Simon Terrill’s photographs at Sutton Gallery suggest traces of crowds, often on the cusp of total invisibility. The works are made through multiple exposures on a single negative so that densely populated spaces initially seem uninhabited. Take Arsenal v Fenerbahce for instance. At first glance, the photograph suggests an empty thoroughfare until the subtlest gradations of colour and movement reveal themselves as the residue of a teeming mass of footie fans. This tension between presence and absence is at once unsettling and beautiful.
The show’s highlight however is a large-scale photograph entitled Balfron Tower (above) that features a Brutalist public housing block in London’s East End. Despite the imposing monumentality of the architecture, described by its designer Erno Goldfinger as imparting ‘a delicate sense of terror’, the mood of the photograph is buoyant. In contrast to the apparent emptiness of the show’s other images, the physical presence of Balfron Tower’s occupants was crucial to the realisation of the work. Terrill flood-lit the site and used a sound cue to alert his subjects of the forthcoming shot. At liberty to present themselves as they pleased, the inhabitants emerged in celebration. They performed, they danced, they played. By promoting and documenting this hearty sense of community, Terrill challenges preconceptions about public housing and its occupants.
Through his Erased Crowd photographs and carefully constructed large-scale scenes, Terrill uses the absence and presence of humankind to explore complex interrelationships between public and private space and how we choose to inhabit it.
Simon Terrill, Phantom, Sutton Gallery, 254 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, Melbourne, until May 28th.