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Lyndal Irons: Regulars

My local is pretty much across the road from wherever I move. It’s not an obviously photogenic place but there was a guy who sat outside a lot. I’d watched him sometimes. I saw an image. I found out his name and captioned it in italics: Kevin, smoking.

I turned up on Australia Day to see if I could get a sense of the place on camera. I took a seat with a beer in the front bar and waited for someone to talk to me. I put my camera on the table because I’d read Mary Ellen Mark say it was important to be open about your intentions.

Kevin doesn’t talk much and he doesn’t like photographs. At times I couldn’t tell if he was walking an elaborate way to his smoking station in order to avoid me or catch my attention. When I brought him prints he wouldn’t look at them. But when I asked if I should stop and he said I should do what I needed to do. I couldn’t think of anything much more generous.

Kiet is one of the few at the pub who could speak to a female as if he shared their species. He has girls all over town. He told me he was good at dancing with them at discos before he was in a wheelchair.

I dedicated a day early on to getting a sense of what happens from open until close. I turned up expecting long stretches of loneliness and boredom. The 10 am weekday doorknockers head straight to the pokies and are difficult to engage. I stood outside hoping for something and I got Kev – an oddly dressed gentleman who was sure I was a genius. He likes to tell people about South West Rocks.

Butch is a favourite local face of mine. He got it, he said, from boxing in his youth. He got the scars on his hands and his body from butchering accidents. And once, after a Christmas cruise and dressed as an elf, he assured me he could make a lampshade out of me if he wanted. But that he’d never, ever do that.

Johan was another face I’d watched on the street. He walked into the TAB room one night, wolfish and otherworldly. He liked to show people an old passport of a much younger Serbian man with black beatnik hair and a turtleneck. He eats peanuts and waits to see if someone will buy him a beer. Sometimes he cuts his hair, trims his beard and smiles more than usual.

When the publican suggested an on-site exhibition of a selection of portraits from the pub, I expected Franky to be one of the regulars to rebel. He doesn’t talk so even after we showed him the shot it was hard to gauge what he thought until two beers arrived in succession from him on my table.

There are different things to consider when planning an exhibiting outside a gallery. There was a poetry book launch there once. Random bleeping from the TAB and pinball machine, regulars dislodged and disgruntled. Glasses breaking, ill-considered interjections about the Wests Tigers and beer-fuelled defensiveness about broken routine. Sometimes it’s best not to disturb the ecosystem.

But I still liked the idea of the pictures among the people, the pictures living with the pub and the series growing out onto other walls. Maybe getting stored upstairs when the building changes hands to be discovered again by a future licensee.

At the time of the launch Kevin believed himself barred, Butch had mysteriously taken to drinking up the road and Kev didn’t recognise himself in the photograph I showed him. My invitations were defaced with witticisms but I was right in my belief that they’d adopted me and wanted me to do well.

Most came, even leaving the cricket for the speeches. They enjoyed being recognised and when the wider community and photography crowd left, everything was still in tact except my captions. I printed three sets in expectation of something like that.

I like to think they were taken as souvenirs.

Regulars is an excerpt of a larger, ongoing series, permanently exhibited at the Huntsbury Hotel in Petersham. See more of Lyndal’s work at lyndalirons.com.au.

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Image detail: Gary Ramage