Lyndal Irons is a Sydney-based photographer and writer focused on local reportage and interested in seeking out parts of Australian society that are familiar, accessible, yet not often closely encountered.
YOU CAN FOLLOW LYNDAL’S WORK HERE
INSTAGRAM - @lyndalirons
FACEBOOK - Lyndal Irons Photography
Hi Lyndal, thank you very much for joining us! Could you start off by introducing yourself to the readers and telling us a bit about your work?
My name is Lyndal Irons. I’m a Sydney-based photographer interested in unscripted photography and environmental portraiture.
What first drew you to photography?
I was always interested and had studied darkroom and SLRs during school. But I completed a degree in writing and publishing after and didn’t take up photography seriously until my mid-twenties when I enlisted in street photography and a documentary photography classes with Marco Bok.
Did you have any early influences or mentors that shaped you photographically?
Marco, who first introduced me to Robert Frank who remains one of my favourites to this day. Also Alan Davies who was curator of Photography at the State Library of New South Wales. I continually meet with photographers around Sydney who are interested in similar creative projects and or problems to me and learned a lot from our conversations, debates and works in progress.
“Most people don’t know how to look - it’s a pretty amazing skill to acquire when it clicks into place. When you are open and really looking there are many moments of real and unexpected connection in life. . . when people you don’t know are generous - and when the world moving around you is generous - you end a day feeling properly alive.”
When you are walking around, with camera in hand, what thoughts generally are going through your mind?
Most often initially I’m not enjoying myself much - it doesn’t come naturally to approach strangers or photograph without permission. But on a good day I’ll connect to something - or see the potential for something interesting - and my thoughts shift. I get excited about a place, a chance encounter or the existence of something or someone. And suddenly life is really rich and full of potential. When I first came to photography it was a revelation to look into the same world I’d always lived in, now seeing a kaleidoscope of synchronicity and patterns. Shadows, light, windows made by arms and buildings and things passing by that will never happen again in the same combination. Near empty space where just what you were wanting walks in to your frame just at the right time. Most people don’t know how to look - it’s a pretty amazing skill to acquire when it clicks into place. When you are open and really looking there are many moments of real and unexpected connection in life. Which is what it’s really about for me. There is rejection and suspicion and anger out there toward photographers in public spaces. But when people you don’t know are generous - and when the world moving around you is generous - you end a day feeling properly alive.
Do you have a clear idea, project or body of work in mind before you begin photographing?
If I’m doing street photography then no - I may have a theme or an idea in mind or one that develops after a few shots begin to link together. I’ve shot street as part of a project about a street (On Parramatta Road) and have been commissioned by the State Library of NSW to document street as an indication of ritual and people and era around ANZAC Day’s 100th milestone. So there is always a place that ties things together and maybe a theme or key idea. In general I’m interested in street as a historical document: the details, the people, their activities at a certain time. I don’t think you need a further idea for that because the world is always changing. The job is never done and the brief is never old. I just wander out into the world and do my best to imagine I’ve never been there before.
For other project work (which is the majority of what I do, closer to documentary) the answer is yes. I’ll research and have a few terms or ideas I am particularly interested in illustrating. But this is always steamrolled by the narrative as it is discovered. If it’s a good subject you should learn something from it and it will direct you. It’s best when it completely surprises you and turns out differently to anything you could have thought up yourself. I start with research and some ideas. But as I talk to people, what’s said leads what’s photographed, the aesthetic and order of a series.
A lot of my work has started as an experiment to choose something and find out if I can photograph it be it one room, one road, one person, one event, one community. And almost always these things when you follow them branch out really beautifully into multi-layered stories that keep giving more depth.
You’re a member of Lumina Collective (https://www.luminacollective.com.au/). Could you tell us a bit more about the collective and what you have in store for 2019?
Lumina is a collective of eight Australian women working across Australia and at the moment we have two members working internationally in Asia and the UK. We work collaboratively on projects and also individually on our own photographic careers. At the moment we have a major exhibition called Echoes running at the Art Gallery of Ballarat until March 10. With a symposium happening on March 2 in the gallery. There is more in the works for later in the year but it’s too early to go into details at the moment. We also have a flash sale running from this Thursday [7th of Feb., 2019] if anyone out there is interested in buying a print!
Your proposal for ‘On Paramatta Road’ received the prestigious ‘Pool Grant’ in 2015, what was it like winning it, then undertaking, completing and exhibiting the project in the timeframe of one year?
Well I’d been working on that series for five years prior to winning the grant - so luckily I had a head start. As a long term project it was the perfect incentive to finally think about what shots I needed to get in order to round it out. And I was given the money and support to present the work at the scale I felt warranted six years of work - which I could not have done on my own. Winning the Pool Grant was enormously encouraging and affirmed my belief that local stories were worth investing time an money toward. Even though I had a head start there was still so much to do. Continued shooting, editing a large body of work shot in different stages of my development and trying to make it fit together, and curating for the space alongside the rest of the logistics involved in putting together a solo show.
What advice would you give to photographers applying for grants or awards?
Make sure you can actually complete the project you’ve chosen. A lot of good ideas get turfed in selection because there is no guarantee the logistics or access will come together - there’s too many risks to it falling over. Do the work toward access first and have references prepared to prove it. It helps to have a project that is timely and needs to be completed within a set deadline. Take time to write your application over a week or more.
The story of your current exhibition and body of work entitled ‘Pildil’ is fascinating; could you tell us about the project and what you discovered during the process of making the work?
Pildil is my contribution to the exhibition Echoes, Lumina Collective’s current exhibition at the art Gallery of Ballarat.
It’s my first attempt at documenting a story that belongs to my own family. In mid-2018 I took my mother other to Estonia to meet descendants from my great-grandmother’s family, supported by a grant from Canon Australia.
It’s been around 100 years since my great grandparents left Estonia. They never went back. My grandfather never visited. My mother had never been. Occupied Estonia hasn’t always been an easy place to go to. But we’d been in contact on and off via letters across the generations regardless.
The resulting work is a compilation of photo and video sketches outlining my impressions of the country deserted by my great grandmother, the changes from what she knew and the contrast to the country she settled in. And layers my voice to the correspondence exchanged over generations since she left.
It has two components married by postcard format: a visual notebook of travelling to and through a place that was connected to me but totally new. And a second component documenting the day we visited the house my great grandmother grew up in on an island off Estonia. Inside it was quite powerful and very surprising to find stacks of letters and postcards we’d written back to her sister who continued to live there until her death in the mid ‘90s. You don’t expect to find your life outlined in letters and photos in an old rotting abandoned house in woodlands on the other side of the world … it was a jolt and a material, undeniable connection to place and people I hadn’t encountered before.
What is your favourite photo of yours right now and why?
I like two from Pildil at the moment. This image [ABOVE] of a woman and her dog on the island of Saaremaa, Estonia. Just a moment out of public life. But there is something about the long shadow cast by an out-of-frame building that exists to light. And novelty shooting in the softer European sun where you can get details in the shadows in the middle of the day. I also love Shores of Lake Võrtsjärv with the couple relaxing by the reeds and puddles. I was there to explore my own history and I love the contrast of everything I’ve experienced in Australian beach leisure culture. And her sultry gaze.