BLACK & WHITE SERIES PART II

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Melbourne, Bitter

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY ASHLEY STANFORD

Just three months after graduating university in May 2015, I moved to Melbourne, Australia for a year.

The move came out of a desire to get away from Austin, Texas, take full advantage of my new freedom outside academia, and just out of a general obsession and fascination with Australia. 

After living in Austin for three years, I was getting tired of it. Everyone talks about how wonderful it is, and I did really enjoy my time there, but it was starting to feel old. I was starting to feel like ‘been there, done that’ and excited to try something new once I was out of the academic grind.

Once the countdown to graduation began, so did my countdown to Australia. 

My plan originally started with spending the first five months of my year-long visa in Melbourne, then moving on to Adelaide for another five months and ending with a wild cross-country roadtrip. Instead I ended up spending the whole year in Melbourne due to not wanting to leave the friends I made and also just financially I wasn’t able to save up as much as I planned.

I began my year working at hostel in St. Kilda, a beach suburb of Melbourne, in order to cover my accommodation. Most of the staff were also live-in so I was able to quickly meet other people in a similar situation as me, but with various backgrounds and from countries all over the world. It was a wild way to begin my time in Australia by sharing a room with four others, and since the hostel was known for its "party vibe", having to deal with drunk hostel guests pretty much all day everyday. 

After two and a half months, I was very eager to get out of the hostel environment and into my own room, while still keeping the relationships I made with my roommates. I found a small room to rent in a house full of other working travelers in Collingwood. My roommates were a couple from Britain, a guy from Chicago, and an international student from Taiwan. I found a paid part-time job working as a Ticket Seller at Luna Park and another part-time job at a café in North Melbourne. 

Even with two part time jobs, some weeks I would barely hit 30 hours, so money was always somewhat tight. After my 6 month contract was up at Luna Park, I moved back to the hostel in St. Kilda to work for accommodation again and try not to lose my meager savings. After two months back in St Kilda, I knew I had to mix it up again (hostel living can only be fun for so long) and moved to a more chill hostel in the CBD.

These photos come from one black and white 36-exposure roll I shot throughout my first seven months in Melbourne, beginning shortly before my 23rd birthday and ending with the last glimpses of my bedroom in Collingwood. 

I waited to develop the roll until I was back in the states and with access to a darkroom so I could process the film myself. I knew the photos on this roll were going to be very special to me, even though I had honestly forgotten most of the shots I took. Just generally, there was something very therapeutic about hand developing the film myself and bringing my journey back to America. These photos felt like a sort of parting gift from my time in Melbourne, my last Melbourne adventure.

I called this series Melbourne, Bitter as a sort of play on words. Melbourne Bitter was my drink of choice down under, a choice many would either shake their heads at or fully embrace. Australians could be a bit judgmental about their beers and I honestly actually loved MB, hipster stereotypes aside. It’s also a series of photos that are very bittersweet to me, while they arouse so many pleasurable memories, they still contain some sadness in that those nights in Melbourne are gone. Even if I do end up returning to Melbourne one day, I know it won’t be the same as many of the friends I made and people who really influenced my time there, won’t be there anymore.

Most of the photos in this series are on days and nights out with my friends, most of whom I met while working for accommodation in St. Kilda. My friend, Maarja, is the girl most featured in these photo and was my best friend and muse while abroad. You’ll see images of classy day drinking champagne in Carlton Gardens, mirror selfies at the John Curtin, Kahlua at the bus stop, hostel parties, and sneaking our drinks out from The Tote back to my place less than a block away.

I eventually have plans to put together the photos I took in Melbourne into a self published zine. It’s been on the back burner of my mind for quite a while now so hoping to actually get to it soon. Mostly just with the intentions of having something physical for me to flip through, hold on to, and share.