Like a lot of big cities around the world, Melbourne has a very distinct district dedicated to its Chinatown. It sits snuggly along Little Bourke Street in between business offices and rows of retails outlets and mega stores. It’s history dates back to the 1850’s. Victoria had a dramatic and bloody history during the gold rush period. Chinese immigrants flocked to Victoria for their chance to strike it rich in the gold fields and to run small business to supply the miners. The Chinese community of the time began buying buildings and land along Little Bourke Street and as the gold rush came to an end – as all gold rushes do – miners returned to the city to seek new avenues of employment.
As a child growing up in Melbourne we never really ventured into the small streets and alleys that make up the district. Or any of Melbourne’s many lanes and smaller places for that matter. We usually stuck to the ‘safe’ main streets on our family outings. For a boy growing up in sheltered suburbia, Chinatown seemed very foreign and a little dark.
Thankfully today, Chinatown is a much-loved and busy destination for tourists and locals seeking the many faces and places of Melbourne. Restaurants, traditional medicine centres, hairdressers, supermarkets, theatres, retailers and tourists outlets line the streets. Alleys and lanes shoot off intermittently to offer passage to other parts of the CBD. And Chinatown seems to have a growing Japanese and Korean culture with amazing Ramen, Gyoza or Korean BBQ restaurants. And if you have read some of my past blogs, you would know how much I love Japanese food!
In a past life, I was a corporate professional who worked only a block away from Chinatown. This was before I took up photography. It was a reliable place to head to when we wanted to have a long lunch or a team event. Quick, reliable, affordable and delicious. All boxes ticked.
As it turns out the series of photos I have included with this blog were taken over two separate days. The first was around midday, mid-week, on a hot yet beautiful Melbourne day of 37 degrees. It was actually the same day that I later attended the Queen Victoria Summer Night Market which I wrote about in my previous blog.
The second was a cooler and overcast day with scattered showers and the occasional break through of the sun. I visited in the evening just before sunset. It was Friday. The golden hour. Lots of people finishing work for the week and heading for home or to grab a bite to eat. I purposely wanted to get a mixed experience of this diverse and vibrant area of Melbourne.
On the first occasion, I had my trusty Fujifilm street kit. A Fujifilm XT-2, a Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 and the Fujinon XF 23mm F2 WR. I would swap between the two lenses for no apparent reason other than to change the perspective of my street work. Both lenses performed beautifully. On the second outing, as it was raining when I left home and the forecast was for showers, I only left with the Fujifilm XT-2 – which is weather resistant – and the XF 23mm F2 WR. It is liberating to head out with just the one body and lens and see what you can achieve. As it turns out all of the images I chose for this blog were shot with the new 23mm f2.
I am now in love with this new 23mm lens. Well and truly. I have the XF 23mm F1.4 and that is a special piece of gear. But this new 23mm F2 is something else. Seemingly a fraction of the weight to its predecessor and when combined with the XT-2 it feels like a union made in camera heaven. A completely lightweight and weather resistant kit ideal for street. Perfect for street work in Melbourne especially as the weather can shift from 38 and sunny to 18 and hail in the same day. Crowded House wrote and sang the song Four Seasons In One Day. It was about Melbourne.
In my previous blog I had talked about how I had tried the recently released Fujinon XF 35mm F2 WR. It didn’t feel completely right for my needs. But having played extensively with the new 23mm F2, I am having second thoughts. That WR is such a huge bonus for outdoor work. Damn you Fujifilm! Anyway, whilst I love the extra stop of light that the F1.4 gives me, the low-light performance of the Fujifilm XT-2 is amazing. The ISO capabilities of this camera far exceed the kinds of low light situations I could work in with my old Canon set up. This system is just so adaptable to anything I throw at it.
On the two trips into Chinatown lighting was a key consideration. The first time was incredibly bright so I had to pay attention to the light and the harsh contrasts and sharp shadows. But on the second trip it was sunset. Chinatown runs along Little Bourke Street and this runs East to West. So the setting sun played a key role in my work that night. Side street and side alley lighting was mysterious at best and I had to be vigilant in ensuring that all of my settings were appropriate. Fortunately, the XT-2 has it all right there in front of you. The lens has an aperture ring that is well marked for necessary stops. ISO, shutter speed and even exposure compensation are all handy and responsive dials on top of the camera body. The best bit, the Electronic View Finder (EVF) and the LCD screen will show a live real-time representation of any change you make to manual settings. Brilliant.
So as the sun sank lower I was either shooting into the sun and making use of silhouettes or was shooting away from the sun and had to be aware of the long shadow I was casting onto the scene. Not always easy to avoid and sometimes it is a fun play on the image to have your own shadow take the stage. It is a good trick if you like the scene but you have no people close by to make it a true street shot. So your shadow gets to play a part. As the sun sank lower Chinatown seemed to just get busier and busier. Restaurants started to get queues out the front and along the footpath and the bars in some of the lanes started to get that familiar roar of a Friday night with everyone debriefing.
The streets of Chinatown in Melbourne have a steady flow like most big city back streets. The lunch hour and the end of the working day are the most fortuitous for street photographers. Deliveries being made to the multitude of restaurants, tourist, office workers in small well dressed packs and of course the characters of Melbourne all make an appearance. I think I fit into that later category.
I am a firm believer in the value of diversity in our community. And Melbourne’s Chinatown has a truly unique and fascinating flavour that has always worked to promote broader levels of acceptance and cultural experiences. I look forward to attending the Chinese New Year festivities in a week or two.
All of the photos in this collection were shot in RAW and later edited in Lightroom. With such a natural focal length of the 35mm and 23mm lenses, the need to edit these images was minimal. A little cropping, perhaps a bit of straightening and the need to increase exposure as I find Fujifilm RAW files quite dark in Lightroom. The finishing touch, the application of Fujifilm presets in Lightroom with all of my images overlaid with the Fujifilm Classic Chrome film simulation. I am really enjoying this film simulation. Happy shooting.