On Parramatta Road preserves Australia’s first highway – a stretch perpetually threatened by change. It is a field study of life on a road considered dead, across car yards, brothels, bed shops and around 20 suburbs of greater Sydney. Together, they form a living museum of greater Sydney: its affluence, issues and heritage. Part documentary photography and part road trip, On Parramatta Road restores a sense of journey to a road better known for daily transit.
“All we are is a pair of eyes,” said Dave Perkins, a signaler at the only place where trains cross Parramatta Rd. He’d been observing the same view from a 12 x 12 signal box for 30 years. When Dave told me this, I had been photographing Parramatta Road for around two years – trying to find out how you make work as a set of eyes, overlooking around 20 suburbs across 24kms. These are partly lessons in how to be invisible, accepted or tolerated, in a huge array of industries and workplaces, without a signal box to hide in.
Observing others teaches you a different way of life. Ditching work to travel in the suburbs, booking hotel rooms fifteen minutes from home, entering industries I’d never need to buy from – some which felt like a foreign country three steps off the curb. I noticed the importance of committing time and money toward doing things you don't need to do; of obeying impulses other than practicality.
At some point of trying to figure out how you get to know a road, I realised I had recorded fractions of many lives, pulled like frames from many films. Moments that happen daily, almost always unrecorded, linked by a road and a witness. Brothel cleaners pulling on their gloves after a client has left. A car salesman locking the door for the day, leaving a mannequin in the dark. Council gardeners changing a numerical hedge to mark another year. Clown school graduation ceremonies, and medical practitioners who will find a cure for you without asking what is wrong.
This work is a field study of a subtle and dusty ecosystem. The things left growing, struggling or surviving against the odds where no one is looking. Initiatives and new starts in life planted there out of necessity. The ones that stay and the ones that have already gone. By looking in on human industry (both recreational and paid), I came to know an unlikely and resilient muse: strong, ancient, complex, toxic and generous, and found much evidence of life on a road believed to be dead.
Parramatta Road is notorious as a problematic traffic artery. Commuters try to avoid it. Councils try to fix it. I simply aim to know it. While government and media debate how to improve Parramatta Road, it quietly gets away with being more interesting than you might think. The road changes each day: sign by sign, block by block, business by business. I go into the crevices to reveal something of the old and weary beast the way it is today, for future reference.