Perth through a lens


Central Perth is often portrayed as a picturesque place, with sights including the sprawling Kings Park and majestic Swan River.

But Western Australia’s pleasant landscapes tend to overshadow other, more diverse sides of a rapidly developing city.

You rarely get a glimpse of the real Perth, the Perth that everyday Western Australians see and experience.

Two Perth photographers have captured the city from two very different viewpoints, drawing away from the tokenistic place people typically see in tourism advertisements.

Landscape photographer Juha Tolonen and portrait photographer Toni Wilkinson have produced 10 works for the City of Perth 2012 Photographic Commissions Exhibition.

Both photographers set out to portray a more interesting, sophisticated and often overlooked version of Perth.

Tolonen’s photographs explore the ‘Middle Kingdom’ of the city, the view most office workers see every day.

He told InkWire that his works were taken from the 13th floor of buildings, as this floor was roughly considered to be the middle layer of many city structures.

“I chose the 13th floor because some of the buildings don’t have an actual 13th floor,” Tolonen said.

“So I thought it was a bit of a play on the reality of the buildings where some, like Central Park, don’t have a 13th floor.

“The idea of the view from the 13th floor as being significant is that you don’t actually see many landscape shots or architecture shots taken from that view.”

Tolonen said that compared to the classic sights seen from South Perth or Kings Park, views from offices were much more congested.

“[The Kings Park] view is often obtained from the top floor but most people seem to work in the middle floors,” he said.

“I wanted to get a more realistic view, and the working title was ‘Views from the 13th Floor’, and then I thought: ‘well it’s more like the Middle Kingdom’, the view of middle management perhaps.

“The corporate executives are up on the top and the middle managers are sort of hanging out in the middle and having this competing view.”

Tolonen said the Middle Kingdom was also a reference to the strong relationship and economic bond Perth had with China.

His favourite photograph is a three-canvas panorama of the BGC building that obscures the view of the Swan River for many city office workers.

“I just like the fact that there is this sort of building rising out of the ground sort of imposing itself on the view,” he said.

The monotones and symmetry of the buildings in Tolonen’s photos contrast with Wilkinson’s colourful and quirky portraits of Perth’s citizens.

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Wilkinson’s work, titled ‘Floreat’, focuses on the youth of Perth, highlighting the emerging identity of both the city and its younger inhabitants.

“What ended up happening was the people that I was drawn to were overwhelmingly younger,” Wilkinson said.

“And I think that spoke of the developing Perth and possibilities and maybe not being quite sophisticated or a little bit un-arrived.

“So there’s all this potential that’s coming up for these people and they are almost comfortable in their own skin but they’re not at the same time.”

Wilkinson said she was very much aligned with the people in her photographs and was drawn to the beauty of the images she captured.

“Contradiction or strangeness or the uncanny is what I like as well,” she said.

Wilkinson said she wanted to portray a city tough enough to recognise it was interesting and dynamic but also problematic.

“A lot of what we see about Perth is tourist photography and tourism brochures,” she said.

“There’s a particular Kings Park vision of Perth which bores me.

“I want something that is going to show me something else, that’s more interesting and more challenging and is more sophisticated.”

The main motifs of WA’s mining boom are referenced in both photographers’ works, with titles such as ‘Integrity’ and ‘NAB’ for Tolonen’s photographs, and ‘Solid Gold’ and ‘Quick Silver’ for Wilkinson’s.

Art curator Isobel Wise, who was part of the selection panel for the 2012 commission, said Tolonen excelled in capturing the surrounds of Perth’s CBD before it was transformed.

“Any city’s in a constant state of change but it’s felt like the last few years Perth has had a huge amount of structural change,” Wise said.

“Juha has a lot of experience documenting areas that are in that state of change, whether it be just before, during or after.

“So he was a really good fit at looking at our city in that way.”

Wise said Wilkinson’s photos allowed the public to connect with people they may not otherwise observe.

“She sees things in people and sort of draws that out for you as an audience,” she said.

“It’s great that we are embracing that the youth of our city are the people that are important to us at the moment and who we feel like we need to capture.

“I think the ones that really appeal to me have clues as to who we are now but they are also quite timeless.”

She said the person captured in the “In the agora” portrait was a fantastic subject.

“He is very 20th– 21st century but he could be from the ’70s, he could be from the ’80s, he could be from now,” Wise said.

“Except you look at little bits and pieces and he’s got some accessories and some things that place him in Perth now.

“And where he is, way off in the distance, slightly out of focus is the public art that’s in Forrest Place.”

The exhibition runs until November 30 at Council House.

DISCLOSURE: Wilkinson lectures in Photojournalism at Curtin University’s Department of Journalism which produces this website.

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