For the last 20 years, Sydney-based advertising and commercial photographer Zahn Pithers has wanted to do a personal portrait project. And if it wasn’t for losing a few clients at the same time, his body of work, Australia Street – Portraits from The Inner West, may never have gotten off the ground. Having had his schedule freed up somewhat, Pithers was able to use the extra time to come up with the initial idea for Australia Street.
In February 2015, Pithers invited someone who lives on his street, Australia Street, into his home, asking them to bring something with them that defines them or their passion. And a make-shift studio was set up in his lounge room. Pleased with the result, he set about shooting a few more portraits, and in the process discovered that there were some incredibly interesting people living near him. “After shooting three or four subjects, I began discovering just how interesting and diverse everyone was,” Pithers says. “I decided to expand the project and photograph more people from within my community. Many that I regularly nod to on the street agreed to sit for a portrait in my lounge room. “
Pithers describes the subjects as “part of the ebb and flow of Australia Street itself”. They represent a variety of people from the famous, such as Julian Hamilton from the Presets, to the notoriously local Australia Street fire station master, Matt Murphy, as well as a culturally diverse range of subjects from photographers to sportsmen and motor mechanics.
Sixteen months later, having shot 33 portraits, he had a body of work that he was tremendously proud of, and one that he felt deserved wider exposure. “I wanted to have an exhibition and someone mentioned that the Sydney Fringe Festival supports independent artist wanting to exhibit,” Pithers says. “I met with the festival director who loved the images and suggested I have an art trail on Australia Street.” Following on from that, Pithers spoke with cafe and shop owners on the street who all loved the idea, offering to provide their venues along with food and drinks for the opening night. They also offered to cover the cost of a full page advertisement in the Festival guide which has a print run of 30,000 copies.
Aside from the exhibition, which will run from 10 – 30 September at various locations on Australia Street in Newton, in Sydney’s inner west, Pithers is also producing a book, with a limited edition of 50, containing an artist’s proof, to be printed by Momento Pro. The quality of the work was such that the foreword has been written by Angus Trumble, the director of the National Portrait Gallery. In it, Trumble says:"Just now in many other parts of the world we are witnessing sinister rumbles of xenophobia, and far worse. It is heartening indeed that a body of work such as this can form such an eloquent rebuke to all such forms of fear and insularity. I suspect we have never needed Australia Street more than we need it today."
The resulting images, Pithers feels, reflect something special. “To me, the Australia Street project is not just about this street or neighbourhood. It transcends boundaries and represents streets and communities across this planet. It represents all of us,” he says. While the people whose portraits he captured come from various walks of life, and have extremely diverse interests and attitudes toward life, the one thing they have in common, Pithers believes, is that collectively, their lives make the community. “They are the beating heart of this neighbourhood,” he says. “So, while the portraits are all captured in the same setting, the attitude, style of dress, and personal objects, or props, depict the sitter’s unique qualities.”
As part of rounding out the project, Pithers will host an exhibition of the work in his home giving all those involved the chance to meet each other in person. Pithers has been able to cover all of his expenses by approaching sponsors. “It’s just so satisfying creating a body of work and showing it to the world,” he says. "If you have an idea for a series,” Pithers says, “just do it, because you won’t regret it!”
About the exhibition and images
The images are all A2 prints, mounted on black Gata Board by Emergent Design. They have been printed on Ilford smooth cotton rag 310gsm on an Epson 3880 printer with k3 Ultrachrome inks.
The images will be displayed in the cafes and shops on Australia Street Newtown as part of the Sydney Fringe Festival (just off King Street) from the 10 – 30 September.
About Zahn Pithers
Zahn Pithers has been shooting for around 20 years and was inspired to pick up the camera by his father, Frank, who was a founding member and the first photographer to work on the surfing magazine, Tracks, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For the first seven years of his career. Pithers shot product and furniture catalogues using medium format plate cameras in a studio in Leichhardt, Sydney. Seven years ago, he opened his first studio in Chippendale, shooting fashion, beauty, food, and still life for advertising agencies, magazines, design companies, and publishing houses. Some of his clients include Coca Cola, Midori, Baileys Irish Cream, Campari, Gloria Jeans, Oporto, Samsung, ABC stores, Mitsubishi, Breville, Jenny Craig, Nivea, Rain and Horne, McGrath, Woolworths, and Aldi.