Brett’s Lunch Bar Adventure

Brett Leigh Dicks’s favourite photograph in his Lunch Bars of Perth exhibition makes him homesick for California and the Mojave Desert.

It’s the quality of the Great Victoria Desert light framing the Hay Street, Kalgoorlie lunch bar that creates the feeling.

Brett’s exhibition of over 40 images evokes a sense of delight alongside an appetite for Aussie burgers, meat pies, chips and international fare.

Each lunch bar’s character is unique, shaped by owners and staff, menus, locations, signwriters … and local customers.

Brett’s photographs illustrate colourful sparks of life in bland urban landscapes, serving up humour, whimsy and intrigue amongst bitumen, concrete and blue skies.

The Fremantle photographer was searching for locations related to nuclear weapons when Covid crimped his plans and led serendipitously to this new subject.

Discovering the Radium Lunch Bar in Welshpool sparked the idea and he became inspired by the diversity of lunch bars in contrast to the uniformity of franchised fast food outlets.

“I didn’t know about lunch bars,” he said. “I grew up on the east coast and we had milk bars but not lunch bars. And in California [Mexican] taquerias were where working class people ate.”

The subject was closer to home than he’d realised. His in-laws had run the Nordic Lunch Bar in Barrington Street, Spearwood, now known as Cheffy’s.

After previous shows in funky places – including a nuclear bunker – Brett found having his work back in a gallery a “wonderful and really humbling experience”.

“Anyone who’s seen any of my previous exhibitions will know I’m pretty pedantic about the way it’s hung and I came in here and didn’t have to touch anything,” he said.

The opening on June 4 was attended by over 100 people. Brett was supported by his family, with a Welcome to Country from son Samuel Dicks-Napoleon – whose great-grandmother was a Dharawal woman – and music from Brett’s singer/songwriter partner Natalie D-Napoleon, in a duo with Michael Lane.

“I’m very lucky and I have to thank my family for indulging my weird-ass passions,” he said.

Lunch Bars of Perth is on show until June 30 at Ellenbrook Art Centre. In addition to the exhibition, the collection has been published as a book.

The front cover of Brett’s new book.

Website: http://www.brettleighdicks.net; Instagram: @brettleighdicks

Photographs © Brett Leigh Dicks 2022

Story © Danielle Berryman 2022

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