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I only made a few portraits of people in the city of Adelaide during the 1980s.

One place was Valentino’s Restaurant in Gays Arcade, off Adelaide Arcade, near Twin Street.  My sister used to work there as a waitress whilst she was studying at Flinders University of South Australia  for a social workers degree.  I got to know the people working there,  as I  used to drop in for a quick meal when I’d been strolling around the CBD,  reading the street, and photographing in the city as if I were a tourist visiting Adelaide.

pizza maker, Valentinos
Reno, Valentino’s Restaurant

The meals were cheap then. $5.50 with a glass of wine.  In many ways it was a taken for granted space of a given historical period infused with meanings, experiences and memories; part of the patchwork quilt of traces of human existence that makes a city more than its buildings, transportation networks, rivers, and parks.     

Liberty’s Bookshop was next door to Valentino’s  on the corner of Gays Arcade and Twin Street. Helen, my partner at the time, used to work at Liberty’s on Saturday nights. It was a pecious  pocket of urban life in the  doughnut city.

Helen, Rundle Street
Helen, Rundle Street, Adelaide


This space in Gays Arcade was like a home away from home.

Stephen, Valentino's
Stephen, Valentino’s Restaurant

People would come into Valentino’s,   have a quick meal before or after a movie,  then leave for home in the suburbs.  Only a few people entered Liberty’s Bookshop on Saturday night. The arcades were mostly empty of people.   Adelaide had not made the transition to  a service and tertiary economy.  Nor was the transition from rust belt city to green on the horizon.

In contrast to Sydney, Australia’s  spectacle city of consumption,   Adelaide in the late 1980s  and early 1990s was not a post-industrial city where image, aesthetics are culture become the primary drivers of urban transformation. Unlike Melbourne,  Adelaide was still an industrial city experiencing   economic stagnation, economic decay  and rising unemployment and it  had yet to  transform itself through re-imaging  to attract new forms of capital.

The  response to  the decline of manufacturing and the loss of jobs in traditional blue collar industries took the form of managed decline (structural adjustment packages and retraining initiatives),  rather than an on-going process of re-imagining and recreating formerly industrial areas of the inner city as sites of white collar industry, artistic and cultural production, conspicuous consumption and revalorised residential space.

 Though I was learning to  read the city’s social spaces semiologically and to understand that it’s surfaces  could be decoded in a similar way to a text,   I couldn’t see the reliance on pastiche , playfulness and reliance on vernacular and local histories in the new office architecture in Adelaide’s CBD. Postmodernism was elsewhere–in the art school.


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