Saturday, 14 December 2019

Sydney fireworks, New Year’s Eve

The first five photos in the 42 images that follow were taken at the end of 2008 from the north side of Sydney Harbour from a vantage point near Luna Park. These images, taken while I was facing southeast, shows the final, stunning, release of explosives into the air above the bridge. This is the usual kind of photo that you see when people shoot fireworks. There is nothing remarkable about these images or what they contain.

The second lot of five photos were taken a year earlier, during the kids’ fireworks display on the final day of 2007. This display starts at 9pm. The remaining 32 photos were made during the fireworks that erupted at around midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2007. These 37 photos are the images that interest me because of what they say – when compared to the more conventional photos I would take a year later – about my state of mind at the time.

2008 was a difficult year, one that included a period of several months of extreme suffering followed by recovery to equilibrium. That year at work I had a new manager, Anita Hoving who, it seemed to me, had, at some point in my career in the organisation, taken a dislike to me. I had a mental breakdown though somehow kept my job.

The three months leading up to October were cataclysmic, as the nature of the later photos shown in this post demonstrates. It is symptomatic of how I was, in myself, before and after this crisis that the 2007 photos are more experimental. I was deliberately trying to achieve unusual effects whereas a year later I was happy to go with the flow. I had been schooled by experience. Suffering dulls creativity.


The thing about fireworks is the way they provide the illusion of destruction and the final photos shown below convey some of the feelings that you might have if you were watching something being destroyed. There is a feeling of awe rather than, in the case of the first five photos, less complex feelings such as can be inspired if we see something that is merely beautiful. The armaments mounted by professionals on the bridge can create, if seen in a certain way, a form of spectacle informed by horror. Hence our delight; Edmund Burke reflected on this in an essay he wrote in the mid-18th century that was published in 1757, two years before the British would take Montreal and less than a generation before the American Revolution happened (the two events are decisively linked).

People can be inspired by a suggestion of ruin that accompanies the end of the calendar year, and by its corollary: rebirth. Death as the origin of life is an old trope and it reminds us of one of the critical aspects of reproduction. Physical release can be transcendent not just once but twice, the second time in the fact of children, who can bring you – once the difficulties of youth are overcome – a great deal of enjoyment. They can also provide a source of comfort in old age and, of course, they live on after you are dead (everything else being equal). Immortality is a kind of transcendence that, in this proxy form, can be achieved by most people.

For the 9pm shots I was down under the Harbour Bridge in the Rocks (at Dawes Point, to be precise) looking up through the supporting beams of that august structure. Then with a friend I moved up the hill to Observatory Hill next to the motorway that feeds the bridge’s span. On the grass hundreds of people, some with video cameras, were watching the display. Others wore lights they had bought from street touts who flog this kind of stuff at such events. The photos taken from this vantage point were taken facing north, with one taken by turning around and looking at the city’s skyscrapers.

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