Photography by Pani Paul

photographs of adolescence in small town australia

'Brunswick Heads' captures a group of guys navigating adolescence and masculinity by the local swimming hole.

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Jul 20 2018, 4:56am

Photography by Pani Paul

After years of living in London, Australian photographer Pani Paul visited his hometown of Byron Bay, a sub-tropical tourist town that draws visitors internationally. During this time he found a new perspective of the landscape he once knew intimately. With fresh eyes he created his latest series Brunswick Heads, the documentation of a group of adolescent boys living in a small town close near Byron.

Shot in a mere 45 minutes, Pani captures the boys in simple, clean and constant style. While at first glance the crew of boys appear confrontational, Pani creates a sense of gentleness, asking the viewer to think about societal perceptions of masculinity.

Originally published by Palm Studios, one of the photographs from the series recently won the judges award in Bloom Publishing’s competition, OPEN. We caught up with Pani to chat about photographing home, boys club mentality and his fascination with adolescence.

What is your series ‘Brunswick Heads’ about?
For me this series is purely nostalgic. I wanted the pictures to be timeless and unrecognisable. I wanted the images to look like they could have been taken 30 years ago.

Is Brunswick Heads a place where you have spent a lot of time?
I grew up in the same area and swam in the same river. These kids reminded me a lot of what my friends and I where doing at that age. This project is special for me because since I moved away I never had any interest in photographing where I grew up. I couldn’t shake the familiarity. I feel like I have finally been away long enough to see it with fresh eyes. Now it’s one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

Who are the group of guys in the photos?
I didn’t know them when I approached them. I just saw them all jumping off the bridge and thought they looked like a cool bunch of kids, so I asked them if I could take some pictures and they were really up for it. Also, I really liked their haircuts.

Was the intention of the series to look at adolescent masculinity?
I had no intentions of portraying masculinity with this project, but these connotations are kind of inevitable when photographing a group of young guys. It was such a brief encounter. We only spent about 45 minutes together. I wanted to capture this particular moment and be able to give them photographs they could look at in 10 years and be happy that someone took the time to document them.

Growing up did you feel pressure to be overtly masculine?
Not particularly. I had a very liberal upbringing, my parents were very alternative. But I guess any young man feels pressure to conform to certain societal standards of masculinity.

Most of your photographs feature adolescent guys, is that something you are particularly fascinated with?
Adolescence, in general, I find really interesting. I think it's the most genuine time in someone's life to photograph. Finding the moment before they start to become too self-aware. With all the new pressures of social media I think kids start considering their personal image way earlier on.

You’re one half of a duo, Lola & Pani . What is the best and worst thing about collaborating with your partner?
It’s great working together. Especially when working on a client based job where we can have more of an open dialogue between us and bounce ideas off each other. I really don’t see any downsides to it.

Do you prefer digital or film?
Both serve a purpose, but I prefer film.

What advice would you give to a young photographer starting their career?
Try to find something that’s special to you and incorporate it into your work. Don’t try to please anyone by taking pictures that look a certain way, because you think a certain person/client/magazine will like it.