Interview with Safari on the ‘Arrival’ Exhibition: Capturing the Sameness of Humanity at the Airport

Image: Safari

Image: Safari

We’re all the same and we’re all beautifully different. That’s what I got from the experience and what I hope other people take from it,” photographer-videographer Andrew Englisch said of his company Safari’s latest photography project.

The series, titled ‘Arrival’, is an exhibit of shots taken of people being greeted by their loved ones as they arrive at Melbourne Airport. Until the end of June, the photographs are on display in the arrivals hall at the airport and on Safari’s website. In Review’s April Austen spoke to Safari creatives Andrew Englisch and Gabrielle Reiher who, alongside third member Nigel Camilleri, produced the exhibition.

How did the idea to photograph people arriving at the airport in Melbourne come about? Was it a Safari concept or initiated by Melbourne Airport?

“It’s a passion project of ours. The intention for us is just to spread some positive energy and the airport loved that. Humans of New York is our inspiration, we’re just capturing stories of people waiting for their friends and family members at the gate because we love that moment of connection. It doesn’t matter who you are, when you’re at that moment with your loved ones we’re all the same.”

Andrew: “As Safari, we travel three months of the year, so a lot of our time is spent going to amazing places and we love that sense of adventure. Gabs suggested the airport and we thought it was amazing because rather than having to go to different places, everyone comes to us. It made complete sense. The minute we spoke to the airport they were on board. We’re not doing it for commercial gain, we’re doing it as our own self-motivated project. The minute you do that, the doors open. If it were commercial we’d have to jump through hoops. But they were so supportive.

“It was also a very simple project – it was contained and we did it in a two-hour window. We thought we might have to go back a few times, but we couldn’t have got better. We wanted to get a good cross-section of society: different ages, different cultures, different genders.

Gabrielle: “It shows Melbourne off so well.”

Elaborate on the people featured in the shoot. Who did you approach and how did you go about it?

“Some of the individuals were just standouts. But most of them were meeting someone. We probably gravitated towards a couple or a group of people because it was more interesting.”

Gabrielle: “It was totally mixed between travellers and returning residents. There were some people who were busy talking and in their moment, so it did feel a bit weird and invasive to go up to them when they’re in the middle of a reunion. I figured out I had to speak to people before their person arrived off their flight and tell them ‘we’re over here, you can come over when you’re ready’. Some of the photos were only four minutes after we’d first met each other. Pretty much everyone was keen though. There were probably only three people who said no.

Andrew: “Some people were reluctant only because they’ve walked off a 20-hour flight and are tired and don’t want to do it. But once we explained the project they warmed to the idea. In this case, you need to very quickly understand the context of what we’re doing. People were tired and frazzled but we wanted to capture that moment anyway. That’s the whole point – we wanted to get that moment when they’re walking through arrivals, they’ve just come to the country, they’re all starry eyed and full of hope or even fear.”

"I didn’t think people would still make signs and I didn’t think over 40 people would come to meet their parents or grandparents.”

Who were some of the standouts? Which are your favourite photos?

“One that I always talk about that was really cool was 49 family members waiting for the grandma and grandpa to come to Australia for the first time. That was pretty epic. The pirates were pretty funny. We, at Safari, call ourselves pirates and there were these two guys who were actually dressed as pirates. And we were like, this is crazy. They were saying they find it difficult getting through customs – they always get checked because they look like pirates. That was a bit of fun. There was one guy whose mum was coming over from China and it was the first time she’d ever left the country. He’s been here studying for two years. That was a nice moment. He was funny, he said ‘I haven’t cleaned my room since I moved here but today I did’. Another guy was dressed up as an octopus the night before and kept the umbrella that was part of his costume on him. Everyone had these really quirky stories. When you compare the different people we photographed, they’re in the same moment but they’re so different.”

Andrew: “The beauty was, because it wasn’t staged, the people were very natural. It was a very candid moment but also nicely curated. We slowed down the busy environment just for a second. One guy stood out because he had a bow-tie and gardening gloves and a bowler hat on. We asked why he was dressed like that and he said: ‘I’m meeting my girlfriend, she’s coming after three years from South Korea’. He’d proposed to her twice before and she hadn’t accepted so this was his big moment, third time round. He was so nervous but it was that moment of hope. Third time lucky.

“The joy in some of the people who had handmade signs stood out. Just that joy of somebody meeting in this digital age – I didn’t expect anybody to come to the airport to welcome people. When I went overseas, the whole family came to the airport, they dressed up, it was a real event. I didn’t think people would still make signs and I didn’t think over 40 people would come to meet their parents or grandparents.”

Gabrielle: “We started with the idea of just capturing a moment that we all have in common to celebrate our sameness rather than always focusing on the differences. Upon reflection now, there’s not many things that are still the same now that we’ve got social media and the digital world, but this is one of them. That’s something that came of it that I didn’t expect.”

Arrival is on display at Melbourne Airport’s Arrival Hall until June 30th. Image:    Safari

Arrival is on display at Melbourne Airport’s Arrival Hall until June 30th. Image: Safari

Do you think we will start seeing more creative exhibitions at Melbourne Airport?

