Sometimes life gives you what you need rather than what you want. Photographic artist Lee Grant discovered this when some ‘googly’ circumstances forced her move back into her childhood home in suburban Belconnen (known to locals as ‘Belco’) on the northern outskirts of Canberra. Lee had hated the suburbs growing up and couldn’t wait to get away, but returning to her old stomping ground with her own kids turned out to be a strangely cathartic experience – and one that led to the creation of her latest body of work, Belco Pride, showing at the Australian Centre for Photography in Paddington until January 15 2012.
AM: What was it like photographing people and places that you'd grown up with?
LG: Well, weird at first, but eventually it became pretty natural and obvious. Everything that I’d look at was full of potential – especially things that I’d always taken for granted or even dismissed. I managed to swap my cultural cringe for love and admiration.
I copped some criticism for not showing a lot of the more obvious icons in Belconnen, like the mall, the old bus interchange, the skatepark and lake. I did actually photograph all these places, but in the end it was less about just documenting the place as it is (although that was certainly a part of the project) and more about describing my place and my neighbours. I was capturing how I feel about being a part of this environment and community. Belco Pride is sort of like an ode or a love song I guess.
Was there any one particularly special moment you can recall from working on this series?
There were many amazing moments actually; it’s hard to pinpoint just one. I’m always amazed at how things can just fall into place when you’re in the act of shooting. From the light, to the outfits that people choose to wear, to their expressions – even the weather. And of course, the serendipitous moments that you could never plan for – a dog strolling along and marking his territory for example.
I usually know at the time of taking a photograph that I’ve captured something special. It’s an incredible feeling, sometimes complicated by worry that I’ve missed the moment! All these things, plus the encounters I’ve had with a really broad mix of people – some of whom I’d probably never have known otherwise – is what I really love about making photographs. Photographing people is like having an extreme and condensed relationship within a very brief timeframe. I also love being in the landscape, it’s a rare opportunity for me to slow down and to meditate about where I fit into the bigger picture of things. It’s humbling to know that our daily concerns aren’t always as significant as we think they are.
Over what period did you take the photographs in Belco Pride?
I shot this series over a period of five years, from 2005 to early this year. I’m pretty slow at making work as I’ve got a lot of other things in my life outside of photography. Family, work, the usual. I also think it’s important to take time approaching things with the kind of work that I’m producing. I know that I’m a lot more considered about what I’m doing when I do slow down. It isn’t always easy but I think it shows in the work.
What sort of camera do you usually shoot with?
I shot this series on a Hasselblad 501CM, which is pretty much what I shoot a lot of my work with. I really love the quality and aesthetic of film and don’t feel like I’ll give it up in a hurry. I’ve also been increasingly shooting on a Large Format 4x5” field camera. I’d love a digital Hasselblad one day – they’re pretty amazing. Perhaps once I can afford one I might be convinced to go digital...
How do you feel about Belco Pride being shown in Sydney?
Excited of course. I was initially advised that it was unlikely to be accepted [for exhibiting] because some of the work had been published previously (in Hijacked Volume 2) as well as shown in a few competitions. It was considered ‘already seen’, but I disagreed in that the work was quite a large body of photographs (65 or so), of which only a few had been given an airing. So it’s great now to be given the opportunity to show it at ACP.
Belco Pride with show at the Australian Centre for Photography until January 15, 2012.