From cream buns and vanilla slices to cheese-filled sausages and salad sandwiches, lunch bars are a staple of local working-class culinary culture.
Typically tucked away in the city’s suburban, industrial, and commercial areas, lunch bars have been sustaining the work force with an array of no-frills fast food since the 1950s. For the past two years Brett Leigh Dicks has been tracking down examples of this quirky and vibrant slice of Western Australian working culinary scene.
Lunch Bars was subject matter that echoed cultural similarities to that of California, where the American/Australian photographer lived and worked for the past two decades. It was the parallels between the hole-in-the-wall taquerias – eateries offering Mexican street food – and lunch bars here in the west that inspired the series.
“Western Australia’s lunch bars are probably as far away geographically from California’s taquerias as you can get,” the photographer observed. “But workers would pour into their local taqueria at lunchtime just like they do with lunch bars here, emerging with something fast, filling, and hot.”
The Fremantle-based photographer also saw an opportunity to bring a unique perspective to his lunch bar exposé
“The New Topographic photographic movement is very popular in the States and has informed the way I work,” he said. “Photographers like Stephen Shore, Lewis Baltz, and Grant Mudford inspire me greatly and lunch bars are precisely the type of urban landscape with a societal quirk they would cast an ironic eye upon.”
Guided by the movement’s ethos, Brett approached his subjects with a stark yet poetic austerity. That approach allowed the character of each lunch bar to come shining through, unveiling a collection of dystopian eateries buried within the industrial parks of Perth, all brimming with character, flavour, and Western Australian flair.
“They weren’t hard to find,” the photographer said with a laugh. “The majority of lunch bars are so overstated that you can’t miss them and for others, that were a little more out of way, there were no shortage of whacky hand painted signs to point you in their direction. Ultimately each lunch bar has its own character, but all are fueled by a devoted passion for sustaining the local workforce.”
Lunch Bars brings to the fore an under celebrated aspect of WA's culinary scene.
Brett Leigh Dicks is an American/Australian currently based in Fremantle, Western Australia. He is a social commentator who takes an archaeological approach to photography, primarily exploring the relationship between society and the environment.
Using the landscape as a marker of societal change, Brett’s work explores how themes such as dispossession, repression, exploitation, and retribution play out over time. He has documented the legacy of the indigenous mission system, death row and capital punishment, the vestige of decommissioned nuclear missile bases and most recently, the aftermath and wide-ranging impact of atomic energy. Framed within the ethos and aesthetic of the New Topographic movement he presents his subject matter in its topographical state, providing a direct conduit between his subject matter and the viewer.
Brett’s work has been featured in over 50 solo exhibitions in Australia, Europe, and North America along with numerous group exhibitions. His work was featured the Figge Art Museum’s recent survey of photography in the American West, “The Magnetic West,” State of the World exhibition at Prix de la Photographie Paris, the Sony International Photography Awards. In Australia Brett’s work has been featured at both the Head On Photo Festival and Ballarat International Foto Biennale. His photography has been published in journals, newspapers, and periodicals, including The New York Times, Griffith Review, and VICE.
Lunch Bars will be on at BRAG from 21 October to 28 January 2024.
The Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Entry is always.
Banner: Brett Leigh Dicks, PRESS, 2023. Lunch Bars
Side Image: Brett Leigh Dicks. Photographed by Donna Simpson