I returned from New York to my hometown of Brisbane's subtropical north to be artist-in-residence at the Institute of Modern Art. Here I was to produce a new body of work called 'Adventure Series', inspired by The Flying Doctor series, an adventure comic strip I read as a kid in the Brisbane newspapers as well as the 1970s Australian television seafaring show, The Rovers.
Exhibition Dates: 29 July – 4 September 2004
The Story of Tracey Moffatt's Adventure Series Photo Shoot in Brisbane,
In July and August of 2003 I returned from New York to my hometown of Brisbane's subtropical north to be artist-in-residence at the Institute of Modern Art. Here I was to produce a new body of work called 'Adventure Series', inspired by The Flying Doctor series, an adventure comic strip I read as a kid in the Brisbane newspapers as well as the 1970s Australian television seafaring show, The Rovers. Although in the previous months I had made sketches of the backdrops I eventually commissioned a young Brisbane woman graphic artist to paint the backdrops as she could paint them better than I could.
Backdrop paintings aside I knew that my work for this series was only beginning. As it turned out this series was extremely difficult to make. I had imagined that it would be so easy: that I would be given a rent free chic living space to live and work in (this was true, as the Institute's studios are modern and Swedish looking). That everything I needed for my photo shoot would be right there in front of me and that I only needed a truck to go and pick it up, and that it would all be really cheap or even free. This certainly wasn't true.
Everything, even with the help of professional model agencies, props people and assistants was very expensive and very hard to find. Never think that art making is easy. It is always a test. I had to find a motley crew of attractive guys and gals to star in my photographs. They had to be 'types'. A blonde gal type and a handsome brown guy type, a gorgeous Asian girl type and a rugged out doors guy type. I thought I could find such people on the streets of Brisbane, but I just couldn't find the right look.
People told me to go to the clubs in the Valley (the vaguely sleazy nightclub area of Brisbane), which I did. But everyone was pale and wasted and looked unapproachable. They told me to go to the Gold Coast ('s Miami) and that I'd find lots of models walking around. I did.
But it was winter and no one had their clothes off. Again all I saw were pale bodies everywhere. I needed a muscular Aboriginal guy. So I spent cold night after cold night on the edge of football fields around the industrial town of Ipswich watching rugby teams train. Finally I found a cute guy and rang him to tell him the day that I needed him for the shoot. But he said 'sorry sister but I broke me nose in a game on the weekend'. So that was the end of him.
For props I needed live kangaroos, a lizard, an eagle and a snake. I drove crazily up the Sunshine Coast Australia Zoo (which is owned by the crocodile guru and television star, Steve Irwin). They had all these creatures but they told me that I'd have to photograph them in their cages, that I couldn't move them and that there would be a fee involved. This was no good, as I needed to photograph the animals in a studio under artificial lighting to enhance the fake cartoon-ish look of the artworks.
I needed small model planes. Someone told me to go and see so and so, he's an avid collector of rare model planes. Excited, I drove way out on the expressway to Kingston (a depressing suburb you can only stay five minutes in unless you want to commit suicide) and it turned out that the 'avid collector' only made planes from those kit models in the boxes that anyone could put together. The guy motioned to the planes in boxes at the hobby shop where he worked and said 'pick one, I'll glue it together for you, it will be ready in two weeks for a fee'.
I needed fake rocks. I drove almost to Gympie (a farming town far out of Brisbane), and which took me hours to get to because every time I rang the rock man for directions I couldn't understand his strong Polish accent. This man made drab grey cement creations for gardens that weighed a ton and cost a fortune. I stood in the rain and explained, ' I need a big rock for a girl model to lie on and it has to be the colour of the desert. He said ' oh no you need a special sort of paint for that and it will take me three weeks to make the rock'. I said, 'If I bought in an already made Styrofoam rock would you paint it for me? He was horrified and gestured for me to leave and said 'No, no I can't do that'. It was as if he thought that Styrofoam was 'below' him and the paint was poison. Maybe it was?
I needed two scuba diving suits, which I found in a scuba shop (I can't name the suburb). The woman here was so grumpy and was convinced that I was going to steal them. I had to show all sorts of identification and when I asked if could I have the mouth piece thing and the breathing apparatus thing, she snapped at me and said 'are you aware that this piece of equipment is worth $2000? You'll have to leave that much deposit. Finally I got her to rent me two suits for the test shoot and when my assistant carried them into the studio for the models I noticed that they were really old suits, all crappy and grey in colour and WET! People had gone diving in them over the weekend. The poor models could hardly slip into them.
So this went on and on for weeks. I found myself eating a lot from nervous tension. At teashops that made Devonshire tea I would have scones piled with cream. I would tell myself that this was my unique Australian treat because I would never get fluffy scones in New York. I would go down to the new trendy James Street markets in the mornings and have eggs benedict. Then on the weekends to the farmers markets down at the Powerhouse Museum and eat lots of homemade German wurst. Then down to Chinatown to the Singapore La restaurant always ordering the same dish over and over again: Hai Nan Chicken. It's a lot of steamed chicken with plain rice and greens with ginger on the side. I kept convincing myself that this dish wasn't fattening because everything in it was 'steamed'.
Then of course I started to pack on the pounds and my face grew very round. This made me panic because I had now decided that I was going to star in my own photo series. I couldn't find a dark witchy mature looking woman model anywhere so I was to be her.
I needed superb make up and hair to make the models and myself look glamorous in that 1970s retro cartoon way. There was only one woman in who I trusted to give me this look and she hadn't decided if she should take on a big new film job or my arty little project. (She did hair and make up on Moulin Rouge and the Mad Max films). Eventually she agreed to fly up from Sydney and work with me. I was so thrilled and finally with the help of clever props people and me mouthing off around town about what I needed for my photo shoot, to my utter surprise everything came together.
It was still hard work but it came together like magic. We had a beautiful ten-day shoot at a small studio in West End and various other locations. We had delicious lunches to eat everyday and we laughed a lot. Finally on the last day of the shoot, the team and I all went out to Crew Bar at James Street markets and got smashed on cocktails.
I went back to New York and couldn't wait to work with photo shop artists who helped to put the images together. I am very grateful for everyone in dearest Brisbane, who worked on my 'Adventure Series'. I haven't named names because there are just too many to list. But it would include family and friends as well as all the staff at the Institute of Modern Art for being supportive. The moral of this story is never think that everything will be easy, and that you have to make mistakes and work for every crumb that comes your way. I still haven't lost all the weight I gained from doing the Brisbane 'Adventure Series' shoot. Give me time, as anything is possible.
—Tracey Moffatt, 2004