Bondi beyond the glamour

Photographer Jonathan Armstrong has explored different facets of Bondi.

LONG-time Bondi local and photographer Jonathan Armstrong’s latest work portrays a side of the suburb that looks beyond the famous beach, sunbathers, surfers, skateboarders and “smashed avocado- eating hipsters”.

“It has often struck me that the gritty, grungy side of Bondi is less well-known,” Armstrong told The AJN.

“I wanted to curate some images that represented the eclectic nature of Bondi and inject some balance into the narrative about the suburb.”

Armstrong, whose parents are the well-known Jewish author and Holocaust survivor Diane Armstrong, and avid photographer Michael Armstrong (who died in 2011), is featuring his photos in his first solo exhibition, #Whatistherealbondi, which opened at the Bondi Pavilion Gallery on December 5.

They depict a contrasting range of striking, quirky and poignant images that highlight Bondi’s unpretentious past, rooted in its late 19th century history as an unglamorous working-class suburb.

“I hope people will resist the temptation to stereotype Bondi – I would like them to explore the back streets and see that Bondi has a complex, multi-faceted identity,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong was a finalist in the City of Sydney’s Australian Life exhibition in Hyde Park in September and was also a finalist in the prestigious Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize in 2015. He won the award for the highest scoring print at the 2015 Australian Institute of Professional Photography NSW State Awards.

Armstrong takes some of his most emotionally-striking shots by approaching strangers and starting up a conversation with people on the streets doing it tough.

“There’s a nice story about the homeless guy, Michael,” commented Armstrong. “Even though some people fall through the cracks, like Michael and a few other homeless people I know in Bondi, they’re just as much part of our community, and deserve the same respect as we have for our own friends.

“My daughter Sarah and I were checking in on Michael and we ended up having an interesting conversation … I took a portrait of him during that conversation because I felt that we had a strong connection.”

Asked if there are Jewish themes woven through his work, the photographer thoughtfully commented: “I think that growing up as a child of a Holocaust survivor I have a strong sense of community responsibility and hopefully a compassionate, tolerant and respectful view of people regardless of whether they’re on the fringes or in the mainstream.”

Armstrong hopes the exhibition will be a starting point to a conversation that engages the community.

Visitors are encouraged to attend the exhibition and participate by posting their own defining Bondi image at #whatistherealbondi or sharing their thoughts at the exhibition.
The #whatistherealbondi exhibition is at the Bondi Pavilion Gallery, Bondi Beach, from December 5-17.

REPORT by Sophie Deutsch.