Farewell to summer by Mario Mirabile

It’s been a funny summer in Melbourne. It started with a few wild storms in December, but there hasn’t been any rain of consequence since. The really hot weather came only in short bursts, till February brought a protracted torrid and humid spell for which I felt totally unprepared. And now March - usually the most settled and balmy month of the year - has been all over the place.

The weekend just past, was a case in point. Windy and humid with passing storms, it provided a bit of everything. But, as if to give everyone one final chance to farewell summer, Sunday evening was near perfect. And what more perfect place to spend a balmy evening that St. Kilda. Restaurants and bars aplenty if that’s your taste, a bit of Zumba dancing, or just taking time out to feed the seagulls. Something for every taste - just like the weather.

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning by Mario Mirabile

The Nicholas family built their fortune on other peoples pain. When World War I cut off the supply of aspirin from German manufacturer Bayer, Melbourne pharmacist George Nicholas saw an opportunity. He developed a process for producing pure acetylsalicylic acid, and together with Henry Woolf Shmith and his brother Alfred, was granted a licence to manufacture the product in September 1915. While the trademarked Bayer name of "Aspirin" was available under wartime legislation, Nicholas feared that Bayer might be able to reclaim it when hostilities ended, and so the name "Aspro" was born. Despite early manufacturing and financial difficulties which saw Woolf Shmith leave the company, the brothers were eventually able to expand internationally and amass a huge fortune on the back of their small white pills.

They were generous with their riches, endowing many schools, hospitals and charities. They also turned their hand to real estate development, building the Nicholas building on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Lane. Built in the ornate Chicago Style, it was completed in 1926. The Nicholas Company never planned to occupy the building, seeing it as a speculative office and retail development. The internal layout of the heritage listed building remains largely unchanged since the 1920s, making it unsuitable for the majority of modern businesses. However, it has become something of a creative hub, housing galleries, jewellers, architects, studios and an interesting mix of small businesses. It has also retained many of its original architectural flourishes, and while some are somewhat the worse for wear, they still retain much of their classic charm.

Eat your vegies by Mario Mirabile

Apart from the very occasional tasty treat, I have been struggling with my regular diet of street and urban fare. So I’ve opted for a change of diet.

While doing my weekly fruit and vegetable shopping on Saturday morning, I decided to make ratatouille. Mushrooms, eggplant, beans, red peppers, zucchini all went into the basket. As I browsed, I spotted a pile of red peppers near the door. Not the large, regular shaped ones further inside the shop which commanded $7.99/kg, but small, oddly shaped and only $2.99/kg. They seemed fresh enough for my dish, but it was their form which really got me thinking. They called to mind the sensual curves of Edward Weston’s pepper masterpieces of the 1930s, and got me thinking of their use beyond the cooking pot. I sorted through them for the most misshapen examples, and while I was at it decided I could use red onions instead of the regular ones. For dessert, I added a few pears.

The ratatouille was delicious by the way.

Spiraling out of control by Mario Mirabile

I used to be able to look out the window near my desk at work and catch glimpses of Port Phillip Bay, and watch the weather roll in from the south-west. Sadly, I was moved from that spot long ago to a series of desks with far less scenic outlooks. But even if I moved back now, the new construction across the road would completely obstruct any view I might have.

The new building is not without its attractions however. It incorporates an elevated open garden accessed via a broad spiral staircase. It’s extravagantly dubbed the “Sky Garden”, and offers views similar to the ones I used to enjoy from the office before it was built. The real attraction however is the interesting form of the staircase itself. It provides eye-candy of a different sort, and one that looks like it will be interesting to explore thorough the year as the sun finds different ways into the structure.

Shadow play by Mario Mirabile

I just love winter sun. Apart from providing a bit of warmth at an often bleak time of year, its light has a wonderful quality not found in summer. Even at midday, it's diffuse and low in the sky, casting wonderful shadows and creating intriguing patterns which would be flattened by the harsher summer light. It almost makes up for the cold and damp.

A feeling of space by Mario Mirabile

I was recently shopping at my local strip and found myself reflecting on the changes to my suburb since I first moved here more than 25 years ago. I don't think the changes have been for the better, and while I'm not happy with the changed nature and mix of businesses (do we really need THAT many cafes????), my angst is mostly directed at the increasing congestion and bustle. It's not just Bentleigh of course, but Melbourne in general, and there doesn't seem to be any respite, any day of the week or any time of day.

I'm not sure if that feeling has anything to do with a series of pictures I've been making over the last year or so, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's a contributing factor. I call it "Finding Space". The images are sparsely populated, and the people depicted are often dwarfed by their surroundings, creating illusions of wide open spaces and solitude rarely found a modern metropolis. I like to think they speak to our need to have room to breathe and clear our minds in increasingly crowded cities.

Or perhaps they're just a bunch of interesting pictures. At least I hope they are.

