Two Inadequate Voices


2IV is a platform for image-makers to recount and reflect textually on their stories of being out in the world whilst photographing.

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James Bugg 
The Pines

He took out the small leather-bound book, glanced down at a page and then returned it to the pocket of his baggy track pants. The worn polyester hung from his slim build and ended beyond his heels. Alan had been walking all morning and would continue walking all afternoon.

I met Alan on the edges of a suburb not far from where I grew up. I had been photographing the suburb as a part of a project for the final year of my undergraduate degree. The project was about The Pines, a low income housing region established on the site of a pine plantation in the 1950’s. Over the course of the year I had returned multiple times a week on different days and at different times. Some days Alan was just a shimmer in the distance, a mirage of sorts, tracing the edges of the suburb with his footsteps. Other days we would cross paths and he would give a shy wave. More often than not though he was out walking a seemingly calculated route around the small suburb.

On my own walks through the streets and surrounding bushland I would come across discarded DVD cases often missing their discs. Men In Black II, Conan the Barbarian, Alien all scattered in different locations; under the underpass, beside a footpath, against the wire fencing. They continued to appear each time I would walk the suburb. I was at a loss as to why they kept appearing, they were not being discarded in a usual way. If someone simply wanted to get rid of their old DVD’s they would place them in their green wheelie bin and be done with it. One evening I saw two cars parked by the bushland, something was exchanged between them and then they were gone. It was then that I came to assume the cases were just a vessel trafficking something different to any kind of movie.

During a few short conversations with Alan I could not establish his reasons for circumnavigating the suburb multiple times a day, multiple days a week. I did establish that he did not want to be photographed for my project though. I had asked multiple times but he had kindly declined, so I didn’t push any further. What I did begin to realise was that Alan epitomised the themes that had begun to flow through the images I was taking. The work was about escapism and being stuck in a suburb fuelled by socio-economic struggle. Alan was a courseless ship set on a route confined to the boundaries of the suburb, stuck in its centripetal pull.

On a Spring afternoon we crossed paths on the edge of the bushland. He took out the small leather-bound book, glanced down at a page and then returned it to the pocket of his baggy track pants. After a brief hello I asked if he would mind drawing a picture of a pine tree for my project. He pulled out the small leather-bound book again, glanced at it before returning it to his pocket and agreeing to draw a picture for me. I handed him my A5 notebook and a pen. He drew two vertical lines as the trunk, paused to reassess and drew two darker ones over the top pressing the pen into the paper a little harder. Then without taking any time he quickly scribbled the pen down the page. I thanked him for helping with my project and he continued his course. 

James Bugg is a Melbourne-based documentary photographer and a new member of Australian photography collective, Oculi. His personal work focuses on independent storytelling about place, people and circumstance in the Australian context - from water diviners to the cultural intricacies of low-income suburbia.