Interview with Picturing Footscray 2022 winner Jessica Nem Singh duPlessis, by Peter Wingate
Congratulations on winning first place in Picturing Footscray 2022. Firstly, many inner westies have thought about getting out there to take photos of their beloved Footscray and entering this prestigious competition, but what made you actually do it?
Firstly, I feel so happy and honoured that my photo was chosen as the winning photo for Picturing Footscray 2022. My husband and I are avid photographers. It’s probably the thing that we look forward to doing the most when travelling (aside from the food and meeting the local people). He was the one that heard of the competition through social media and we both decided to enter in it. We had a look at the past winners to gain some inspiration but also see what new photos/perspectives we could take of Footscray. We made sure to set aside 2 weekends to just photograph Footscray. Being a local to the area, we wanted to capture our love for the place and share with others what meaning this place holds for us.
Your winning photo is (to me) quite powerful and poignant, with a very strong modern minimalist aesthetic. There’s quite a few layers to what is quite a simple, everyday scene; a carpark with graffiti on it. How would you describe what you have captured and what makes it meaningful to you?
When I was thinking about the possible ways I wanted to showcase Footscray through a photograph, something that the judges said last year really resonated with me. They mentioned that the photo should be more than just the image itself – it should tell a story – and make the viewer ‘look twice’. I think that the photo that I have captured has managed to do this too. At first glance, the photo is just a simple photo of a brick wall at a carpark. However, if you really look closely, you can clearly see that central to the photograph is the message on the wall. I wanted the audience to be able to put the pieces together, interpret the photo and realise the meaning behind it. I wanted to see if other people also saw and interpreted the photo as I did. To me, there is something very powerful in the stark-white, built environment which has been constructed on top of borrowed land.
The ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ graffitied slogan that you captured is very meaningful and highly charged. What does it mean to you in the context that you photographed it, and also more generally?
Being a migrant, I need to acknowledge the rich Aboriginal history that needs to always be remembered and celebrated. We celebrate so many different cultures and traditions in Footscray but seem to forget about our First Nations Peoples. This phrase is very powerful as it originates from Aboriginal land rights movement. It is always important to remind myself that although I do call this place ‘home’, I am still on borrowed land.
I mentioned that I loved the minimalistic everyday aesthetic of your winning photo. How do you think this modern aesthetic adds to the power of your image, particularly as it seems to juxtapose the timeless notion of the slogan captured?
I think for me, it was very powerful to see this message as it hit the core of what Footscray is all about. Footscray is constantly changing in terms of its people and the built environment around us. The photo shows a new car park with modern cars adds meaning to the image, as no matter how fast the changes occur in Footscray, we need to slow down and remind ourselves that THIS IS Aboriginal Land: Always Was, Always Will Be.
Finally, what’s your personal take on our indigenous people’s struggle for truth and justice and how this is playing out?
Being a Filipino-Australian, I cannot speak for First Nations People as I do not have the lived-experiences they have. I can only play my part as an ally and continue to empathise with their continued struggle for truth and justice. For me, I need to always be reflective about my privileges of being able to call this place ‘home’. That means continually educating myself to understand the ongoing impacts that colonialism has had and continues to have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
First prize: Jessica DuPlessis – Always Was, Always Will Be: Land of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and the Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation
Footscray has an amazingly rich multicultural history. A diverse group of people from different walks of life call this place home. Stepping out from the car, this glaring white wall reveals a sign; a humbling reminder that sovereignty has never been ceded. Always was, always will be, Aboriginal Land.
Second prize: Matto Lucas – (A Few) Colourful Faces of Footscray
In December 2021 to January 2022 I was lucky enough to sit an Artsbox residency at the Footscray Library, which was such an incredible experience, especially coming out of lockdown. Meeting so many locals and colourful people reaffirmed my passion for this suburb and being able to take their portraits and transform with paint into a piece of pop art canonizes our neighbourhood.
Student prize: Manon Keown (student at Northern College of Art and Technology) – Now and then
Reflecting on the convergence of old and new at the Franco Cozzo building in Shelley St Footscray.
Third prize: Sarah Schubert – Looking down
Footscray market is one of my favourite places in Footscray. So vibrant, with so many sights, angles and sounds. I like this view because it’s a bit different.