How Violent Soho’s Bassist Finds Meaning In Photography

IT started with a house south of Brisbane…

When he was 12 years old, Luke Henery’s father built a house on a mountain in Cornubia, near Logan. He was going to a school 25 minutes away in Mansfield, and with no friends around he was eager to find something to do.

“Mum worked long hours, dad was always busy. My sister moved out when she was 18. So I was in this big house all alone with nothing to do,” explains Luke.

PHOTO: MATT WALTER

 

Luke, of course, is best known as the bassist for Violent Soho, the giant-killing punk-rock band from the Brisbane suburb of Mansfield. But on this occasion he’s not talking about music – he’s talking about photography.

“Mum did this course and learned to print in a darkroom,” he says. “She bought a little film SLR camera. That phase for her didn’t last very long. So I adopted the camera and started shooting.”

Photography is at the front of Luke’s mind right now. He sits at a riverside cafe underneath Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, cradling a coffee and absentmindedly tugging at his t-shirt. It’s a Thursday during the school holidays and there are kids and families everywhere, focused on enjoying the holidays.

Luke’s exhibition, Everybody Deserves a Home, is set to be unveiled at the Brisbane leg of Laneway Festival, and he is focused on a timeline. He checks his watch. In an hour, he’s catching up with set designer Sandi Darling. Tomorrow, there’s a meeting with the staff of Brisbane charity Micah Projects, a not-for-profit organisation based in the Brisbane inner-suburb of West End with a long history of assisting homeless people.

“I’m under the pump,” he says. “I have to go to New Zealand for a wedding so I sort of have to get the exhibition finalised this week.”

PHOTO: KANE HIBBERD

 

Everything should have been finalised by now: large scale prints reproduced on corrugated tin would hang in the brick-arched tunnel underneath Brisbane Showgrounds’ Main Arena. But there’s been an eleventh-hour change. The tunnel is heritage-listed, meaning the works couldn’t be mounted properly. Someone was going to get decapitated, Luke says.

The solution was to move the exhibition indoors. And that’s when ambition kicked in. The works will now be presented in a bunch of different mediums: simple large-scale prints, but also homemade stereoscopic goggles.

Luke is shooting a series of portraits in the coming days that he’s displaying as Pepper’s ghosts, the illusion popularised by 19th carnival sideshows (and updated in modern times to bring Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson back to life at Coachella and the Billboard Awards, respectively).

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FOR Luke, Everybody Deserves a Home is the culmination of a personal history that runs as a counterpoint to the well-documented story of Soho. There’s the house in Cornubia, his mum’s SLR and, eventually, an entire career.

“I just fell in love with film,” he says, talking about his teenage years wandering through the bush, looking for something to shoot. There wasn’t much. Luke would take photos of busted up cigarette packets or gloomy stormwater drains. In his downtime, he’d pore over the portraits of Annie Leibovitz, the documentary photos of Sebastião Salgado, and the landscapes of Ansel Adams.

Luke also fell in love with the process. Digital cameras were in their infancy so mastering photography also meant mastering the darkroom.

“Thinking about shooting. Shooting. Waiting to see how the prints would come out and the excitement when you have a great photo,” he says. “It was awesome.”

After high school, Luke worked as a grip for a video production company before landing a job photographing for Quest, Newscorp’s local newspaper division. It was followed by a position with APN’s regional community papers, The Logan Reporter and The Satellite. “That was cool, a great job,” he says. “Then the band stuff really started to kick off and I had to give it away.”

Still, Violent Soho didn’t kill photography for Luke. In a way, they helped save it.

While newspapers had turned digital photography into a job, on the road with Violent Soho Luke would slip into another world, shooting whatever he liked on old European film cameras like Zeiss Ikons or Russian Fed-3s.

The Feds were a nightmare, often ripping his negatives in half, but Luke didn’t mind.

“I was still learning,” he says. “I’d scratch the negative or they’d get covered in dust. It’s not conducive to a perfect image. All those little things that give that photo character; it’s not me in Photoshop trying to make it look that way … That’s what I really strive for, to be able to get everything right in camera, the first time.”

Luke remembers clearly the day in 2014 when, while working in the facilities department at the Queensland University of Technology, Violent Soho’s manager, Nick Yates, called to say the band would be putting him on a full-time wage.

Violent Soho didn’t kill photography for Luke. In a way, they helped save it.

“I might’ve cried a little bit,” he laughs. “That meant I didn’t have to work nine-to-five. I was able to play music, and for the rest of my time take photos and get right back into it.”

Ever since he’s been busy. There have been portraits for The Smith Street Band, DZ Deathrays and Pale Heads; album and book covers for Tim Rogers; and acclaimed photo project She Riff, a collaboration with Gold Coast writer Bianca Valentino celebrating Australian women in rock music.

In September 2017 Luke shot photos for Free Mojgan, a campaign that Joc Curran — Laneway Brisbane’s promoter — has been helping organise with the aim of securing permanent Australian residency for Iranian refugee Mojgan Shamsalipoor. Luke was already working on his own photography project to raise awareness for refugees and homelessness. After the shoot, he and Joc got talking.

“I told Joc what I was working on and she said Laneway might be interested in showcasing it,” Luke says. “It developed from there.”

Laneway co-founder and director Danny Rogers was already familiar with Luke’s work as a photographer and says the exhibition was a natural fit for the festival.

“It’s very powerful stuff,” he says. “Issues such as homelessness are incredibly important to all of us and we want to tackle those and create dialogues … This was an opportunity to support an amazing artist and help tell a story.”

Despite Laneway’s growth over the last 14 years from a locally-focused operation in Melbourne’s Caledonian Lane into a fully fledged touring festival, Danny says it’s actually become easier over the years to execute these projects.

He points to Laneway’s collaboration with Auckland City Mission, where one dollar from every ticket sold to the New Zealand show is donated to the charity; or its work with the Yiriman Project, a Kimberly-based not-for-profit charity run by Indigenous elders.

“This is ground level engagement underlining a core issue in our society,” Danny says. “Empathy is something I’ve become really focused on. The world is complicated. Nobody really knows what each person has been through on their journey — it’s really important to have empathy. This is a way to do that with a community focus.”

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“Thinking about shooting. Shooting. Waiting to see how the prints would come out and the excitement when you have a great photo. It was awesome.”

LUKE shows me some of the works on his laptop. Taken on their own, the photographs might not seem like much — suburban rooftops, abstractly rendered in black and white, or perhaps the saturated colour of a Queensland summer. But viewed as a series they quickly make sense.

In each shot, the roofs dominate the frame, backgrounded by bush or the Brisbane skyline. They tend to be tiled or corrugated, playing into Luke’s love of symmetry and pattern. In a sense it’s almost subversive, flipping the idea of the alienation of suburbs into a place of peace or sanctuary, or just radical normality.

The exhibition also doubles as something of a love letter to Luke’s accumulated skills with film photography.

For some of the works he’s taken the same photo twice; first from the perspective of the left eye, then from the right, and placed them side-by-side. If the final piece is gazed at in a certain way the two pictures form a stereogram in front of the viewer. In another, he’s flipped a long rooftop on its end and mirrored the shot on the same frame, the sea of tiles giving the image a dark, almost crocodilian feel.

Thirty works are currently pegged for Everybody Deserves a Home, with proceeds from sales donated to Micah Projects. Still, for Luke the idea isn’t to beat anyone over the head with the issue — particularly in the middle of a music festival.

“It’s not meant to be doom and gloom,” he says. “It’s more a celebration that we’re lucky to have roofs over our heads and comfortable places to live. I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty for that.”

PHOTO: KANE HIBBERD

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