Empty streets and stacked chairs. A metaphor for a time that will be etched in Melbourne’s history. A reference point to a period where the days were long, where minutes felt like hours, where an almost monotonous rhythm overtook the everyday, yet amongst the angst and stress no doubt felt by young and old, this period similarly marks an historic occasion where individuals and families, adapted, transformed and gained perspective.
It is this cocktail of emotions, that photographers Bill McAuley and David Wadelton sought to capture in a commission initiated by Manningham Council with the aim of documenting life in the final two weeks of Australia’s first COVID-19 lockdown, in May 2020.
The exhibition, appropriately named “Empty Streets and Stacked Chairs”, kicks off Manningham Art Gallery’s 2021 season of events and exhibits a series of poignant photographs featuring deserted shopping centres, desolated streets, closed schools and masked baristas.
Manningham Mayor, Cr Andrew Conlon said the exhibition has allowed the Council to document a shared experience from the pandemic and tells many stories of our community and how we’ve been affected in different ways.
“The exhibition tells a tale of the perseverance of the human spirit during an unprecedented time, and explores fear and adaptation with a glimmer of hope shining through,” he said.
“It provides a portrait of Manningham and a snapshot of the different experiences our community has gone through, whether sad or heart-warming.”
The exhibition, which is free, is located at MC Square at the Manningham Council (687 Doncaster Road, Doncaster, 3108) and is open for public viewing every day from 11.00 am to 5.00pm, until Saturday 27 March 2021.
Manningham Art Gallery presents a diverse range of contemporary art exhibitions and related public programs throughout the year. For a list of upcoming exhibitions click here.
Empty Streets and Stacked Chairs, source: https://www.manningham.vic.gov.au/empty-streets-and-stacked-chairs
A blend of quiet shopping centres, masked baristas, shut-up shops, plastic wrap, ad-hoc signage and busy walking tracks, the photos are an ambiguous tale of fear, adaptation, disappointment, hope, worry and perseverance. They convey the sense of calm that descended on our community as, like the rest of the country, we collectively paused to survey our current and future lives, and took to exercising, learning new skills and exploring new ways to do old things. But they also speak to experiences of isolation and opportunity lost, to the negative financial impacts of the lockdown and to the disruption of everyday activities that we can take for granted, like sitting down for a coffee or taking kids to the playground.
The photos also form an engaging record due to the perspectives of the photographers. While Wadelton’s images are a sensitive and revealing portrait of the physical texture and shape Manningham’s streets, houses and shops, McAuley’s focus in large part on the human stories and encourage reflection of the impact measures like mask wearing and social distancing can have. Together, they are a fascinating contribution to the story of a point in time that will be felt for many years to come.