What do you see when looking at the edge of an office building in Russell? Probably not a wall feature in Spain. But despite the fact they are a world apart, put them together and you can’t un-see it.
Photographer Mel Edwards has taken it upon herself to draw these connections between random Canberra scenes and places from around the world.
It started with a Tumblr account, then an Instagram account, and now there’s a new book full of the surprises entitled Nah, It’s Canberra: Destination Déjà Vu.
Mel describes her work in simple terms as “a picture of a place with a caption and a revelation”.
For instance, a photo of the cube display in Civic is accompanied by a caption describing it as “Kubik Berlin, an installation open-air nightclub that consists of dozens of illuminated water tanks”.
This is followed by a second caption.
“Nah, it’s Illumicube, a movement-activated commemoration of 25 years of electricity supply.”
The “full-colour, page-turn-able, front- and back-covered book” includes 238 such images from 116 locations across the ACT.
Mel hails from New Zealand, but moved to Canberra in 2011 for a job as a design consultant. She grew to know the ins and outs of the local region as she and her business partner, a born and bred Canberran, traipsed through the Territory for work.
“I reckon 70 per cent of the images were taken when we were working, cycling, socialising or commuting,” she says.
Mel even learned the lingo.
“Ten per cent of the images I can connect to two of my friends, who shared with me all the national parks, emerging Gungahlin landscapes, kids’ areas and playgrounds as their family grew and they moved from ‘Tuggi’ [Tuggeranong] to ‘Gunners’ [Gungahlin],” she says.
Mel would come across a view that would remind her of somewhere else, whether from a movie, TV, art or her own experience. She describes it as her “own self-generated deja vu“.
“I’d take the picture with my iPhone and then Google its description – this was before reverse-image search days,” she says. “Sometimes I would find nothing. Or I would find something vaguely related and then research deeper until I was satisfied with the reference and caption accuracy.”
The challenge to change the perception of Canberra’s drove Mel to the camera. She describes the national capital as an amazing place that is much maligned by locals and nonlocals.
“When I would be out of town and people asked where I lived and I said ‘Canberra’, the look of pity or aversion made me kind of mad,” she says.
“As if the place name and it’s political connection dismissed or erased the existence of people making their lives there, growing there, moving there, having enjoyable times, having challenging times, and having an amazing international art collection, for goodness sake!”
Mel says her home is Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, but describes the 10 years she spent here as an incredible experience.
“I still have strong ties to Canberra and I have a place in Australia,” he says. “With the [COVID-19] bubble and vaccination status, it will be difficult to easily do the back and forth that I used to for 10 years. But I never say never.”
Nah, It’s Canberra is still hot off the press, but there are already plans for a second volume.
“I used 238 images for this book and I have about 800 or so left,” says Mel. “Another book is certainly possible if this one does well and there is interest.”
Nah, It’s Canberra: Destination Déjà Vu is available for purchase online for $45, plus shipping.