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Don Arnold’s award as Getty’s Australasian Entertainment Photographer of the year for 2019, confirmed his place as one of the world-wide photo platform’s leading Australian photographers.
The Great Lockdown of 2020 was as sudden as it was complete. It instantly catapulted thousands of creative professionals into a grown-up’s game of musical chairs. Arnold found himself reflexively figuring out how best to grab a chair to reupholster rapidly; ready for a future that was yet to arrive.
No one knew what the future held, but most agreed it would be very different. Arnold used the lockdown to undertake a series of longer projects, who's outcomes were capable of extending the uses of his usual output.
Chris Kavvalos, champion body builder, during the lockdown, worked with Arnold on a series of formal dawn poses at Little Bay, on the Sydney coastline. Arnold also followed Kavvalos as he worked-out alone, in an empty gym. As the reigning overall and heavyweight winner of the 2019 IFBB Australian Arnold Classic, Kavvalos was ensuring he maintained his competitiveness, for when the lockdown lifted.
Looking to survive
When the lockdown hit, the pressing question for creative professionals everywhere, was how best to survive the initial shock. Arnold knew that his extensive back-catalogue of over 100,000 commercially-available images would keep ticking over for him. And although reduced, he could also count on the lingering demand to cover on-going news-related events.
Before the lockdown, Arnold would be predictably darting across Sydney, shooting all manner of openings, concerts and red-carpet photo calls, as well as theatrical and cultural previews. A quiet day would find him topping-up his rogues’ gallery, drawn from the daily churn of the District Courts.
The lockdown began to ease after ten weeks. By then, viewed through a rear-vision mirror, Arnold’s previous professional beat appeared as a frozen and fading mirage. It’s hard to say which bits will return.
Even before the lockdown, the media sectors where Arnold’s work regularly appears, were already undergoing long-term structural changes. At the same time, newer distribution channels and platforms had been emerging and expanding. Quite suddenly the steady pace of Darwinian evolution jumped to warp-speed. Familiar mastheads and older magazines disappeared mid-sentence. Some hung their hopes on digital future. With too much to know, subscriptions for news sites ballooned. However, advertising revenue failed to follow. Maybe the lack of financial follow-through foretold the underlying recession that still awaited.
Maxi Shield, popular Oxford Street drag artiste, broadcasting to her online audience live from Darlinghurst's Oxford Hotel—home to a regular gig. With all venues closed during the lockdown, Maxi quickly started-up her own live instagram chat show, "Maxi's Couch Potato". She relished taking her audience on-line, staying connected with them through the isolation.
Looking to thrive
But if Arnold wanted to thrive once the lockdown had passed, he knew he needed to pivot—one of the words of the pandemic—and in real-time. This meant embracing new approaches and reaching for expanded outcomes. Like all who undertook a pandemic pivot, there were no guarantees of later payoffs. Maybe this is how innovation unfolds at the coal face? It certainly requires intuition and practical intelligence. And few creative professionals could wait for a government grant or an industry review.
Arnold took the opportunity of additional time on his hands, to create a series of longer photo-stories. These are more adaptable for a broader range of uses than the more singular images he routinely collected from the quickly canned slate of curated events—the openings, closings and celebrities. These fell through a hangman's drop—before anyone noticed—taking with them a retinue of important somebodies—with no recourse for appeal.
Catherine Alcorn and Roger Corser co-hosted "The Reservoir Room"—a live streamed variety show. It bought together producers, directors, performers, technical and marketing people to create a sustainable web-based format requiring on-line, pre-paid bookings. The 45 minute show broadcast live on Friday and Saturday nights, once easing restrictions allowed for up to ten people in a studio. (Below, right: cabaret singer, Tim Draxel)
A lockdown record
As the lockdown progressed, Arnold followed a number of creative professionals and sportspeople as they similarly struck out on their particular and unfamiliar paths. Each series includes the sort of standard portrait images Arnold may have taken at countless curated events over the years. Editors love these as anchors to a fuller treatment. The deeper story becomes apparent through a series of more intimate reportage-style images. These show Arnold’s collaborators as they progress; putting together their own particular pivots. In these images, the subjects betray little concern for the camera's gaze. These reportage-style images impart, more authentically, the distinct personalities, capabilities and passions at play.
As he undertook the series, Arnold constructed several hero-style images of his collaborators. These images serve wonderfully as editorial openers, summarising the spirit of the content. They almost write their own headline. Such set ups succeed with the rapport that builds from working together over an extended period. Both involved are conscious of the camera and its capacities for striking image making. The resulting images declare boldly and together, the virtuosity of both photographer and subject.
Heath Keating, dancer, instructor and musical theatre performer, worked with Arnold on some formal poses after holding a zoomed dance class for his regular clients. Arnold followed Keating as he presented his live class from the shoreline of Blackwattle Bay, near the ANZAC Bridge, in Sydney Harbour.
Viewed as a whole, Arnold’s Lockdown Photo Series is a record of how a band of sports and creative professionals—including himself— wove their various paths through a life-changing period. As the lockdown eased, the future remained uncertain. But Arnold and his subjects had refigured their capabilities to better position themselves for when the future arrives.
Below: Don Arnold
Photo: Lisa Maree Williams