21 July 2022

Review: Westography by Warren Kirk

Westography by Warren Kirk book cover

* Copy courtesy of Scribe Publications *

Originally published in 2016 this is a re-release of Westography by Warren Kirk with the addition of new photographs from this Melbourne based photographer. I missed Westography when it was first released, and picked up his work with Northside followed by Christmas in Suburbia. The chance to go back and see his work focussing on the suburbs of West Melbourne was enticing and ultimately a rewarding experience.

Commencing with a terrific introduction by Helen Garner, we soon step back in time to yesteryear or through the rabbit hole to the 1950s, or is it the 1970s? Kirk takes us inside homes and businesses, as well as including streetscapes, shop frontages and more in this collection. Many of the subjects photographed were proud Western Bulldogs fans, and several homes featured include their owners' unquestionable support for their beloved AFL team.

Kirk seems to have a keen interest in the social history of Melbourne and preserving life as it was in the home and in the workplace 'back in the day'. When that period actually was is not defined, but as the reader we instantly relate, his photographs remind us of the homes we lived in or visited when we were young, the workplaces we glimpsed or the front yards we walked or drove past on our way somewhere.

The photographs are timeless and could have been taken anywhere in Australia and I suspect Warren Kirk's entire body of work will become more and more treasured as time marches on and these places are slowly erased from history.

I'd love to know how Kirk finds so many spaces little changed by the passing years and the relationships he establishes as part of his work. The subjects appear comfortable and at ease in their surroundings which can be difficult when posing for a happy snap let alone someone of Warren Kirk's calibre. How does he meet them, enter their personal space and put them at ease? Seeing the end result is only part of the story for me, and I wanted more. I made the same complaint observation when reviewing Northside, and I still wish Kirk's photographs included a caption, or even the year they were taken. Instead the reader must do all of the work imagining and wondering about the subjects and their lives with nothing to go on but the name of the suburb.

I remember my excitement learning about an apartment in Paris that had been locked up and undisturbed for 70 years, and marvelling at the lucky souls who entered those rooms and took the photos that quickly went around the world. We all wondered at the circumstances surrounding the apartment and how it remained undisturbed and unchanged for so long. Compared to a phenomenon like that, it's equally exciting to discover contemporary houses and rooms that have been actively lived in and enjoyed but look precisely as they did 30, 40 or 50+ years ago. Both instances provide a looking glass into the past and remind us of the passage of time. I also enjoy viewing abandoned photography for this same reason.

While enjoying this nostalgic collection, I realised with a jolt that I recognised two personal items in people's homes; an art deco lamp that looks exactly like my Mum's and a kitchen board by Christopher Vine Design that sits on a kitchen bench I frequent in Sydney. It's proof that the longer you look, the more you'll see.

Westography by Warren Kirk is recommended for those who enjoy photography and readers with an interest in social history. If you'd like a sneak peek, the publisher has shared a flick through of sorts on YouTube and I encourage you to check it out. Highly recommended.

My Rating:

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