Music for the people by Mario Mirabile

Live music venues aren't always about refinement - they're often shabby and lacking in amenities. But there's not too many venues which could compete for grunginess with a little corner of Centre Place, Melbourne. The alcove is scattered with cigarette butts and scraps of litter, and there are often signs of rough sleepers taking shelter there. The street art is tagged and partly covered in peeling posters. Even so, it doesn't seem to be any deterrent to the buskers who frequently ply their trade there. 

It might be the acoustics, but more likely it's the constant stream of punters seeking nourishment in the seemingly endless eateries which line the alley. Whatever the reason, it's a great spot to find some occasional lunchtime entertainment. The grungy backdrop doesn't hurt the pictures, either.

Footy fever by Mario Mirabile

Australians are a people whose passion for sport is renowned, and few sports fire the parochial flames of our sporting passion more than football. Not that odd game played with a round ball, but Australian football. From March to September, a game which attracts only peripheral interest outside Australia (and even in some Australian states) has hordes of loyal fans putting on team colours to cheer their team on. Few, however, demonstrate their loyalty and support like Troy West. Every week of the season, Troy's alter ego Catman emerges from hiding to cheer on his (and my) beloved Geelong Cats to success.

It doesn't always work out, and this week the Cats inexplicably failed to fire. Still, it gave me an opportunity to continue gathering pictures of supporters for a little project I've had bubbling away in the back of my mind for a few weeks. It's called "We are Geelong" and, with more than two hundred individual portraits, hopefully conveys the passion which fires the faithful. 

Even though the Cats failed to fire this week, hopefully next week will be a different story. Either way, Catman and the faithful will be there to show their support. 

A moving experience by Mario Mirabile

Occasionally I like to look through the catalogue of images from our 2016 trip to Italy and Ireland. Of the thousands of pictures I brought back, I haven't worked on more than a few hundred. While I've discarded a lot of obvious duds and duplicates along the way - and could easily discard hundreds more - I'm now reluctant to do so. Occasionally I turn up a gem, like the slowly rocking gondolas near St Mark's, which went unnoticed for more than a year after we got back. It happened again a few months ago when I came across a blurry and somewhat painterly picture of a wet night in Venice.

I have only a vague recollection of taking the shot. I think I was returning to our hotel alone, Trish having deserted me in favour of an opera performance. The two men are approaching me from the direction of our hotel and looking at the result I was probably taken by the light, the outline of their umbrellas and the reflections in the wet flagstones. I doubt I had much time to think about camera settings, and the 1.6 second hand-held exposure was never going to be sharp. In the normal course of events I would probably have deleted the picture in camera as it lacked any of the crisp detail I normally like, but I didn't, and it now stands as one of my favourite pictures from the trip.

In any case, it got me thinking about deliberately introducing camera movement into some pictures and I've been playing around with the idea lately. I've tried photographing relatively static subjects while the world moves around them, keeping pace with my subject through a long exposure and even the old trick of zooming while the shutter is open. It's all good fun and makes a nice change from trying to keep everything pin sharp.

Naturally by Mario Mirabile

I don't shoot as much nature as I used to. I guess my mindset is elsewhere most of the time these days, and nature has become a bit of an opportunistic pastime, rather than an active pursuit. Still, when a subject presents itself, I enjoy both the challenge and the results enormously. Which begs the question of why I don't do it more often. I have no idea, and I really should get out and smell the flowers more often.

Centre stage by Mario Mirabile

Central Melbourne's myriad laneways and alleys were once dirty, dingy and often dangerous, not much more than places to facilitate deliveries and rubbish collection. That's all changed over the past 30 or 40 years as the CBD has become more of a social than business hub. Now, they're lined with street art and bustling with activity. While both tourists and locals flock to places like Hosier Land and ACDC Lane for the art, others byways have become culinary destinations.

Centre Place, off Flinders Lane, is one of the busiest of the dining hot-spots. Aided by its central location, it's bustling from early in the morning till well past the lunchtime peak. Nearly every one of the often tiny storefronts is serving some sort of enticing fare, making it a great place to grab a quick bite, or just settle in for a relaxed meal. The bustle also makes it a great place to watch people, which is what usually takes me there. The food is just a nice bonus.

No parking by Mario Mirabile

When I first arrived at the University of Melbourne in 1977, it seemed vast and imposing, a curious mix of everything from beautiful 19th century sandstone to functional late 20th century concrete. I was not much of an architecture connoisseur, but I felt affection for the sandstone, and was bemused that the ugliest building on campus (now thankfully demolished) housed the architecture faculty. However, there was one structure which fascinated me, and curiously enough it was a carpark.

Under the sprawling South Lawn was the aptly named underground carpark, a striking vaulted space designed to accommodate the roots of trees growing above. The iconic structure has been used as a movie set (the police garage in the original Mad Max), a Master Chef dining room and a fashion catwalk. When empty (not an uncommon occurrence in the 70s), it feels eerie and sepulchral, however I haven't seen it empty for years as the University is active pretty much year-round these days. I was therefore quite surprised to find it vacant on a recent visit, and it turns out that the carpark is going re-purposed. My informant couldn't tell me what the new use will be, or when it will happen, but I've made the most of it over the last few weeks while I still can.