Photographer Emmanuel Angelicas has been capturing the people of the inner west since he was seven, when his dad gave him a plastic camera for his birthday. More than 50 years later, the father of two has been widely collected and exhibited worldwide .... and finds his home turf as inspiring as ever.
"My father was born in Alexandria in Egypt but his family originated on the Greek island of Samos; he spoke and sang in five languages. Mum was from the Peloponnese. They arrived in Australia in the late 1950s, separately, and they met and got married in the early 1960s, living in Annandale before moving to Enmore when I was five.
I have always considered the former Marrickville municipality my playground, and my turf, where I was comfortable because a lot of my friends and family lived within those borders; and we are talking of a very big playground: it goes from Princes Highway in the east to Parramatta Road in the west, as far north as Camperdown and as far south as Tempe.
People say to me, how Greek is Marrickville in 2021, compared to when I started taking photos, and to me it still is Greek in a lot of ways: there are countless establishments on Marrickville Road and Illawarra Road that have been there since the 1950s and 1960s, that I knew and grew up with as a kid. And there are still a lot of Greeks living in Marrickville.
But I didn't just photograph Greeks because throughout the 1980s, when I really seriously started photographing, we were getting the influx of Vietnamese and Lebanese, and then eventually the Maoris and South Pacific islanders, so I have been able to see an amazing transition of cultures - and we all know that Marrickville is a melting pot of cultures.
My mother for about 20 years worked in the rag-trade sweatshops in Marrickville. She had no choice - my father died when he and mum were 44, and my brother and I were young. It was pretty hard for a single mum and a lot of women of that kind never remarried, it was like taboo. She did what she thought traditionally had to be done, all in the eyes of the community. She wore black for 15 years and only took it off when I got married.
The sweatshops were illegal in the sense that conditions were horrific; they'd be operating out of backyard garages or seedy little industrial blocks, with no safety compliances. I have a Marrickville subseries of the sweatshops shot in the mid-1980s which is now housed in the State Library.
At the time I was doing a university end-of-year presentation and I shot some fashion, and my mother said, 'why don't you come and have a look and see how these garments are produced', so if I didn't have the inside angle through my mother, I wouldn't have had the access that I did.
My mother still doesn't speak English very well, but somehow she managed, I guess because there were a lot of people around her she could communicate with in Greek. She's 93 now and I haven't been able to give her a hug for a long time; we have to be careful. She is being cared for at home, she is okay, she's still defiant, still stubborn, still likes things done her way. It is still lovely and wonderful to have her around.
When I was seven years old, my father bought me a camera for my birthday and I started photographing my friends and family.
Eventually I gained confidence and started photographing neighbours and friends on the street, and then from there it moved on to photographing people on the streets, through the mid-1980s and onwards.
In some of my earlier work I'd photograph confrontations on streets, like brawls and fights, drug scenes, and I guess in the early- to mid-80s that is also when I began photographing nudes - I photographed anything that anybody was happy for me to photograph and have out there in the public domain.
Pre-covid, I still would get that buzz when I walk the streets of Marrickville; I still feel like that seven-year-old boy with his toy camera going out to play.
From about 2005, it became increasingly difficult to shoot candidly on the streets, when social media took its worst turn and people were starting to be a little bit more defensive about having a camera in their face - so I started shooting covertly (which commentators have called 'guerrilla' shooting), and by that I mean I started to set up situations on the street in such a way that unless I tell you it's a setup, you probably won't know it's a set up. An example of this is I got a shirtless cowboy on a horse and we walked him down the main drag and photographed him outside Lazybones lounge on Marrickville Road.
I have a lot of fun still creating on the streets because I don't want anyone to take that away from me. Pre-covid, I still would get that buzz when I walk the streets of Marrickville; I still feel like that seven-year-old boy with his toy camera going out to play
I have recovered in the past five years but for almost 25 years prior to that, I was suffering from a rare autoimmune condition called EBA, which set a lot of limitations, so it made me go back to photographing my family and friends. It's a blistering skin condition which meant my skin was easily susceptible to trauma, and it was quite hideous as well.
They call me the miracle man in medical circles, because they can't work out why I came good; they predicted a very dire situation for me early on in the piece and I did struggle for many years, but somehow I've come through the other end and I've been able to live a normal life.
People ask, what got you through? and I guess the medical team that looked after me, and still do, and my wife, Ellena. Also, you realise who your friends really area, and your work is a diversion. I also have a wonderful garden, where I was able to go out and lose myself - I have over 200 bonsai that I care for, and you focus on something so small and so detailed that you are able to lock everything else out and concentrate on what is in front of you.
I have exhibited in museums all over the world, and in Australia at places including the MCA and the National Gallery in Canberra, but having Marrickville work exhibited in Marrickville in a community space, for the community, is the biggest highlight for me because it is actually bringing the work home.
Last year I had an exhibition, Silent Agreements-Marrickville-50-Home [marking Angelicas's 50 years as a photographer], at the Atlas Cultural and Community Centre, opposite the Henson, and out of that I got to exhibit 10 works at the new Marrickville Library, their inaugural exhibition, so I am the first artist to ever exhibit at the new library!
It took a while for my work to take off in Australia; people always saw me as this black sheep young Greek guy from Marrickville doing whatever he was doing ... because I also shot a lot of interesting work in Thailand that got canned here but got hailed as amazing work in France, where I won a competition for "Emerging young photographer worldwide" when I was 24. But here, people wouldn't touch it.
They are starting to pay attention now because they see a body of work, my Marrickville work, that covers 50 years, and people laugh and say, 'you are including your work you shot when you were seven' and I say 'yeh, I do, because if you look at my work from day one, the vision hasn't changed', and I have got my very first negative and everything inbetween.
That vision is straightforward, in your face, direct. Even changing from analog to digital I still see square, shoot square, present square.
I get asked why I still live in Marrickville. Many artists need to leave their immediate environment to be inspired to create, but I have never had that issue - any time I feel like I need to go out for a walk, I will take my camera and am guaranteed a shot because I know the area really well, I know the feel, I've got the vibe, I know the streets and I know a lot of people. I still am inspired here.
I have travelled all over the world with my work, been to some of the most exotic locations on the planet. And I come back and I still find Marrickville just as exotic to me."
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