IIt was like hell on earth; everything is covered with red dust and rust. The noise was huge, with steam and chemicals belching all over the place – at one point I walked into a cloud of ammonia without a respirator. It was a huge nickel refinery and I was there to help shut it down.
I had started my career as an apprentice assembler and turner in a hot and dirty workshop in the town of Townsville, North Queensland. It was crap work – every day was stinky and we were working on heavy machinery coated in grease, chemicals, or both. But I wanted a profession to fall back on, so I felt compelled to hold on. The nickel refinery was one of my first jobs there and I will never forget.
Although it was unpleasant, I found the sight of this towering mass of steel impressive and the process of metal refining fascinating. Often times I would find myself looking at machines and architecture and challenging myself to find a single object designed purely for aesthetics.
Craftsmanship gave way to efficiency in engineering long before I even left school. Nothing in an industrial environment is meant to be beautiful. But I picked out some details – colored scrap metal shavings, a piece of freshly milled steel with iridescent tool marks perfectly parallel on its surface.
Fast forward a decade and my work has taken me to many more places like this: power plants, mines, paper mills, foundries, chemical factories, food production facilities, cigarette factories and even a crematorium. . It wasn’t until the advent of camera phones that I was able to show my friends how awesome some of these places are.
In 2011, I was working as a service technician for an air compressor company when I met a colleague who was passionate about amateur photography. I had a little Sony Cyber-Shot that I had played with in the early 2000s, but a good DSLR was always going to have a lot more potential.
So after consulting with my co-worker, I bought a Nikon D7000 and a 24-70 f2.8 lens and ventured out shooting the usual suspects: mundane cityscapes, graffiti-filled alleys, and beach huts. colored. It started to feel very unsatisfying very quickly.
One day, I stopped in a large abandoned factory that I passed on my way home from work. A long section of fence was missing.
I walked in, camera in hand, and that moment was the unofficial start of Lost Collective.
There is that sense of wonder you get when looking at abandoned buildings. You try to imagine what those spaces looked like when they were filled with busy workers trying to meet production goals. And why did they close?
A few years later our family moved from Melbourne to Sydney and, along with a stint as a stay-at-home dad, I started photographing other places in NSW. Yet, it wasn’t until I sought access to the abandoned White Bay Power Plant that I first imagined that I could turn this hobby into a full-time job.
This heritage listed site in central Sydney is something of a holy grail for people who do what I do, given the limited access to it and the potential for high-quality compositions in the expansive spaces and well preserved inside.
I decided that my images needed historical context. This couldn’t be another useless Facebook post with no background information that only my friends would see. So I built a website and called it Lost collective.
It was well received. I am often contacted by people who frequented the places I photographed. They share stories that go into the collections as additions or corrections. Sometimes they send their own photos from the same point of view, taken decades earlier. Some send souvenirs, technical drawings or documents from the organization that manages the site. By connecting with them, Lost Collective uncovers all of these personal stories that would otherwise be lost in time. It has become such an important part of the project.
One of my goals is to compile this information into a book.
It can be difficult to find places to shoot in Sydney – anything that is vacant seems to be replaced with apartments or a freeway in a matter of weeks – so in 2016 I drove to Japan photograph haikyo, or ruins. These are some of my best works to date. Around this time, it was getting difficult to juggle Lost Collective with my full-time job, so I decided to dive into the unknown and see where the winds take me.
Leaving a stable job to work as an artist, trying to deal with irregular income and tempering the doubt and self-criticism that came with it was one of the hardest things I have done.
It wasn’t until the end of 2017 that it started clicking. I started to gain momentum by selling photographs, commissioned shoots and licenses and eventually it became a sustainable business. Profits are spent on growing the project: upgrading equipment, traveling to new locations, building a bigger and better market stall, and traveling overseas to exhibit. The ultimate goal is to open my own gallery.
Holding a solo show in one of the spaces I photographed would also be a dream, especially on a site with a strong community connection – so the images can be appreciated by the people who made them important.
There is always more to explore and I think Central Australia will offer some amazing photos. The outback is so familiar to everyone who lives in this country, but few of us have actually seen it. And internationally, there are more countries on the radar – Japan always will be, along with Brazil, Mexico, the post-Soviet states, the United States, and Europe. I really can’t imagine the Lost Collective Project will ever feel finished.