November 26, 2021
Photography by Alan Thexton
Interview by Melanie Meggs
As Australia embarks on a journey to reconcile its painful past and confront its present, the Australian flag has been thrust into the spotlight. On the one hand, it is seen as a symbol of national pride and identity, while on the other, it is regarded as a reminder of oppression and inequality. Photographer Alan Thexton's collection of photographs featuring the Australian flag brings to light the complex feelings that the flag evokes. Alan grew up and spent most of his early life life living in, and photographing around Melbourne, often shooting on the street. Through his candid shots, he captures moments of everyday life, giving us a glimpse into the flag’s importance, its power and its influence on individuals. His work invites us to explore what the flag means to Australians, and poses a powerful question: what does it really represent?
“This series was not planned, it just seemed to evolve from my observations from around 2016 and is ongoing. The series for me is a question. When I was a child we would salute the flag and pledge allegiance to the Queen at school assembly. The flag had a certain symbolism. Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I saw our country change from largely a British influenced culture to a more independent and outward looking one. The way we use our flag appears to have also changed, and has even become a commercial product. When January 26th approaches, we see variations of the Australian flag plastered all over the merchandise of towels, hats, T-shirts, beer stubbies, thongs, and much much more.
So I questioned myself and our society as to whether the way we use the symbolism of our flag says something about the way we have changed as a nation and who we are.”
IN CONVERSATION WITH ALAN THEXTON
THE PICTORIAL LIST: Alan please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
ALAN THEXTON: I was born in Oakleigh in suburban Melbourne in and have lived in Melbourne most of my life. As a child I was fascinated by photographs of places and things I had not seen before and first became interested in photography in primary school. In my late teens and early 20’s photography was almost an obsession with me. Later in life as I got involved in raising a family and building a career photography became a luxury pursuit that I only occasionally engaged with. In the early 2000’s with my family largely independent I came back to photography and it has been a near constant pursuit since. Now retired from paid work and living on the Mornington Peninsula I finally have the time to devote to my photography that I have always desired.
TPL: What does street photography mean to you? Describe your style. Where or how do you find inspiration? Are projects important in your street photography?
AT: I have always been an observer of life. Street photography for me is an observation of life and how people relate to each other, and influence our environment. My street photography is a visual record of my observations. I prefer to think of these photographs as a collections rather than project. A project suggests a plan with a determined beginning and end. My photographs are random observations. I do not plan to pursue a certain subject.
I find that certain themes or subject matter repeat in my observations and over time I gather them together and form a series of related images. There are many themes appearing in my work concurrently without a plan.
TPL: What have been some of your favourite memories or moments in your photography journey? What have you personally gained from your experiences?
AT: As a young man photography was a medium I used to try to make sense of the world and I suppose it is still the same now. Since starting photography a second time the world has gone digital and with this has come the online photography communities. This for me has been a huge change. When I started out I was largely photographing on my own and didn’t know anyone else that shared my interest in photographing on the street. Now I can communicate with a number of people and have met many that share my passion.
TPL: When you are out photographing - how much of it is instinctual versus planned?
AT: As mentioned previously I don’t plan much. I may plan to visit a certain location on a certain day but once I am there I try to empty my mind and observe. I find the more I think about what I am doing the less shots I get, if any. I prefer to wander and just see what I find.
TPL: Do you have any favourite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?
AT: Yes many. Three that really inspired me when I stared out were Andre Kertesz, Tony Ray-Jones, and Robert Frank. And they still do. I enjoy the work of many contemporary Melbourne based photographers. There is a strong street photography community in Melbourne and I enjoy viewing their work and occasionally meeting up.
I have always been an observer of life. Street photography for me is an observation of life and how people relate to each other, and influence our environment.
TPL: What are some tips or advice you would give yourself if you started street photography all over again?
AT: Believe in what you are doing and have the confidence to pursue the subject matter and style of photograph that you enjoy, not what everyone else tells you to do.
TPL: Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?
AT: I would like to say gear is irrelevant, but it isn’t. Street photography is easier when you are comfortable with your gear and using it is instinctive. This series has been largely shot with a Fuji X Pro1 with either an 18mm prime or 23mm prime lens. The 23mm has become my favourite. The combination of camera and lens feels a bit like using a film camera that I grew up with. The camera has some quirks but I have become comfortable using it. I have also started taking some shots with a canon EOS R which I am still learning to use.
TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist or photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
AT: In five years I hope to be doing a lot of road trips photographing my way around the country and sometimes travel internationally. What sort of images will I be making? I will only know when I have made them.
TPL: Are there any other special projects you are currently working on or thinking about that you would like to let everyone know about?
AT: I usually have a few ideas running concurrently. Recently I dug out of my shed some old negatives from the 1970’s and early 80’s, some of which I think now have some historical value and am scanning them. I am not sure what I will do with them, maybe a book or a zine. I also recently published my first book “Smell the Sea” which is a collection of candid shots in coastal areas and is available through Blurb.
TPL: "When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
AT: Like many others who have lived through a long lockdown my main priority is to get out and spend time with family. When I have not been out photographing I have spent quite a bit of time renovating our house although I rarely consider that enjoyable. I do enjoy spending time in our garden and exploring the local plant nurseries for indigenous plants, planning where to plant them, and watching them grow.
A final word:
This interview is due to be published round the time of my wife’s birthday. So I would like to take the opportunity to thank her for her support and encouragement to pick up a digital camera and get going with photography again. ❤
Alan Thexton's photography paints a picture of the different ways in which the flag is interpreted and experienced by those who have grown up with it. His work shows us that the Australian flag has a complicated history, one that is rooted in both pride and oppression. This unique collection of photographs shines a light on the flag’s importance and its influence on Australians, raising questions that demand to be answered. As we continue to navigate this journey of reconciliation and self-discovery, Alan Thexton's work serves as a reminder of the complexity of this symbol, and encourages us to further reflect on what it means for us as individuals. Follow Alan on his project journey to discover more about the Australian flag, and how it has shaped our nation.