‘Cultural Chernobyl’ is the term that’s been brazenly thrown at the stretch of Elizabeth Street between Campbell and Goulburn Streets. Indeed, walking past the bleak, brown-bricked parking lot as buses gust past missing you by mere inches, it’s difficult to find the subtle beauty in your concrete surroundings. This was until 2012, when a group of artistic conspirators declared guerilla warfare on this urban dead zone.

A group of Fairfax photographers hijacked the wall with a gallery of 40 large-scale works depicting images of the frenetic, diverse and contradictory Sydney life in all its bare glory.

It took weeks of planning by pragmatists and award-winning photographers Dean Sewell, James Brickwood, Nic Walker, James ‘Blondie’ Alcock, George Voulgaropoulos and Andrew Quilty and 12 hours later, the Elizabeth Street Gallery was applauded by the City.

Two years on, the photographs are replaced with a new gallery – this time with a $30,000 City grant to boot. This year, the photos were gathered through submissions drawing on excerpts from more long-form documentary projects and delivered as ‘a gift to the public’. They are all street photos in different areas of Sydney and Australia.

By Daniel Hartley Allen
By Daniel Hartley Allen

The photographs include Andrew Quilty’s Newtown series, which looks at the changing face of the inner west, work by Dean Sewell, as well as newcomers Lyndal Irons (Parramatta Road), Marco Bok (Untitled 2006), and Tom Williams (Neighbourhood), Daniel Hartley-Allen (Kids), Brodie Standen (The Space Between Men) and Josh Robenstone’s (In the Darkest Light). The new set is protected by a graffiti-proof laminate so we can enjoy them unspoiled.

The curators hope to democratise the exhibition by taking it out of a formal gallery space and compensate for the disproportionate amount of advertising on the street. You can check them out just by walking past – and they’re also available for sale.

Subversive by its nature, Elizabeth St Gallery is an important addition to our streets and we thank the photographers for their bravery and long-lasting gift to the City.

Here’s an ABC interview if you’d like to hear more.

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