog re-enforces this idea, knowing the photographer has not intervened with any feature of the image, allowing us to feel content in knowing this is real affection between two people. By not intervening in any of the images, it is apparent this is a brief insight into the lives of others, the lives of the inhabitants of Sydney. Therefore, Stark presents a truthful insight into his Sydney and that of other residents, for which he claims to be the ‘real’ Sydney.

Throughout the number of works Stark has created, he has always opted to use the same camera, the Konica TC with 28 or 44 millimeter lens. Stark has used the same camera for over twenty five years, refusing to modernise to digital equipment. This means that the images captured will always be produced in black and white, which creates a similar affect to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and William Klein, who originally inspired him. When asked why he chose black and white over colour, Stark stated “It strips back the streets, offering a poetic rawness that neither the pristine look of digital nor the confusion of colour can quite match”.[6] This is evident in his work, without the distraction of colour, our gaze is drawn to the characters, emotion and fine details in each photo, evident again in Little Oxford Street. The photographs, excluding Pitt Street, tend to be in focus, creating an aesthetically pleasing image that can be easily read. This generates the sense of rawness Stark talks of, creating a simple connection between the pictures subject and the viewer.

Since the conclusion of the Second World War, photographers developed a new role in journalism and documentary projects, for which many use the street as an indicator of the condition of society.[7] This fits with the purpose and style of Stark’s work, a challenge of the preconceived, stereotypical, tourist view of Sydney, allowing him to demonstrate the version of the city he knows so well. However, some of the images captured fit the stereotypical Australian scene. An example of this is the image Hotel, Oxford Street, where the barmen are long haired, muscular, topless and serving beer. As well as this, the image, Manly Beach, captures a man walking barefoot towards the sea with a surfboard. This feeds the preconceived view many have of Australia, rather than attempting to demonstrate something different. Despite this, these are only two images of 128 and maybe be presenting the truth in these specific stereotypes, that this is a ‘real’ part of culture in Sydney.

Sontag highlights how photography, despite what we make of it, is always an image someone wants us to see, specifically chosen above many others, for this reason and the ability manipulate it through Photoshop, means images can often misrepresent reality.[8] Yet this is not something experienced with Starks work. Stark admits that he rejects the opportunity to use technology that can manipulate his images. Furthermore, by including Hotel, Oxford Street and Manly Beach, we can see this as Australian culture as opposed to stereotyping. Likewise, being only two of the 128 images, the remainder do offer an unseen, eventful, vibrant side of life to Sydney. The impossibility to replicate these pictures again, capturing unaware people in their day to day lives, allows us to believe this is the ‘real’ Sydney.

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[1] Andrew Stark, ‘Snaps from Sydney’, (Kate Pascoe and Andrew Stark, Sydney, 2003), p.1.

[2] Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’, (Rosetta Books, New York, 2005), p.1.

[3] Christian Reister, Seconds2real, Interview With the Nowhere Man, (22/12/2010) ,  http://www.seconds2real.org/2010/12/22/interview-with-the-nowhere-man-andrew-stark/ , Accessed 13/01/2016.

[4] Sontag, ‘On Photography’, pp.14-16.

[5] Joel Meyerowitz, ‘Street Photography’, Youtube Video (01/08/2008) , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Qjym5uliDw , Accessed 13/01/2016.

[6] Urban Photography Art, Candid Photography in Australia, http://www.urban-photography-art.com/candid-photography.html , Accessed 14/01/2016.

[7] Ute Eskildsen, Street and Studio: An Urban History of Photography, (Tate Publishing, London, 2008), p.10.

[8] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (Penguin Books, London, 2004), p.41.

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