The Royal Artillery Hotel, better known as The Arthouse, was once upon a time amongst Melbourne’s go-to punk venues. When The Arthouse was forced to close its doors in 2012, photographer Anna Brown was determined to capture the last adventures that took place in the beloved Arty. She wanted to make the closing of the music venue remembered, and thus, she placed her photos taken during this time in her newly released documentation, Parting Shots: The Last Nights of the Arthouse in Mugshots. It truly does capture the final days of the venue in over 1400 portraits, including up-close and personal punters, staff and bands.The Arthouse may have closed its doors, but not before a run of shows including H Block 101, Mindsnare, The Nation Blue and the Smith Street Band. Brown captured them all.Speaker TV had the chance to talk to Anna about the ideas surrounding the mugshot-styled publication and how difficult it was to choose a front cover. She explains what the Arthouse meant to her and why Fugazi shaped her musical being.

Tell us about Parting Shots: The Last Nights of The Arthouse In Mugshots. What was the idea behind it? 

It was an opportunity to produce a body of work featuring people I value and to pay tribute to a venue that has had a big impact on my life.

I also have two small children, they were really young at that stage and I wanted to see bands on the 22nd and on closing night, which was eight days later.  So there was an element of undertaking the project because it would justify me being away from my family for that length of time.

Which is your favourite photo from the series and why?

I don’t have a single favourite.  I’ve got a handful that I think stand alone as great portraits.  I would love to do a complete edit of only the images that I love and present that in a gallery context but it was important to me that every person who chose to stand in front of the camera was included in the book.  I didn’t want this collection of subjects to be exclusive in any way.  I also wanted for the collection to be overwhelmingly vast because I think that helps to make people who were not able to be there, but loved The Arthouse, to feel they could see themselves in the book.

What was the idea behind the mugshot style? 

I liked the idea of making everything but the individual consistent.  I also like that mugshots do not have to be technically perfect to be incredibly interesting. That is a concept that I need reminding of often (I am not the best technical photographer). The book Crooks Like Us by Peter Doyle is full of historical mugshots and I was attached to that like it was my bible. Regardless of blurness or framing, images can be astounding. You don’t need perfect light or a perfect camera or perfect skills to make a very interesting image.

What did the Arty mean to you?

  I lived in Canberra and The Arthouse appeared to be the centre of a cluster of Australian bands I loved in my late teens and early twenties.

How did you decide on the front cover for Parting Shots?

I had the photo of Jack, Matt and Mel’s dog as a working cover for about two years. In the end though, I decided on the portrait of … because I think that defines the best of what I was struggling with over the whole project.  I wanted the subjects to be emerging from black. I wanted it to be seamless. I also love the shape of detail in this portrait. The hair is glorious. 

What kind of music are you most infatuated with? 

I listen to a lot of rap at the moment.  I also still like all of the music I grew up with, most of that was in the Fugazi vein. Fugazi would be the band that I would say defined my late teens and twenties in terms of directing me on to other bands I liked.  They were certainly the first band that kicked me in the guts properly.  Melbourne bands like One Inch Punch/ MYC, Nation Blue, A Death in the Family, Fear Like Us. I like a lot of the bands that spiral out from these members too.  That’s part of the Arthouse mythology too I guess. Batpiss are one of the most exciting bands I’ve seen recently.

From Parting Shots – 2014

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What was the first type of camera you ever bought?

 Something broken and cheap and second hand I think from a pawn shop. My art school had a store room that you could borrow from too. The first digital SLR I bought was a basic model Canon and I got a 50mm fix focus lens with that. That pretty much sold me on digital. It’s still my favourite camera.

What is your opinion on studying photography?

 Art school was a good way to spend my time socially. Studying anything is interesting and worthwhile and if you can dedicate a couple of years to that opportunity, I don’t see any harm in it. I think I could have made better use of the opportunities that were available to me when I was studying. In terms of developing an art practice though, I would say it was kind of destructive for me in a way. I didn’t find my own way and learn how to practice art well until many, many years after art school. I think that’s partly an adjustment to operating in the real world and juggling all of the other aspects of life… 15 years later though, It’s now something that comes very naturally to me.  I can’t think of how academically they could structure it differently to help with that transition, or if it actually even the role of study to prepare you for practice in the real world.

What were some of the hardships faced when you started in photography?

They’re consistently the same. I don’t earn a living as a photographer but it takes up about 50% of my life.  In order to make a living – which I have no doubt I could – I would have to do photography that I am uninterested in. So I have a job I don’t like, I’ve got two kids, I’ve got a mortgage and on top of that, I undertake massive time consuming projects that will never make me any money. Sometimes they don’t even have a receptive audience… haha. I have barely promoted Parting Shots (or sold enough copies to cover costs) and I am already throat deep in another project.

The hardship in my opinion is not being able to stop being creative.

Out of all locations where you have shot, what has been the most interesting?

Having a camera and being a photographer gets you access to all kind of private places and if they are the private places or moments of someone you admire, that’s always overwhelmingly interesting to me.  Parting Shots was the most location-specific project I’ve done and the access and welcome given to me by The Arthouse was an absolute privilege to experience..

I think one of the coolest things is seasonal light change. That’s most obvious to me in the least interesting spot in a way, my home.  All of a sudden something ordinary changes. The kettle sits in a gorgeous glow, the chairs look good. Mundane things and places can be glorious in great light. When you happen to be shooting and light is good for a minute and you catch it, that’s like a dream but it hasn’t happened too much for me. I’m so busy that most of my shoots are scheduled and go ahead regarldess of conditions. Technically, I’m a little hit and miss and it varies as to wether I can make the most of that…

Who is one of your photography idols and what makes them so special to you?

Carol Jerrems is my number one.  I think because I’ve learnt so much from the way she conducted herself.  The Vale Street #2 image is an all time favourite.

The documentary Girl in the Mirror is just exceptional. They walk you through the shoot where Carol took that image. It had a massive impact on how I approach photographing people. The ideas of waiting out the awkwardness to a point of stillness, and as a reminder that there is no need to make a subject feel comfortable to get a good image. I love the tension in her work. It’s really honest and her bravery as a photographer really comes through. I’m jealous of how brave she was.

Trent Parke is also an all time favourite. His braveness too but you can’t not think about light when you look at his work. The Minutes to Midnight Series is phenomenal.

Could you please share one of your favourites from your idol’s archive? 

Vale St by Carol Jerrems

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Samuel Beckett by Jane Bown

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What’s next on the agenda, Anna?

I’m currently working on a business called The Barbelle Club. It’s an umbrella idea that combines aspects of commercial photography (one which I can tolerate doing) and my love of weightlifting.

I’ve got some thought of getting back to an earlier series of portraits of Australian comic artists, called Light vs Line.

And finally, what are your top 7 personal favourite (own shots) photos?

I always am hot for what I’m working on at the moment, but here some old favourites in no particular order.

Untitled-2012

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Self portrait – 2009

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Beached Whale – 2010

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Fugazi -1996

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From Parting Shots – 2014

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Leigh Rigozzi – from the Light vs Line series

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Purchase ‘Parting Shots’ from Parrot Press here.