Monday, January 24, 2011

Across the Border: Kings Cross: Reader Story: Adrian Bell and his Street Photography

Santa's Little Helper, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

''Sure is lots of interesting people around the area. Often it's the ones you least expect to be the most interesting. Ones who brag are only after attention.'' - Adrian Bell, 2011.

It's easy enough taking pictures of buildings, books and buses for my blog, but portraits of people are another matter that require certain conversational skills and patience that I have yet to master. 
Adrian Bell, 61 (''but I feel a hellava lot older''), has been living in the Kings Cross area for the past 35 years and has mastered that talent, having taken thousands of photographs of people on the street as well as learning their stories.
Bell studied photography at TAFE for a short time but said it was ''so boring, I'd go to sleep''. Instead, he just went out and took photographs and learned the craft the best way you can: not through books and lectures, but by practice.
''I like photographing anywhere,'' Bell told My Darling Darlinghurst.
''But there are lots of characters at the Cross and I can be more sneaky with it.
''People are an interesting species, I like to look at them and wonder what makes them tick.''
Bell's equipment includes a Canon compact camera with 10x zoom, a Canon 300D and a Canon 30D. He also has studio lighting, flash packs and tungsten globes. 
''My favourite subject is girls,'' he says.
''Faces I like best.''

Brown Sugar (Gemma), Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

The Strip, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

Adrian took the photograph above outside the old Westpac Bank building on Darlinghurst Road. The building is now home to the Sugar Mill Hotel.

Animal and ''Radio John'', Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

Adrian says Radio John's health has ''gone downhill'' since this photograph was taken and he is now living in a nursing home. Kings Cross Biker Randall ''Animal'' Nelson continues his good work in the neighbourhood, which includes regular toy-runs for hospitals and schools and other charity work.

Norman, Kings Cross, photograph by Adrian Bell

''I'd give Norman cigs because he didn't ask,'' Bell says.
''Very polite fellow, non violent. I asked him about the marks on his body, which would occur often, and he said they were from fighting. Not his nature at all. Because he was non-violent, people would bash him. I went to the Kings Cross bikie toy-run on December 19 to be told that Norman was bashed and had been taken to hospital, where he died from internal bleeding. Hit me later. Poor fella, he was 44-years-old.''

John ''Pal'' O'Connor, died in 2008 aged 45, photograph by Adrian Bell

Violet says: I first met John O'Connor when I lived in Redfern in the late 1990s. I had noticed someone had been going through my garbage bins and leaving the rubbish strewn across the street, which the local dogs then had a fine time dragging around. One day I saw John going through the bins and I went outside and asked him why he was doing it and what he was looking for. He said, in the saddest voice I have ever heard, ''I can't help myself, ever since my friend died . . .''.
I vividly remember him showing me one of the things he had salvaged from the rubbish. It was the little insert tab from a box of tissues, which you remove to access the tissues. It had a picture of flowers on it and he said he was going to stick it on his wall. 
Later when I was living in Darlinghurst I would see John all the time, wandering down the middle of Victoria Street carrying his plastic bags. When John died in 2008, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph ran stories about his death. 
I'm so glad Adrian captured him on film, as he was then. I wonder what other treasures and stories Adrian has in his archive. 

All photographs copyright Adrian Bell, 2011. 
If you would like to contact Adrian about his work, please send an email to

1 comment:

Rambling Ruby said...

Best story yet, in my opinion, Violet! As you know, I have nostalgia for my days in Annandale and Newtown, but what I love about living in Darlo are all the crazy characters, misfits and interesting people that live here. I never saw John O'Connor wandering the streets but what a touching story.