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David Wadelton: Icons of Suburbia

David Wadelton is best known for his surrealist paintings but recently-aired street images of Melbourne in the ’70s have proven him to be an important asset to photography.

Q. What was happening in your life when these images were made?

A. I was at art school, graduating in 1976. Living in a share house in Northcote. In 1977 I was unemployed.

Q. What interested you about the city of Melbourne back then?

A. I lived here, so it was interesting. I came from the country, it seemed big.

Q. What style of street photographer were you? (An aggressive Bruce Gilden type, a distanced Robert Frank variety, or do you believe in engaging with the people you photograph?)

A. I occasionally asked if I could take a person’s photo and chatted with them. More often I was completely inconspicuous, almost invisible.

Q. You mentioned in The Age that you were trying to capture a sense of mystery in ordinary things. Were you also attempting to do document the times, or did you have other motivations?

A. I love the “mystery” to be found in the everyday evidenced in the photography of Eugene Atget. I also liked the deadpan quality of Ed Ruscha.

Q. You said the mystery wasn’t there like you hoped it would be. Did you see any success in the photographs at the time?

A. Yes I did, but it’s different to the success I see now. Funny what 35 years can do.

Q. When did the mystery begin to appear?

A. Slowly.

Q. You pursued painting but you obviously really enjoy photography. Did you consider yourself a photographer at the time?

A. From 1977-79 I considered myself an “art photographer”. I recall using that phrase when I applied for a job at a city camera shop (their eyes glazed over).

Q. You still photograph Melbourne and its surrounds. How has the experience changed since the ’70s?

A. People are more suspicious of cameras now. Also, it’s much busier, all the time. Gone are the quiet and deserted streets of Melbourne on a Sunday.

Q. Has your shooting style changed since then?

A. I still focus on the everyday urban environment, but I’m probably more conscious of formal qualities now.

Q. Anything else you’d like to add?

A. All young people should take photographs of their home environment – I mean the streets and shops and so on. No one else will do it. And you’ll enjoy it when you turn 50.

David’s images can be seen at McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, until May 15. Follow David’s recent photography by joining the Northcote Hysterical Society on Facebook.


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Image detail: Gary Ramage