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In the early 1970s Sydney photographer Leon Gregory was an aspiring actor who made ends meet by shooting portfolios for his fellow thespians. In his spare time he used his camera in classic street photography style taking photographs of random people that crossed his path.

Little did he know that forty years later his eclectic collection of shots of Sydney’s inner city enclaves – Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Woolloomooloo, The Domain, the City, Glebe and Balmain – taken between 1970-1973 would prove somewhat of a time capsule.

Sitting in a box in the bottom of a wardrobe for decades Gregory’s negatives went untouched “until they were exhumed. I beat the silverfish to them,” he tells me laughing. “I’d hung onto the negatives because I knew I had some reasonable shots but many had never been printed so I decided to bring them into the digital world”.

It was only after digitising the negatives that Gregory discovered that in fact he had amassed quite a collection, which prompted him to send a DVD of images to the State Library of New South Wales, amongst others. Within hours of receipt the Library had acquired a number of Gregory’s images for its permanent collection.

“That was the beginning of this new journey in photography, which is turning out to be fantastic, and has exceeded expectations,” says Gregory adding that it’s better to do it now “because posthumous exhibitions are not that much fun”. I imagine he is winking at the other end of the phone.  

Gregory says he has enjoyed reacquainting himself with the images and the process of trawling through his archive has unearthed treasures he had forgotten and brought old friends home.

“Forty years is a long time, but I have a fairly clear recollection of taking many of these photographs and of the places I went to and the people I spoke with. Often I’d engage with those I photographed and at other times it was more spontaneous. I didn’t think there was anything unusual in what I was doing, it was very much in the street style of Henri Cartier-Bresson, but it was great to rediscover the shots,” he says. “In some ways it is strange to be revisiting something that was done so far back in time and to be getting a new lease on my photographic life from all that work. But it is old enough to be of some historical interest, it has a currency now that it may not have had then, so it is fortuitous. It’s been quite a good adventure.”

At Last – The Seventies
by Leon Gregory
Part of Head On Photo Festival
24 May to 13 June, 2014
Ginkgo Gallery
166 St Johns Road
Glebe (Sydney)

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Leon Gregory
Sydney: Head On Festival
Moshe Rosenzveig, Director

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