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Parramatta photography captures booming, culturally rich city after severe COVID lockdowns

After months of being locked down and singled out as a coronavirus danger zone, Western Sydney is facing the difficult challenge of bouncing back.

Workers required permits to leave their local area, the community had nightly 9pm curfews, defense personnel were on the streets helping enforce restrictions, and a targeted police operation roamed the areas known as the LGAs of concern.

Despite four months of tough restrictions, the community’s spirit was not broken, and people returned enthusiastically to public spaces in droves.

Photographer Cherine Fahd discovered this as she embarked on her photography project at the end of the 107-day lockdown.

“I wasn’t sure whether people would want to participate, whether they’d want to come onto the stage that we created and take photographs with me. And it was incredible,” Fahd said.

One of the multiple photo shoots was held outside Western Sydney Stadium.(Supplied: Cherine Fahd)

“People were really enthusiastic to be part of something creative.”

Setting up photo booths in Parramatta’s public spaces such as Centenary Square and outside Western Sydney Stadium before an Eels game, Fahd captured a cross-section of the community after shooting for more than eight months.

Photographs from Being Together: Parramatta Yearbook (2021–2022) from the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and Parramatta Artists’ Studios are on display in Parramatta’s Centenary Square.

Like a high school yearbook, locals are invited to find themselves in the public artwork.

Parramatta is one of Sydney’s most diverse neighbors. Fahd said the cultural richness that shone in her work came naturally to the project.

A wall of photos and collages in a public square with deep blue skies.
MCA curator Pedro de Almeida says the work puts art outside the typical gallery environment.(Supplied: Cherine Fahd)

“It’s just the people that came and went on the days that we were shooting,” she said.

“Parramatta is diverse, it always has been.”

MCA curator Pedro de Almeida said works like Fahd’s were able to put community front and center outside the typical gallery environment that art usually resided in.

“Fahd has brought her humour and empathy to this year’s project Being Together: Parramatta Years and engaged with Parramatta’s diverse communities,” Mr de Almeida said.

“The result is a special kind of public yearbook that recognises many of the individuals that shape Parramatta’s identity and celebrates the connections shared between them.”

A time capsule of a changing city

Pounding jackhammers, whirring drills, and reversing trucks make up the soundscape of Parramatta’s center as the area is being transformed into a concrete jungle metropolis.

Construction workers pose for a photograph on a work site.
Fahd says her aim was to foreground the people against the rapid development of the city.(Supplied: Cherine Fahd)

Major infrastructure projects, such as the Parramatta Square project and Sydney Metro, promise to rival the Sydney CBD and represent the rapid development of the city.

Fahd sought to capture this change in the project, which included a photo shoot on the construction site of 5 Parramatta Square, where the new council chambers will be housed.

“One of my aims as an artist was to foreground the people against that backdrop of development,” she said.

“I think we get lost in the excitement of architecture and building and the people can get lost in that.”

Lord Mayor of Parramatta City Council Donna Davis said the artwork did a great job of capturing this moment in time for the city.

“This artwork is a wonderful representation of our city and its people at a significant moment in time — not only in terms of the pandemic but also with respect to the physical transformation of the CBD,” Ms Davis said.

A woman in red t-shirt and two men pose at an outdoor photo shoot.  One man has head leaning on the other guy's shoulder.
Fahd says she was not expecting participants to be so willing to take part.(Supplied: Cherine Fahd)

Beginning of lifelong project

Parramatta Yearbook is likely the beginning of a lifelong project for Fahd, who says she would like to take the concept further afield to other places where a strong sense of community binds people together, particularly through hardship.

Fahd brought up the example of Lismore, which was hit by catastrophic flooding earlier this year.

“You could take it regionally, you could take it overseas, take it into other states and capture various communities,” she said.

“Each community will bring something of themselves and something that’s unique.”


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