Regan Mathews (better known as Ta-ku) and Ben Wright are no strangers to co-creating.
The pair met in high school where their initial love of trawling record stores and mixing music began, eventually landing them a segment on RTRFM and gigs around Perth. After pursuing separate paths for over a decade – Wright became a graphic designer and artistic director, Mathews became a musician and producer with a cult international following – the two re-joined forces in 2018 to establish creative agency Pretty Soon and, with it, their passion project: 823.
A conceptual brand producing streetwear, print publications and music with a love of analogue photography at its core, 823 – a numerical code for the phrase “thinking of you”, based on the number of letters in each word – has built a substantial online community around the world. Neighbo(u)r, 823’s newest project, invited those followers to become contributors, with the work of 200 film photographers across the globe set to feature in a limited-run print publication and a series of international exhibitions.
“We really wanted a project that celebrated our love for analogue film, [which] could also be open to our supporters,” says Mathews, who began taking film photos while touring. “A lot of our supporters are amazing creatives that have a good eye behind the lens. Doing something that would have them interact and be part of the creative process really excited us.”
For the project, Wright and Mathews rebranded a batch of expired film with their original Neighbo(u)r design, complete with new black and white boxes and an instruction manual concertinaed inside. The newly branded rolls could be purchased by anyone for a small fee – a kind of “entry fee”, says Mathews – and were to be used to photograph a person or people who, in some way, reflected the photographer’s idea of “the neighbour”. Wright and Mathews say that in using expired film for the project, the emphasis is on the connection forged between photographer and subject, rather than on the result.
“Everything could have turned out totally underexposed with expired film,” says Wright. “We didn’t know what to expect. That wasn’t the point. And we still would’ve used them.”
Neighbo(u)r has received submissions from across Australia and Europe, plus Canada, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa and the US. The project will culminate in a 60-page large-format newspaper – the Neighbo(u)r Journal – and a series of exhibitions, starting with the “master gallery” in Perth in September, followed by “micro-galleries” in Sydney, Auckland and Tokyo. True to the inclusive nature of the project, the resulting Neighbo(u)r Journal and Neighbo(u)r exhibition will feature all submissions received.
“It's the inclusivity of it all that really makes it beautiful,” says Mathews. “We wanted anyone to be part of this regardless of skill level, social media numbers or anything else that tends to separate us. It’s an old conversation, but Instagram can really fuel that feeling of exclusivity in photography that we really want to break away from.”
Participants were required to submit a comment alongside their work explaining who and what the photos are of, why they chose their subject and how they found the experience. According to Wright and Mathews, the comments show that the project worked.
“People are saying that participating in Neighbo(u)r pushed them out of their comfort zone and got them doing something they never thought they would,” says Mathews. “That’s really special. One submission said that this project turned photography into an incredible social experience for them, [because] before they were too scared to approach unfamiliar subjects. This one roll turned the world upside down for them.”
What can people expect from the journal and the exhibitions? “It’s all better seen than heard,” say the duo. A few stand-out submissions include the documentation of a journey through the Nepalese Himalayas and a look into an elderly Belgian woman’s home and garden. But, according to Mathews, each submission has something to offer the audience.
“We hope viewers will see how beautiful people are, in both the participants and subjects,” he says. “We are really taken aback by the photos and stories we’ve received. We hope that it motivates people to get to know the people around them and also step out of their own creative comfort zone.”