Sydney Unposed

Candid colour people photography

The following is a gallery of street photographs of Sydneysiders, taken between 1998—2008. They are of complete strangers, photographed in the Sydney CBD and suburbs, with little or no interaction from me.

I didn't use a concealed camera, just Leica Ms or a V Series Hasselblad (see the Hasselblad tab above). Each image was taken from about 2½ metres and (mostly) from the front. To keep the results natural and spontaneous, I seldom asked for permission.

Image Gallery


at work

at play

street scenes



About this project

It was done in my spare time and was self-funded. It was created not only for artistic reasons, but also arising from an interest in Sydney cultural and social history. It was originally called Everyday Life in 1998, but it slowly transformed into Sydney Unposed during 2002.

How did I do it?

The 35mm work was done with 50mm or 35mm lenses, while a 80mm or 50mm was used on the 6x6 'Blad. Permission was seldom asked and I never used a concealed camera. If I thought I could get a away with it, I simply took the photo I wanted and then moved on.

Consent? Invasion of privacy?

Neither. See the discussion in my photography legal issues article at <>

Is the project complete?

Nearly. Its heyday was during 2001–2005, but I may add a few more images before wrapping it up. The eventual goal is to publish it in book form and maybe — with a bit of luck — as an exhibition.

Australian Photography July 2004 Article

Australian Photography Magazine published a 2300-word feature about this project called “Suburban Candids: Exploring the portrait world beyond your family and friends” (pp.48-53). To illustrate the text, six of these images were reproduced, two of them full-page. As most Australian libraries have an APM subscription, drop into your local if you want tips on how to shoot this sort of thing.

I originally wrote the article in January 2004, so a few things need updating:

  1. John F Williams' website has moved to a different address at <>
  2. Have a look at Ingeborg Tyssen's 1981 Swimmers Series. It's unlikely anyone could photograph this type of subject today without being arrested!

Cameras & Lenses

Over the last thirty years I have used a large variety of cameras, lens focal lengths, film types (35mm and medium format) and even digital (FourThirds and Micro FourThirds).

Unposed was shot using a 2000 Leica M6TTL rangefinder camera, 2003 Hasselblad 501cm 6x6, 2009 Panasonic Lumix GF-1 or 2008 Leica D-Lux 4. Lenses used were mainly a 50mm Summilux-M and a 35mm Summicron-M ASPH on the Leica; a Zeiss Planar CF 2.8/80 or Zeiss Distagon CFi 4/50 for the Hasselblad; and a Panasonic Lumix G 20mm / ƒ1.7 Pancake on the GF-1.

The joys of using film

For those who are puzzled about the marketing-driven digital churn remark, see The Shape Of Things That Came at The Online Photographer blog, along with Get off The Technology Merry-Go-Round by Sydney Morning Herald photographer Wade Laube.

Sydney Unposed and the critics

My candid photo project usually gets positive feedback, but at the beginning it also attracted a bit of flak. If you want to see what all the fuss was about, see the discussion in my Critics article.


6×6 candids

In August 1999 I bought the book Full Moon, a collection of Apollo Lunar photographs re-scanned and printed by Michael Light.

What surprised me most about the pictures was that almost every moon-walk photo was done using chest-mounted cameras. Unless they wanted to use a 500mm telephoto, the astronauts never raised a camera to their face or even looked through a viewfinder!

Now if NASA could rely on this technique for a once-in-a-lifetime billion-dollar shoot, then it should also work for humbler street photography in Sydney, right? Thus from November 2004 onwards, I ventured forth with my own 'Blad…


Click on an image to view full-size…

The camera used

A second-hand Hasselblad 501cm with an A12 (30212) back, with either a Planar 2.8/80 CF or Distagon 4/50 CFi-FLE. Film was C41 Kodak Portra 400VC or 160VC. Distance from subject(s) was always 2-3m.

As you suspect, the 'Blad was loud and heavy and a PITA to carry around, but the 6×6 image quality and 25 MPix scans made it worthwhile. Surprisingly it didn't seem to attract too much attention either (aside from Lakemba that is…). I guess you could say: Conspicuous is the new Inconspicuous !

What happened in Lakemba?…

My luck finally ran out.

In April 2005 I walked past an outdoor cafe on Haldon Street and paused for a moment to point the 'Blad at some patrons. I continued walking down the street, but a minute later was jumped by a couple of men from the cafe, who angrily objected to being "filmed". Lots of yelling, and one shoved me in the chest while the other yanked the camera from my hands.

In order to retrieve my ($AUD 4000) gear, I had to follow them back to the cafe and endure more verbal abuse. I had to put up with thirty minutes of this, along with threats and lectures on what right you people had photographing them without permission. Eventually with a little luck (and patience and rat-cunning), I managed to get the camera back, sans film. Phew! Other photographers have not been so lucky

After I escaped and calmed down, I shrugged off the incident as yet another piece of racism and religious bigotry in Sydney's Wild West. But then a few months later, I noticed the following in The Bulletin Magazine (16 Aug 2005, at p.21):

Terror Central

Haldon Street, Lakemba, 30 minutes south-west of Sydney's central business district, looks like many other streets in outer-suburban Australia — charcoal chicken and kebab stores competing against each other; grocery shops, a travel centre, [… and] some desultory looking shops remarkable only because they bear signs in the undulating script of Arabic. But talk to almost anyone in Australia's spy community, and something else quickly emerges — it's widely regarded as a stamping ground for some of the most dangerous people in the country.

There are more ASIO officers, ASIO paid informants and undercover agents along this street than any other in Australia. These intelligence operatives regularly visit and monitor the strip to identify any new figures on the scene and to make an ongoing assessment about who are the movers and shakers in the area. […]

And this is where I went to take no-permission, in-yer-face photographs with a loud, clackerty camera the size of a shoe-box?…