I have a junk-collecting gene, which makes foraging for found still-life irresistible. On a March 2004 Canberra Photographic Society excursion to the Lachlan Valley in New South Wales, my friend Marion and I stumbled on two disheveled buildings that begged for a theme of domestic goddess gone wrong.
We found Finn’s Old Store on Gaskill Street in Canowindra (pronounced k-noun-dra). Once a general store run by TJ Finn, the building is now an “antique shop” — a labyrinth of dust and long-forgotten kitchenware, workshop tools and collectible enamel signs. I felt more like an archeologist than a customer when I discovered a naked female mannequin in a corner, surrounded by canisters of buttons and shelves of ceramic urns.
Ironically, a real life domestic goddess emerged next door at Finn’s Old Store Coffee Shop, where the owner’s home-made melting moments dissolved in our mouths with a zing of passionfruit.
In Gooloogong, we snuck through the unlocked door of what seemed to be a derelict rural supply store. Two pianos languished in wood shavings in the showroom, while a vacuum-cleaner sat beside a print of a female saint in the wreckage of the living quarters.
I’m tempted to call the resulting images kitsch, but the subjects are only bad taste in the context of their neglect — a vacuum cleaner that cannot possibly clean up the mountains of rubble before it, a saint with no-one to watch over and a pretend woman who, made of fibreglass and without limbs and a head, can never use the symbols of domesticity around her.
Instead, there’s a sadness in the dereliction of the images. Women and domesticity seem to exist in a disintegrated past that now seems overwhelmingly futile and absurd.