I’m Gerry Orkin. I live in a small coastal town south of Sydney, Australia. I started making photographs again only a few years ago but my involvement with photography goes back decades.
Before settling permanently in Australia in the early 1980s I studied documentary photography in the UK and worked in commercial darkrooms and studios in London and Sydney. Some of my documentary work from the 1980s is held in national collections and appeared in exhibitions, monographs and books.
In the mid-1980s I co-founded Photo Access, Australia’s first community photographic centre, which still operates today. I taught at the centre and in other settings for many years and coordinated community and documentary photographic projects, including those that worked with young people, people of colour and people with disabilities.
Following changes in career and after thirty years away, in 2012 I got back into making photographs. Now that I’ve retired I hope to develop documentary projects again, but until then street photography is a satisfying alternative.
It’s fashionable to dismiss humorous, quirky street photography, but I make no apologies for preferring those kinds of images – they reflect an important aspect of who I am and how I see the world. That said, I’ll shoot anything that looks interesting. I know the gold standard is to make a consistent body of work that speaks of a singular vision, but I’m interested in too many things and can’t settle on, or settle for, less than everything, so I just shoot whatever I like.
I do see a kind of typology overlaying my work. There’s interesting things photographed in ordinary, straightforward ways – those are my favourite kinds of images. Then there are ordinary things photographed in interesting ways – I like those, too, but not as much. Very occasionally I see interesting things and I photograph them in interesting ways. And unsurprisingly, more often than not I see ordinary things and I photograph them in ordinary ways.
As well as creating single images I enjoy working with diptychs, which satisfies my desire to subvert the tyranny of the single image, without the effort of working on series (I’m lazy!).
WHEN and WHERE?
The community where I live isn’t very inspiring to me, so I tend to shoot more when I’m away from home. Since 2012 my partner (street photographer Julia Coddington) and I have been lucky enough to travel overseas almost every year, and that’s when I’ve been most active. Over the past two years, during the pandemic, we have managed a couple of road trips in Australia, and the work I’ve made on those journeys is less street, more personal or documentary in style. I’m still looking at the work and wondering about what it says. I’m in no rush.
The pandemic has also inspired me to look through what survives of my archive of work from the 1980s. I’ll be exhibiting and publishing some of that work later in 2022.
There’s a mix of motives behind my work. On one level, I’m just collecting artefacts, assembling a catalogue of things that look interesting. Sometimes it’s a way of keeping busy, and a way of feeling alive and engaged with the world.
I’m not obsessive about any of those motivations, and I can go for ages without making street photographs. In the past I’ve experienced anxiety and pressure to keep making work, but these days I prefer to have it be a delight, not a burden.