This is Sydney by the Sea ~ East ~ the stories behind my new print collection

by | Jun 5, 2024 | Ocean, Nature, Beach

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If you know me from my 52 Suburbs projects, you’ll know that once upon a time I really only had eyes for the urban/suburban. But for the past few years I’ve been drawn to the sandy edge of Sydney to capture the way we are when we’re by the sea – everything from what we wear in this day and age, to how we behave when we’re at the water’s edge.

Initially it was about getting up close and personal with people to take their portraits at Clovelly, my local beach in Sydney’s east. Stripped down to near naked, relaxed and free, it felt like I was documenting humans as close to our natural state as we can be.

Skimpy swimmers, Clovelly – Brydii and Isaac
Tom and Eliot
The Swim-Shower Series – Mike

Then last summer I zoomed out to take a wider view of life by the sea, intending to capture how different parts of Sydney found relief from what was forecast to be an extreme heat event thanks to El Niño.

Seeking relief from the heat, West (Penrith Beach) to…
…East (Milk Beach, Sydney Harbour)

The much anticipated extreme heat never eventuated – but by then I was hooked. By the sheer physical beauty of these places, yes, but also by how much life plays out on our beaches and ocean pools – they are in essence our communal outdoor summer living rooms, and I was keen to capture some of the scenes and stories that unfold there.

Rather than spread myself too thin, I focused on Sydney’s eastern/harbour beaches and ocean pools (I intend to rotate around the compass in coming years).

My approach was to go down to a beach or ocean pool when the light was just right, and wait for a moment that was somehow meaningful, that told some sort of story. For example, one afternoon I took advantage of a beautifully calm ocean to photograph the spectacular rocky Southern Italian coastline-esque setting of Mahon Pool, in Maroubra. It looked like a film set to me, so when a woman in a bright red bikini walked across the scene, with just the right footfall that made her look like an elegant character out of a Fellini film, while others played supporting roles (man on rock, woman in striped towel, etc) I took the shot (Marvellous Mahon Pool, Maroubra).

On another day I was down at Milk Beach on Sydney Harbour when I heard a bell tinkling. I looked around to see a small boat pull up at the water’s edge with ‘Ice Cream Kid’ emblazoned on it – a nautical Mr Whippy! – as a queue of people quickly formed to buy a cooling treat. Then suddenly out of nowhere a small seaplane appeared. I waited for it to fly to the right of the scene to balance out my composition and then click, I had my shot: a beach nestled into a national park, the incredible harbour view (with a beautiful vintage blue boat moored nearby), and ice cream being delivered while a seaplane soared overhead. This was Sydney showing off, a hedonistic place of many pleasures (Ice cream boat, Milk Beach, vertical).

On that same visit to Milk Beach a little later in the day, another scene presented itself that felt wonderfully timeless and modern at the same time. There was the unspoiled setting in lush Sydney Harbour National Park, the vintage boat, people relaxing on a beach. But when I looked closer, the modern era revealed itself in the women’s swimmers, the guy with the tattoo sleeve and baseball hat worn back to front, a pair of Crocs, and the built-up city skyline.

I loved the scene and the story it told but the group in the middle of the image was too dense a huddle to begin with so I waited to see if it changed. When most of the men got up and wandered off, leaving just the women and the guy on the left with the tattoo sleeve, I took the shot (Magnificent Milk Beach).

At Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, one of my favourite Sydney ocean pools, I was standing on the elevated timber boardwalk looking down over various people relaxing on the edge of the pool. I waited until they all stretched out their legs at the same time – I loved the whimsy of all the languid legs, evoking that incredible feeling of relaxation when you get out of the sea and lay down on the warm ground under a hot sun (Sea sparkles, Wylie’s Baths horizontal).

I was photographing down at Bronte Baths one morning when I saw a young woman trying to get up the stairs from the ocean to the pool. A sudden rush of water made her lose her footing so her friend grabbed her hand and helped pull her up – there was my shot. I liked the dynamic shape their bodies made, and how they contrasted to the relaxed people inside the pool, unaware of the mini drama unfolding on the stairs (Bronte Baths). On the same morning a bird flew into frame just as I was photographing a small sailing boat out on the glittering sea (Bronte boat).

On another day at Bronte Baths a handful of thrill-seekers were jumping off the edge of the pool into the sea. I was waiting for something a bit special to happen when suddenly a young man launched himself further out than the others, drawing his knees up at the same time as holding his arms out wide – it was a striking shape and I was lucky enough to capture him mid-flight (Flying, Bronte Baths).

The little Sydney Harbour beaches with their big views intrigued me and I returned a number of times. Once when I was walking along the track between Milk Beach and Hermit Bay, I looked down to see two friends larking about in the shallow water. The image reminded me of people bathing in the sacred Ganges River (especially as the friends appeared to be Indian) and I waited to see what might happen. At one point their movements in the water created a circle – circles are always good and I pressed the shutter (Sacred Sydney Harbour).  

I should say that some images are less about the human story and more about the scene, in particular the play of light on water. Incandescent ocean and Incandescent Icebergs, Bondi, for example, celebrate the way sunshine miraculously transforms the surface of the sea, lighting it up with countless tiny glittering starbursts.

Similarly, these two images, Bondi Lace and Morning swim, Bondi showcase the beautiful texture and tone of the sea in the early morning, when the light is soft and often infused with sea mist.

There are more images but that’s how I ended up by the sea last summer, camera in hand, and how this new collection of around 30 prints, Sydney by the Sea ~ East, came into being (with a fancy new logo I designed – and like so much I’ve repurposed it for my website logo!). You can see the whole collection in my Print Shop or just click on an individual image above and it’ll take you there. (And if you decide you’d like to buy one of my prints and haven’t yet signed up to my newsletter, you’ll receive a 10% discount if you sign up.) That’s it, I hope you like them!

Me with test prints
and then finally framed prints – so exciting!