Nature: The Silent Observer

A beat is a place that men frequent for intimate encounters with other men. Not limited to inner city areas close to established gay communities; they are often found within earshot of high traffic suburban landscapes such as sports fields, jogging trails and beaches. Whatever the specifics, beats exist where there is demand. Like their place in society, they form organically within the blurry fringes of public life, subtly adding another purpose to familiar and often unremarkable landscapes.

In the age of social media and the ability to order up specific flavours of sexual liaisons a la carte via a smartphone, the simple act of attendance indicates a willingness to take a punt and explore what might be on offer, in whatever form the encounter takes. Anonymity, spontaneity and danger provide the thrill, or the deterrent. The general public’s anxiety about beats sees them as a threat to masculinity, marriages, family values and health. Likewise, the men who use them may see them as necessary to the preservation of precisely the same values.

My research into beats and the locations in Sydney I visited to photograph relied on information from one particular friend, the Internet, and gay folklore. The specifics of location aren’t of huge relevance because the concept is universal.

The images are definitely made from the outside, and admittedly loaded with subjectivity as I toyed with the question: are these beats a place for uninhibited sexual expression, or its flip side of oppression, violence and shame?

I had concrete arguments for both, as could anyone after a small amount of research. Did the random souvenirs of human activity, the worn paths in the ground cover, or the beautiful species of Australian flora now subject to another version of man’s imposition on the landscape suggest any definitive narrative?

Gradually I became comfortable with the ambiguous answer to this question and more engaged by nature’s lack of concern, and her stoicism in the face of the potential ecstasy and horror swimming in my head. She was an involuntary participant who refused to judge. She didn’t complain. She sat silent, observing. The coldness of her disinterest was unnerving.