Physie is an unknown for most of us, but for those that partake in it, it’s incredibly popular. Lyndal Irons set out to capture this unique sport in an honest way, whilst digging a little deeper towards understanding what the fuck Physie actually is.
Physie is currently on display at The State Library of New South Wales, check it here: www.sl.nsw.gov.au/events/exhibitions/2015/physie/index.html
We have published a portion of Lyndal’s exceptional On Parramatta Road, in conjunction with the Elizabeth Street Gallery that you can check here: flintmag.com/parramatta-road/
Flint caught up with Lyndal to discuss the wondrous world of Physie.
F: Tell us about Physie?
LI: Physie is a documentary photography series about a significant but little understood Australian sport. I followed three months of competition from the suburbs to the Opera House and Olympic Sports Centre in order to shed light on the physie universe – which is really a world of its own, populated by thousands of Australian women from all walks of life.
F: What was the inspiration behind delving into the world of Physie?
LI: No sport has a history as interesting as the Bjelke Petersen School of Physical Culture. It is uniquely Australian and one of our oldest sporting institutions, having started in Tasmania in 1892 by Hans Christian Bjelke Petersen. During its 120-year history it has made an almost complete turn around from its roots as a strictly male medical gymnasium to a entirely female dance phenomenon. In such a sports obsessed culture, I think it’s interesting that a 120-year-old sport is still relatively unknown. I think it is interesting that it hasn’t professionalized throughout that time. And it has amazing ingredients for a photographer, costume, tension, drama, and competition. I’d started shooting a few long-term projects before I began work on Physie and I needed something that would be complete in a comparatively short amount of time. Complete whether I was ready or not.
F: It’s interesting that what was once a male dominated sport is now completely female. Are there many men still interested in Physie?
LI: They actually tried to re-include men a few years ago but it didn’t work out. It has become so totally dominated by females that it is now quite hard, I think, to make space for men. That said, I’ve enjoyed hearing/reading some men comment on this show, saying, “Why can’t I do physie?”. Maybe men will make a come back yet. It will be tough work for them to make it to the Opera House against these women though. They are going to have to be really committed.
F: Was it cathartic to go back to Physie?
LI: I wasn’t there for long enough as a child to really feel a need to “go back”. It was more of an interesting discovery to find in my past than a part of my past I needed to go back to. I never made it to competitions either so all that was completely new to me.
F: You have an honest way of photographing your subjects, what are the driving influences to your style?
LI: Probably a belief that the world is pretty interesting as it is. I’m not against using nice light and other means of making photos easy to look at. But I also think that interesting things happen in bad light – in all types of situations – and you shouldn’t discriminate. You don’t always have to transform the world through your camera – it’s already pretty amazing (if you pick the right subject and shoot it attentively).
Inevitably your instincts in framing and composition, editing choices and the parts of the world that you are drawn to form some sort of style. But I try not to impose my view too much on my subject or pre-decide an aesthetic before I shoot. I usually know when a series is working by a certain synchronicity that starts to occur, not by the pictures. Pictures tend to be there when the narrative starts working. And I like it best when the people I am shooting can recognise their own experiences clearly in my shots. They don’t have to always be distinctly flattering but they have to ring true in some way.
F: How did you get involved with the Bjelke-Petersen School?
LI: My friend Kristy is a long term physie practitioner. When I first learned she trained and competed my reaction was similar to that of many people. I thought, “Do people still do that?”, “What is that?” and then ]I had a flashback from before I went to school and realised I used to do physie. There is a picture of me in my family album on my veranda with my sister in a polka dot leotard and leg warmers about to leave for class. I could remember going to a school hall in the Hawkesbury and marching around and around a rectangle being REALLY careful about turning correctly at the corners. But even though I was a physie kid I still wasn’t sure what that meant or why I had been marching around so much as a child. I wanted to know.
Kristy and I often spoke about how physie was a unique sport and how it would make an excellent photography subject. One day she told me that she’d approached the school on my behalf, recommended me and organised permission for me to shoot. Gaining access is sometimes half the work with this type of project so it was a gift I couldn’t refuse. So in making this series in 2012 I wanted to fill in some of those gaps in my memory. but also find out what the sport was like today. The more I learned about its history the more interesting it became. Not many people understand what it is because Physie is difficult to define. So that was an interesting photographic challenge for me, to in part explain what the sport is today. But I also love that it has maintained a sense of mystery even though it has been in our culture for so long – so I wanted to leave an sense of that in the pictures too.
F: Where can people check your work out?
LI: You can check out the exhibition until Oct 4 at the State Library of NSW: http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/events/exhibitions/2015/physie/index.html
My website is here: http://lyndalirons.com.au/
http://talesoftheelectrifying.tumblr.com/F: Are you working on any new documentaries?
LI: Always. But now Physie is up on the walls my focus for the next 12 months will be my series On Parramatta Road (http://lyndalirons.com.au/on-parramatta-road/). I was lucky enough to recently win the 2015 Pool Grant (http://culturaldevelopmentconsulting.com/2015/05/13/9533/, http://www.thepoolcollective.com/), which means I have support to exhibit my series in May/June 2016. This is a really important series for me and I have been working on it for quite some time. So it’s time to clear the schedule and finish shooting the next chapter of life out there.