Swapping cliches for the world’s unknown suburbs

For most travellers, a trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without a snapshot of the Eiffel Tower to post on Facebook or file in a photo album.

Not so for Sydney photographer Louise Hawson. When she visits the French capital – and six other cities – next year, she is determined to avoid the postcard cliches in favour of finding beauty in the suburbs that even the locals don’t know well.

On January 1, Hawson embarks on a year-long venture she’s labelled 52 Suburbs Around the World, a global follow-up to the 52 Suburbs photographic blog and exhibition that took her to a different Sydney suburb each week for a year in 2009 and 2010.

She will begin the year in Hong Kong, before moving on to New Delhi, Istanbul, Paris, Berlin, Rome and New York. The photographer’s “assistant” will be Hawson’s eight-year-old daughter Coco, who has had to forgo a Christmas tree in their Clovelly apartment this year as she watches their home get packed up in preparation for the adventure.

Hawson’s creative difference is her obsession with pairing images to create a diptych that she hopes reveals the nuance of a suburb unnoticed even by those who live there. It requires serendipity and “stumble-upons”, she says, to put together two images that tell a story.

Her favourite diptychs from Sydney’s ‘burbs coupled the Anzac Bridge with a pair of similarly-lined white shoes in Glebe; a mother-and-son in a Lidcombe pool with a decorative church window; and an underwater scene at Clovelly with a multi-coloured carpet.

“The guiding light for all of [the chosen cities] is ‘what are the famous over-photographed cities that people have an instant image of them in their head?’,” Hawson said.

“My mission is to show a more charming and intimate view of those cities because I’m going to suburbs that might surprise people.

“In Sydney I knew of places called Lakemba etc even though I had never been before. This is more difficult.

“I don’t want a great suburb, a beautiful suburb ... my thing is you can find beauty and interest almost everywhere.”

As she did with the Sydney project, Hawson will use social media – including her blog, Facebook page and Twitter – to seek advice from residents of the seven cities and fellow travellers about which little-known suburbs she should photograph.

Her trip has been funded by several corporate sponsors plus 165 donors, many strangers, who donated as little as $10 each through a US-based crowd-funding website. The site allows people to post their fund-raising missions, nominate a target amount (in Hawson’s case, $20,000) and set a deadline to raise the money – if they don’t reach the target, they don’t get a cent.

Hawson is well aware that some people view her venture as a holiday funded by others, but she says she is likely to work 10 hours a day almost every day during the year, and somehow also fit in Coco’s home schooling. She expects a book and an exhibition to be produced from the project.

She says she wakes at 3am wondering ‘‘‘can I do this?’. Her greatest fears about the year ahead are illness and safety issues, plus those inevitable days marked by the tantrums of a frustrated child.

“It’s challenging, but if it wasn’t challenging, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting,” she said.

Traveller will follow Hawson as she photographs 52 Suburbs Around the World. On the last Friday of each month, we will publish her blog, with a photo gallery of selected shots.