Artists' Statement - Queen Street of Hearts

Penrith City Council Logo

When a person enters a major shopping mall, they are dazzled by the experience. For in the mall everything looks perfect. From the clean white walls to the sparking chandeliers. It’s all so vast and glossy.

Queen Street of Hearts

Maria on Queen, Photograph by John Slaytor, Photographer and mentor, Queen Street Riches and Textures - Queen Street of Hearts 2012.

The shops gleam with bright lights and beautiful, perfect items all ready to be purchased. Yet, ironically, even though we are attracted by this perfect world we think we can buy, we somehow can’t. Once you get home with your purchase the gloss and glamour so obvious in the mall, is not the same. 

You’ve bought your new item but somehow it doesn’t fulfil that promise that was so tempting in the mall. Queen Street, conversely, is not a carefully orchestrated shopping experience. Shopkeepers are not accountable to centre management and to master franchisees. There are no palaces to shopping. No enormous chandeliers. It is modest. Queen Street is how shopping used to be before mainstream malls took over.

You knew your shopkeeper in the old days. You bought some milk, your meat, had your hair cut and you passed the time of day with the shopkeepers and fellow customers. You felt, and indeed were, part of a local community.

The butcher shop, the bakery, the tailor and other shops were often extensions of their owners’ homes and interests. And this is what Queen Street still is, to this day. Marty of ‘Diamond Reptile Supplies’ was so frustrated about not being able to buy food for his pets he set up his own shop three years ago.

Elizabeth and Andrew of ‘Genssea Asian Mix Groceries’ find spiritual sustenance in the religious icons within their supermarket. Similarly, Billy of ‘India in Australia’ lights incense sticks for the Ganeshas next to the till. Kimball of ‘Kimball’s Barbershop’ was so fed up with queues outside his shop on Saturday mornings that he closed the shop on Saturdays for three months to teach his customers that his shop was also open on weekdays.

As for evidence that different cultures can peacefully co-exist, at the ‘Halal Butcher’, the Fijian-Indian butcher served her Sudanese customer while in the Croatian butcher shop an Italian customer was served. In one barbershop the Maltese hairdresser cut the hair of a Scotsman whilst in another, a Samoan cut the hair of a New Zealander.

As a photographer I am motivated to capture evidence of ordinary people being kind to each other, of being human, of quiet enjoyment. I want my images to counter photography that stresses human failure, racial divides and tragedy.

I want my images to document how diverse ethnic groups can peacefully co-exist. Quiet enjoyment may not be a newsworthy event but it is a goal for most of humanity so for me it is surprising how little it is valued and documented.

To take quiet enjoyment for granted is to risk losing it and we have enough reminders in the media about the consequences of its loss. So I enjoyed focusing on Queen Street’s quiet civility, documenting customer and shopkeeper relationships and the beauty in the day-to-day lives that we all live. Every person has a story and every shop has a history. Put the two together and you have a tapestry of history, lives and different stories that can co-exist.

Gerry is an Italian tailor who has worked in the same place for 30 years. The plastic bags full of large cotton reels tell his story. The professionalism and skill of the shopkeepers is evidenced by their activities. However it is not often viewed that way. The tailor is modest about his achievements but the modesty belies the accomplishments that can only occur from decades of practice.

I wanted the students I mentored to appreciate this everyday world. How to look. How to focus on something most people don’t notice. I wanted the students to really focus on the shops and the shopkeepers. I wanted them to overcome their embarrassment of having to take photos of something that might ordinarily not seem “worthy” of being photographed.

We are bombarded by glossy magazines, sleek advertising and photoshopped models so that we expect our photographs and images to replicate those images that bombard our sight every day. It is a skill to capture beauty in the everyday. Not the glossy beauty of media, but beauty in an old man,
beauty in the pride of a shopkeeper.

I hope that the students learned as much from the project as I did. I experienced that young students today are eager to learn and, given the chance, are perceptive in their outlook. I was pleased that the students embraced this project and gave their insights to the project of which their images are testimony.

I would like to thank the community of St Marys for letting us photograph them, for giving us their time, the space of their shops and their images which are exhibited. I would, finally, like to thank the students for producing the works and the staff at Penrith City Council who envisioned this project from its inception.

John Slaytor, Photographer and mentor
Queen Street Riches and Textures 2012

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