These shots follow recent themes, mostly revolving around the beach. This is partly circumstantial – as I always take my camera to the beach these days and it’s one of the few occasions now where I dedicate time specifically to taking shots. Much of the time my shots are purely reactive and incidental – I see something, pull out my camera, grab the shot and continue with whatever I was doing. In many ways this means I don’t spend enough time lingering in the scene and making more use of it, so it can be a bit hit and miss. Then again, so can any shoot, and hanging around does not guarantee results.
Having said all that, the desire to focus on the beach also stems from a long-standing fascination with beach culture as a core element of the Australian lifestyle. Ever since studying Australian literature and the history of various Australian artistic movements, I’ve had an interest in the gradual cultural transition from the bush as the principal symbol of Australia in the nineteenth century, to the 20th century recognition that the beach was in fact far more representative of Australia and Australian life. In recent decades the Australian geographical identity has coalesced into a combination of bush, beach and outback, as any international tourism advertisement will confirm.
This interest was piqued again recently when writing several series of courses for HSC ESL students – in other words, final year high school students with English as a second language. Much of the HSC material is focussed on getting students to identify and analyse distinct Australian voices and visions – writers, artists, film-makers, lyricists etc, whose subject matter and themes reflect or directly engage with Australian experiences, attitudes and concerns. This is very difficult for people who have arrived in Australia only a year or two before who have little grasp of Australian attitudes and stereotypes. It’s nigh impossible to explain why Paul Hogan, for example, is distinctly Australian, if you’re not entirely sure what distinctly Australian is. It’s also very difficult to make sense of say, Henry Lawson, if you have no understanding of Australian tropes and archetypes. My courses were designed to address this problem by focussing on fundamental aspects of Australian history and identity through the lens of Australian writers and artists – with, of course, an appropriate focus on indigenous contributions. Ironic, isn’t it, how indigenous art is, arguably, the most key signifier of Australia after the kangaroo, yet the people themselves are entirely marginalised. Sadly, mainstream Australia uses indigenous identity to disguise its own lack of distinctness.
Enough prattle, but yes, the beach, hardly unique to Australia, yet utterly key to its identity. This is presently the wealthiest society on the planet and it shows, especially in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney – an upper middle class paradise. It’s wonderful, sure enough, to have such abundance, but it carries with it the underlying guilt of decadence in a world in which nearly everybody else is less well off. Drink in the sun and forget, I suppose. Just drink and forget. And swim.