This weekend, Wonthaggi became the beneficiary of 60 photographs, the work of a collective called MAP (Many Australian Photographers), whose members volunteer their talents “to tell stories that might not otherwise be told”.
The exhibition, called MAPping Wonthaggi, is the latest instalment in a series known as the “single town projects”, which aim to document the social and environmental character of regional communities.
It was MAP project manager Brian Carr who suggested Wonthaggi. He knew the town from working here in the `60s when it was still a mining town. He especially recalled the Nessi Twostep, the number of steps you took, after drinking the Nessi brew, before collapsing.
The Wonthaggi the group visited over two weekends late in 2012 was a very different place from the one recalled by Brian but its roots are still recognisable in the photographs.
The exhibition opened at The Coffee Collective arcade on Friday night. Sixty photos, selected from 300 taken in and around the town, line the walls. There’s a wide range of portraits, cloudscapes, rural scenes, work and sport scenes, religion, the footy oval.
I was impressed by Helga Leunig’s shot of a young singer’s ecstatic pose in a church service, and two by Brent Lukey: a formal portrait of a butcher’s apprentice and another of two young girls playing with dolls’ heads in a hair dressing salon.
In another arresting photograph, we look down on half-visible beach walkers trailing up the sandy track though the scrub; behind them, a swirling, threatening sea – two deeply contrasted states of being.
Twenty photographers, 20 perspectives. Coming from outside “they take a fresh look at things,” says group founder and prolific photographer Andrew Chapman. “They hold a mirror up to the community.”
All 60 photographs will be donated to the Bass Coast Shire to keep as a visual history.
Other MAP projects have included “Beyond Reasonable Drought”, which documented the effects of the long drought, and “Beyond Age”, a multi-media collection of photographs and personal stories of some of the older residents of the Murrindindi shire, following the devastating Black Saturday bushfires.
The group has been likened to the American photographers who documented the ravages of the Great Depression and left an enduring record of its impact.
The exhibition has been curated by a former National Gallery of Victoria curator, Marita Smith, and a hard cover book featuring all 300 images was also for sale at the launch.
Coffee Collective owner James Archibald, a photographer himself, was pleased to be approached by the group. “It’s exceptional photography. These people are at the top of their game. You can see the strength of their imagery.
“They’ve caught the spirit of the region. It’s not a glorified perspective; it’s documentary style, warts and all. They’ve captured a moment in time.”
MAPping Wonthaggi is at the Coffee Collective arcade, McBride Avenue, Wonthaggi, until November 2.