A tail to tell

“EVERYBODY has a backstory” and artist Alun Bartsch brings his subjects’ tales into focus in his first solo photography exhibition Backstories.

Bartsch, a Coolbinia local, had a 30-year career in advertising and now works in TV and film production. Work has taken him around the world, to Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece, China, and back here. 

Between the carefully curated commercial shoots he walks the cities to find human subjects for his more impromptu creative work, reportage-style street photography.

Bartsch, who describes himself as “a writer with a passion for photography. Or perhaps a photographer with a passion for writing” isn’t content to let the picture tell the story alone: He pens captions for each image, elucidating their stories and struggles in a few stark sentences. 


The subjects are varied, but often humble: A Sicilian barber of 65 years’ experience who served generations of Randazzo men, a fishermen’s net maker in Denpasar, a seasoned Aboriginal stockman in Broome.

For his first exhibition Bartsch has collected a retrospective of his street photography images – the happenstance backstories he stumbled across – paired with a new series of curated characters chosen specifically for their backstories. 

There’s an antiquarian bookseller losing his eyesight, a woman tattooed with a vengeful fictional character in an act of empowerment after childhood trauma, and a ballerina on crutches as her career is put on hold for a knee reconstruction.

They’re all shot from behind. No “back” story intended, Bartsch says: He finds the photos from behind, relying on a single pose or prop pointing to the backstory, removes the distraction of faces and expressions.

In shooting these new characters, Bartsch has kept some of the serendipitous elements of his street photography to keep the images raw and the people real. 

He uses no lighting setup, only whatever ever-changing available light is around. There’s no photoshopping, and he shoots in monochrome; he believes black and white better captures emotion, and colour can distract from stories.

Backstories runs April 21 to May 12 at Gallery Central at 12 Aberdeen Street Northbridge, with a performance on April 29 featuring music from The Drowners and Paloma. 


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