Exhibition Review: Shopkeepers of Newtown by Nic Bezzina


State Library of NSW
Until 10 May 2015

Review by Andrew Taylor

The werewolf masks and bloodied nurse uniforms in the window display are some of the tamer items you will find in Sharon Hacker’s costume shop on Newtown’s Gothic Mile.

“I put the more alternative things to the back of the store,” she says. “All the rave wear and gas masks and goggles.”

She has dressed a colourful cast of characters since she opened In Visible Light on Enmore Road in Sydney’s inner west 19 years ago. “We always have costuming but we also cater a lot to the rave and dance party scenes,” she says. “We do the fluffies and the little neko kids that have the cat ears.”

Hacker is one of 50 shop owners photographed by Nic Bezzina for his Shopkeepers of Newtown exhibition at the State Library of NSW. Hatters and hairdressers, florists, fruiterers and fetishwear sellers feature in the show and self-published book, which document the eclectic retail strip centred on King Street.

Chain retailers and frozen yoghurt shops were not part of his focus. “I was really looking for people who were attached to their shop,” he says. “It was their baby, they’d raised it up, it was their idea.”

Over four years, Bezzina sought out retailers willing to share their story and be photographed. What started as a project to beef up his portfolio grew into a social history of the suburb, as told by its shopkeepers.

There is no shortage of flamboyant personalities in Bezzina’s exhibition, ranging from Julio Proano, who serenades customers as they try on Panama hats in his Caramba hattery, to John Crowl, the owner of Cow & the Moon, whose artisan gelato was voted the world’s best earlier this year.

One of the most familiar faces in Bezzina’s exhibition is Bob Gould, the irascible owner of Gould’s Book Arcade, who died in 2011. Gould’s daughter, Natalie, describes her father as a hoarder who loved books and was opposed to censorship. “He also sold porn,” she says. “Bob was a socialist all his life and the most well-read person that I have ever met.”

Bezzina admits he was apprehensive when he first approached Gould. “I didn’t know how he would react to the proposition but I was really surprised,” Bezzina says. “He was really interested in the project.”

More at The Age

Photograph reproduced here:

Emma-Lee Court, The Makeup Wardrobe by Nic Bezzina.

Inkjet print