The image is a powerful visual metaphor for the darkness that lies behind the sunny veneer of Sydney’s illustrious shores.
Over 80 murders, 30 cases still unsolved and thousands more assaults bloodied this tranquil coastline throughout the 1980s and 90s in a crime-wave so abhorrent and immense in scale, it’s almost baffling that it’s so infrequently discussed.
The victims? Young gay men.
This shocking real-life crime wave is the inspiration behind SBS’s new four-part drama series Deep Water and now too for this striking photograph created by Eugene Tan, of the famed beach photography blog, and Bondi-based photo gallery Aquabumps.
Eugene has spent the past 17 years travelling the globe shooting the best that beaches and waterfronts have to offer. He always circles back to his Bondi base though, where he’s renowned for capturing unique and fresh takes on one of the world’s most photographed shorelines.
Shiny, bright and colourful, Tan’s images are typically happy ones - provoking a sense of wanderlust in even the most staid of armchair travelers.
This time round SBS set Tan a new challenge: to represent the side of Bondi that many have not seen, yet that forms an important part of its most recent history.
“Aquabumps is synonymous with Bondi.” Tan explains of his unique brand of photography.
“I’ve been shooting here for 17 years and created a community of like-minded people who all love the beach. SBS’s new series Deep Water is shot here in Bondi, with unique angles of the beach and coastline and its events all took place in and around where I shoot every day.”
In spite of his close association with the area, like many Sydney-siders Tan had little knowledge of the sheer scale of the epidemic of gay hate crimes that occurred here.
“I had heard of these murders and unsolved cases,” says Tan. “But I had no idea just how many people were killed - and that the majority of the murders happened in Bondi and along the coastline to Maroubra.”
It was quite a feat to incorporate this menacing side into Tan’s normally rosy view of his hometown.
“Aquabumps focuses on the positive side of Bondi as that’s the part I experience day in and day out,” he explains.
“I’m aware that with every community there is history and unfortunate things happen, it doesn’t change my love of Bondi and living close to the ocean.”
Nonetheless, Eugene says he felt that Deep Water was an important project to align with. “I think it’s good to shine a light on both the positive and darker side of places especially if it helps to solve some of these unsolved cases,” he says.
To make it work, Tan embraced both the light and the dark angles in one image. “Shooting a split shot shows two worlds, above and below,” he explains.
“I kinda felt this was similar to the theme of the drama – the good and the bad side of Bondi. It’s not my normal happy, glossy, colourful Bondi shot."
“I think viewers will find it mysterious - and wonder ,‘why is a man drifting under the surface? Why is he missing one shoe and swimming fully dressed?’”
As well as hauntingly capturing the memories of the victims of this period, Tan’s photograph will pay tribute to them in a material way too, as the Aids Council of NSW (ACON) will be the recipient of a framed and signed original Deep Water photo, donated by SBS, with all proceeds going towards their planned Bondi memorial to honour the victims.
“Aquabumps supports many local charities, we’re proud to give back to the local community in which we work and live,” says Tan.
As to whether working on the Deep Water project will have any lasting effect on his work in future, Tan says, “Aquabumps is a positive brand and is about celebrating beach life – we originate from Bondi and I will always have an affinity with the place I live and work and where my business started.”
“It is helpful to be made more aware of the history of the things that have happened over the years in Bondi both the good and the bad.”