“Belco’s a hole…. but it’s our hole.” Australian photographer Lee Grant spoke to us about art, Canberra and the seduction of suburbia in the lead-up to her new show, ‘Belco Pride’, named for the northern Canberra suburb of Belconnen. (Event link here).
HWL: What is it about Canberra suburbia that fascinates and inspires you?
Lee: I had my family quite young which put the brakes on globetrotting somewhat… being housebound, I started to look more closely at my own surroundings. It’s actually pretty exotic if you look at it more carefully. My relationship with suburbia has always been slightly conflicted, by re-engaging with it through photography I have been able to find a measure of peace about where I grew up. One realisation I’ve had is that being a suburban pleb can actually be a joyful experience, because all aspects of that life is about the ‘local’… about community and a sense of belonging and place within that community. Years ago I’d travelled all over the world looking for that only to have found it here – at home – in the very last place I would ever have imagined!
HWL: Artists typically take a cynical view of suburbia, tell us about your series ‘Belco pride’
Lee: I get [the (the bleak/depressing view] on some level, but I’m also a little sick of it. I’m overall quite a positive person and I just found that the more I looked the stranger and more wonderful things became – there was an exoticness about suburbia – an element of fun and surprise but also woeful beauty.
My idea ultimately with the Belco work was about being a part of this community. . . It’s also about the idea that, even if you don’t realise it, where you grow up deeply shapes who you become, even if you manage to escape. So whilst this was a personally cathartic project in many ways, I think it does speak of broader themes about the human condition and about identity.
HWL: “Belco’s a hole…. but it’s our hole.” LOL! Where does this quote come from?
Lee: I found this whilst researching Belconnen’s indigenous history. I tend to surf around a bit as you do when online and ended up on the unofficial Bebo site for Belconnen High School Year 10 students. Totally hilarious – it really spoke to me and seemed the perfect byline for the project really, especially in terms of ‘pride’.
For many Canberra is synonymous with white-Anglo Saxon middle class public servants. As a photographer turning your lens on the city, do you find this to be fair or true?
Lee: Yes and no. It has the veneer of being middle class white Anglo (which in fact it used to be like, especially in Belco) but in reality it’s far from that these days. Pretty much all of my work is made in Canberra and as you can see, there is a good mix, these days. That’s not to say however that there aren’t still problems of racism and discrimination. There is, but overall people seem to much more accepting of migrant communities than when I was a kid.