February already! Where did January go?
To this week’s post…Photojournalism Now: Friday Round Up is privileged to feature a new body of work by award-winning visual documentary storyteller James Whitlow Delano, Lonely People, shot on the streets of Tokyo. Also, for two days only, in the central Victorian town of St. Arnaud, an exhibition ten years in the making from Australian photography collective MAPgroup, plus Tim Levy’s Lost Vegas opens at Black Eye in Sydney.
Lonely People – James Whitlow Delano
“Eyes are forward, little eye contact, the conveyor belt of the nameless march in isolation, buried in the anonymous crowd.” James Whitlow Delano, Lonely People
I’ve written about James’ work previously. One story that was particularly memorable was his brilliant documentation for Noorderlicht Festival’s feature The Sweet and Sour Story of Sugar, for which James travelled to Suriname where the sugar plantations have been dormant for many years. This complex, rich project examined the impact of globalisation through the story of one product; sugar. I also reviewed his amazing book Black Tsunami, published by FotoEvidence, James’ black and white photographs, of what can only be described as apocalyptic scenes of the Japan tsunami’s force, still vivid in my memory.
Today’s post features a personal story by James, exploring the concept of loneliness in urban spaces and drawing focus on the fact that in cities that swarm with people, most people are invisible to their neighbours, anonymous faces in a crowd, on the street, in a restaurant. The urban space has become a place where one can literally die amongst millions and no one notices. A sobering thought.
Here are some of James’ thoughts on Lonely People:
“I like Tokyo best at night, when I am alone, in places like Shinjuku where the flow of humanity, on its way to who knows where, has no end. Eyes are forward, little eye contact, the conveyor belt of the nameless march in isolation, buried in the anonymous crowd. On and on, some red-faced from drink, a few words or brief laughter shared, then eyes forward again. March. Minimal eye contact, a tinge of melancholy, the legions of people I will never know are marching somewhere I will never go…each alone.
How many people in this country will I pass just once in a lifetime never to share the same space again? A friend lost? An enemy avoided?
In my neighborhood alone, how many will I never, ever lay eyes on, and yet together, apart, we call those same streets home? Walls are built above eye level to deflect prying eyes. Tiny exterior windows are smoked, like shower doors. Impenetrable are the lives lurking inside, forever out of sight, out of mind. I’ve never been inside my neighbor’s houses, nor have they ever been in mine. It is not done.
Even izakaya pubs and greasy-spoon ramen shops have frosted glass, slick with cooking oil condensation, the occasional raised voice heard through the door cracked a little open, underneath the “noren” cleaved curtain.
People here die and weeks will pass before finally an odor escapes or someone notices the garbage has not been brought out on the designated days before protocol can be suspended and it is all right to stick one’s nose into another’s business.
An elderly man, around the corner from me, discovered his wife had hanged herself from a low limb of a small plum tree. Next to it grew a lovely peach tree that sent out pink blossoms every spring on one half and white ones on the other. That same year, the pink half of the tree inexplicably died too. Something about the house had changed. The old man, now a widower, was visibly deflating from despair and then one day I realized I hadn’t seen him for a while. I would never see him again. Only later did I finally find out the truth, even after whatever killed the pink blossom side of the tree got to the other half. The tree was finally cut down. That’s how it goes here – Eyes forward, buried in the anonymous crowd. March.
This series asks questions, offers few answers. I prefer it that way.” James Whitlow Delano
St Arnaud Revisited – MAPgroup
In 2005 various MAPgroup photographers visited the central Victorian town of St Arnaud. Ten years later they returned to document the town once again. I love these rural stories, tales that show the ebb of time and also its capacity to stand still, particularly in country towns. St Arnaud is picturesque, and its buildings speak of a prosperous history, but what happens to these towns when their foundational wealth dries up? How do people make a living? What keeps them there? I was in St Arnaud in 2016, independently, keen to see what was happening in rural Victoria. So when this group of photographs came across my desk I felt compelled to feature them.
St Arnaud local Barry Wiseman, the organiser of this two-day exhibition which is hosted by the St Arnaud Camera Club, says, “If you look at the original set of photos, there are lots of subtle things you notice. For example, there’s a picture of a bloke drawing on his cigarette in a pub.
One of the photographers, Jesse Hartwig, made the comment that last time, in 2005, St Arnaud had a pub culture and in 2015, this had changed to a café culture. People are more careful about not driving home drunk, plus there is the cost of alcohol to consider.
The local streetscape has changed too, some shops are run by new owners, and in general, businesses have declined a bit.
It was also pretty dry in 2005. It was dusty in 2015 but we had a good year after that.
Lots of subjects from the original shoot have passed away, mostly elderly, but one or two young ones. This is a significant change and it’s good to have a record of them.”
Barry also talked about how he had shown some of the original photos as a slideshow in a local nursing home, and how one elderly man, who had dementia, was shown a photo of the area where his farm was. He could no longer talk, but it was very clear from his body language that he recognised the photo. As Barry said “the photos have an effect.”
Julie Millowick says of her return to St Arnaud, “I think the town has grown and is definitely aware of tourism and the potential it offers. What struck me most positively was the number of children – prep through to high school – attending the various educational facilities on offer. It was great to see this significant number of young people being integrated into the community across sporting and cultural activities. I was there for Anzac Day and the 2 School Captains from the High School spoke intelligently and movingly at the ceremony. All of this augers well for the future of St Arnaud.”
Tobiaz Titz says, “Things haven’t changed that much. St Arnaud still has that beautiful sense of community and the people are very helpful. I saw a lot of people that I had met ten years ago. I did notice there is now a funky Melbourne style café in town where you can get a decent coffee. But what I liked back then, I still like now – that tight knit sense of community.”
St Arnaud Revisited
Official opening Saturday 3rd February 1.30pm
Exhibit: Saturday 3rd (10am-5pm) and Sunday 4th (10am-3pm) February
Where: Community Meeting Room & Perry Room St Arnaud
To find out more about MAPgroup click here.
Lost Vegas – Tim Levy
Sydney documentary photographer Tim Levy’s love affair with Las Vegas has seen him make three trips in five years to capture what attracts him about this American enigma. Tim says Los Vegas, “has got to be one of the most fascinating places on the planet…As a street photographer, you can only attempt to record what you find interesting, unusual, extraordinary, funny, ironic, empathy inducing or signs of the time. And with Vegas – there is an unending churn of characters and bizarre happenings on a daily basis. But mostly, Vegas is a microcosm of the U.S. – full of glitz, glamour, entertainment and ‘freedom’ and its flip side – false hope, cheap highs and increasingly insane amounts of wealth inequality.”
Lost Vegas at Black Eye Gallery until 11 February
3/138 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst (Sydney)