Last year, photographer William Broadhurst moved from Melbourne to Campbelltown, south west of Sydney. Despite being locked down for months, up until recently it seemed like his solo exhibition, Meanwhile in the Suburbs, at PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery in Canberra would still open in mid-August. Then the national capital entered lockdown for the first time in 2021. Luckily for Broadhurst the suburbs are his subject, so he still has plenty to do.
Broadhurst explains that he feels most himself looking “down the barrel” of his camera lens. In his Smartphone Snaps photo essay below, the artist acknowledges that lockdown has given him the space to really slow down and evaluate his own work over time, and that walking the suburban streets offers him a sense of connection to what is still a new place. Broadhurst turns his camera on his garden, his reading material, his own photography, and, most importantly, on suburban scenes.
This is me in my backyard in Campbelltown NSW where I happily live with my partner Sarah. I’m standing next to my pride and joy; the old world nasturtium which I’m training up on a homemade bamboo frame. I stole the idea from a book I have titled Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse. It pictures Monet in lovely black and white in his garden next to one rising up from a hedge of geraniums.
This is our front yard porch. Sarah and I sit out here on the weekends and we sip coffee and read the papers. I usually start with the front page news and Sarah goes for the glossy. The morning sun rises above the cream brick apartments across the road and leaves a tangle of shadow at our feet. I think this is probably my favourite part of the week. We look up to the unusually quiet street through hanging baskets and backlit foliage. Every 15 minutes the bus goes by and our eyes lock on the seated solitary figures with Giotto-esque halos. I keep my SLR beside me ready and waiting.
Pictured is the latest series of photos I’ve been working on blue tacked to the living room wall. When I’ve got a bunch of images I’m fairly happy with, I go to Officeworks and get them printed big and cheap. This lockdown I’ve really learned the value of visually sitting on the images for a long period of time and really letting them stew. I read an interview with the great painter Euan Macleod and he talks about this which gave me the idea. This series is titled Selected Suburban Works and the images are like flickers of scenes out the window of a moving car as you drive through the suburbs.
I like to collect kids toys from hard-rubbish and position them under the sprinkler in our backyard. I usually pull up a chair, sit and watch scenes like this until the surrounding garden has had a proper water.
The Campbelltown cemetery was the first place I felt a real comfort and attraction to when I first moved up from Melbourne last year. I’ve found a discreet way in past a fig tree and through a cut in the cyclone wire fence. If you walk along the back perimeter, you get flashes of the rows of suburban rooftops between the marble head stones. At the top of the hill is a beautiful old church which is the second oldest Catholic church in Australia.
I’m usually out walking the streets of Campbelltown for two hours a day at sunrise and sunset. It’s especially lovely at the moment due to the lack of cars on the road and the late winter light with its long raking shadows. Everyone is indoors or performing the usual rituals: kids heads appear and disappear over the fences bouncing on trampolines, front lawns get mowed, the old lady down the street checks the letterbox for the second time. I stand from afar with my long lens and let these unremarkable events unfold. I turn back for home as soon as the sun dips below the hill.
Down the barrel. I feel most alive here. Everything else disappears. I recently watched a video of American photographer Garry Winogrand on YouTube walking Venice Beach with his camera and he says that taking photos “is the closest I come to not existing.” I liked that a lot. Campbelltown is suburban bliss for me, photos are everywhere I care to look. A life of looking is the life for me. I’m yet to make friends up here, but I feel more connected than ever through the photos I take of people and places.
These four books are the only books I’ve really needed for a while. The one at the top is AGSA’s Clarice Beckett book from her recent exhibition, which I went two days in a row. I spend many hours soaking in those lovely little visions. She’s so great I wouldn’t know where to begin. Georges Seurat is where I have got my greatest inspiration. After seeing his sketches and paintings it seemed clear to me what I needed to do: pick something from everyday suburban life, isolate it and simplify it.
Getting my negatives back is one of my many joys. I like to sit in front of the fire and hold them up to the window. I usually put on Selected Ambient Works 2 by Aphex Twin. I never want it to end.
The study, where I do my scanning and stewing. On the wall are recent photos. Over many months the weakest images will be taken down and replaced with new ones until gradually those which remain will talk to one another and a sense of order will appear. I enjoy the thought more and more that this little photographic world I’m creating is perhaps my unconscious way of escaping our current one.
Meanwhile in the Suburbs
PhotoAccess Huw Davies Gallery
19 August – 18 September (currently closed)
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic, opening hours of galleries and museums across Australia are affected. We recommend that you check gallery opening hours prior to visiting.