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Sydney flood destroys photo studio

Sydney-based fine art and commercial photographer, Simon Harsent, has had up to 100 prints destroyed by flood waters that entered his Marrickville studio on Sunday night.

Things went from bad to worst in just 20 minutes. Photo: Simon Harsent. Source: SMH.

The sustained east coast low brought heavy rainfall across parts of NSW, and while a welcome relief for fire fighters and drought-stricken areas, the deluge caused chaos across Sydney.

The award-winning photographer checked on his Buckley Street studio around 5pm and cleared the drains, which are prone to blockages. Everything seemed okay, but two hours later he dropped passed to find water seeping  through the roller door at the back of the building.

‘I came back at 7pm and the water was moving up the studio floor, just creeping in,’ he told Inside Imaging. ‘I tried to put sandbags down and bail it out, but you’re pouring water down the sink and it’s just going to go straight to the drain that’s overflowing.’

The water began moving more aggressively through the back, and then the front of the studio breached. Preventing the flood now seemed hopeless, so Simon began to salvage what he could.

The front of Buckley Street.

‘There was no chance. Buses were ploughing down the street, as well as sightseers in cars, creating a wake that pushed water in the studio,’ he said. ‘I got the power off as quickly as I could – the water was getting close to the electrical sockets. The emergency work lights came on, and I got my hard drives and camera gear out. We were there for about an hour before the lights died so we got out of there.’

The flood reached around knee height, and entered the store room which contained between 80 and 100 prints from Simon’s last four solo exhibitions – Melt, GBH, The Beautiful Game, The Horizon Leans Forward, The Tears of Hinehukatere.  Other miscellaneous prints from group shows were also destroyed.

Melt is a series that represents the creation and the ending of an iceberg in photos, taking viewers on a journey over an iceberg’s life span; The Horizon Leans Forward are photos captured during Melt but didn’t quiet fit into the larger body of work; The Tears of Hinehukatere are stunning aerial photos of the Franz Joseph glacier in New Zealand; GBH (Great Britons Hooligans) is a series of intimate portraits of disenfranchised men dubbed by the media as football hooligans; and The Beautiful Game is a series of photos of rusty and rundown soccer pitches in the UK, where Simon was born.

‘We returned at about midnight to salvage what we could. I had prints on the wall of my office, including an original Sebastião Salgado, David Bailey and others. They were part of my collection, and I managed to save them from the humidity affect that would set in.’

While Simon’s studio is insured, it’s not covered for flood damage. One hard drive was also lost. It had old work on it, and he’ll eventually figure out what was on it when he goes looking for the work.

‘I just moved my base back to America around three years ago, so I have a bunch of stuff in storage in the States and it may be backed up. I also lost a few negs. I’ve been shooting a project on Marrickville recently, shooting everything on black-and-white neg. Luckily I managed to save that. It would have been quite ironic if I lost it. But anyways, what can you do?’

Simon was born in the UK and lives between Sydney and New York. The studio space was shared with his wife, a hairdresser, and son, a musician. They also lost a significant amount of items.

‘It’s a place where the three of us work in harmony,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘I don’t even know whether to laugh or cry to be honest with you.’

Reflecting on the flood and what he’s lost, Simon’s staying positive. If he wasn’t at the studio on the night, he may have lost everything. And when considering the recent natural disasters gripping Australia, he’s not so bad off after all.

‘I’ve been out documenting some of the bushfire affected areas in Kangaroo Valley, you see the devastation out there and there are people in a lot worse situations than me,’ he said. ‘We’re all alive. You just suck it up and go again, that’s all you can do.’

Simon moved to Sydney in 1987. As well as shooting commercial photography and undertaking fine art project, he also directs TV commercials and is a co-founder of The Pool Collective. A diehard football (soccer) fan, Simon found what’s most devastating is the loss of irreplaceable memorabilia – old football programs, tickets, and souvenirs.

‘There the things you pull out and it almost brings you to tears because it’s sentimental. But there’s lots of people worse off than me, so it’s a matter of sucking it up.’

He estimates the clean up will take a couple of weeks, and he’s then going to move into a new studio space. On a hill.

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