“It is very new for the airport – they’ve never really done an art exhibition before. It was pretty fun to be a part of them thinking outside of their own box. I hope they keep doing stuff like this because it does give a good vibe there.”

Andrew: “It’s better than looking at ads. You’re usually stuck there for a while waiting and you’re literally staring at a screen that’s a rotating bunch of normal rubbish, so hopefully this provides a bit more interest.”

Gabrielle: “Singapore Airport does heaps of cool stuff like that so I can’t imagine any reason why Melbourne wouldn’t continue [holding exhibitions].”

Andrew: “It’s a good point – Singapore’s the number one destination in Singapore for people that live there to go. You wouldn’t go to Melbourne Airport for fun, would you? Airports are changing around the world. They’re becoming cultural hubs. You actually go there for a day in Singapore because it’s such an amazing place. They’re really proud of it. Melbourne’s changing as well, they’re redoing it all. Airports are becoming hubs in their own entity, in their own right, not just transit places. I think as that changes, there’s always opportunity for stuff like this.”

Tell me a bit about your company, Safari.

“As the name suggests, we’re based on travel, adventure and lifestyle. Nige and I started it because we’re both from a creative background and wanted something where we could live a lifestyle that allows us to travel and do amazing stuff. Gabs works with us now too, of course. We work for big companies like Kathmandu, Anaconda and Mercedes. We do lots of tourism stuff for Australian tourism and different companies or tourism bodies, documentaries as well and short- or long-form stuff. We’re a small company but we do big projects. Our companies allow us to get into the outdoors and that’s our focus. At the moment, a lot of advertising is based on aspirational stuff – even bank ads are selling travel or surfing. They’re all very similar so it’s appropriate to what we’re doing.”

Gabrielle: “For me, I’ve had a lot of different jobs because I’m a bit rogue – I’m a pirate – but this has been the perfect fit in terms of creativity and work. It’s a really different way of living but it works really well for me.”

Andrew: “We’re not very structured in terms of the way we operate which allows us to do projects like ‘Arrival’ and travel around. We’ve got a very different business model to most organisations. We don’t have an office, we just operate independently. We don’t have the normal constraints.”

Gabrielle: “It also lets us let things take lives of their own. Growing and changing and stopping things feels very natural.”

Andrew: “It’s kind of mixed but we always have time to do this sort of stuff, this is the heart of what we want to do.”

Gabrielle: “I think that’s the best thing – that we always do our own creative projects. It’s never work only. It’s not like there’s work and then your life, it’s all meshed. It never feels like you have to go to work.”

Andrew: “I’ve spent 40 years always going to work and regretting it, but now there’s no difference. There’s no separation between work and life. Because it’s what we’re passionate about and we’re doing it every day.”

“The airport talked about a departure series because they thought, ‘wouldn’t this be awesome in the departure area as well’.”

What are Safari’s future plans? What’s up next?

“We’ve got a next project on the go called ‘Code Red’. It’s all about emergency services people that save lives. Their the foundation of our society: the firemen, the paramedics, the people on the frontline who will literally save your life. We want to get that moment after they’ve just come out of a fire or they’ve just been in surgery for 10 hours or they’ve just saved somebody from drowning. We think that’s so raw and it’s something which we take for granted. They’re the lifeline of our society. So that’s a similar thing to this that we want to do. Most of our projects ideas are based on a simple concept that people can relate to.”

“The airport talked about a departure series because they thought, ‘wouldn’t this be awesome in the departure area as well’. We want it to have a different focus though, it needs to be different enough to this one.”

Gabrielle: “This exhibition is on the digital screens. I think for the next one, they’re interested in doing a physical art exhibition.”

Andrew: “’Arrival’ is up for a month at the airport, then we’ll probably exhibit it some other places before we move on. These things always take a life of their own. We did it with the intention of our own little project and it’s grown into something a lot bigger. So we’ll see where it goes.”

April: Is there anything you would have done differently with ‘Arrival’?

“I wish we’d had more time to get their stories, to really drill down.”

Gabrielle: “Looking at the exhibition though, seeing the one little quote was really nice because we’re so used to a fast-paced environment. It was good because you saw a little bit then you could fill in the rest of the story yourself.”

Andrew: “For ‘Code Red’, we’ll spend more time drilling down into the emotion of that moment. We’ll have the time to spend, whereas these were fleeting moments – people had places to be, they had to go get taxis. There’s a beauty in that as well – you get what you get then you move on.”

“I hope that for people who see it at the airport it’s a positive intrusion on their day.”

April: What do you hope people take from the exhibition of ‘Arrival’?

“I hope that for people who see it at the airport it’s a positive intrusion on their day. I think if anyone can inject any sort of positivity into someone’s life, that’s a moment well spent. I feel really proud, really, really proud. Seeing people smiling at the exhibition opening makes me want to cry. Negative news is constant stress and fear; to be a part of spreading the opposite is what it’s all about for me.”

Andrew: “We’re all fascinated with the romance of travel and the emotion of going to new places and meeting new people. Hopefully this conjures up people’s own stories with their loved ones. But also, it gives a really good microcosm of humanity.”

The ‘Arrival’ exhibition will be on display at Melbourne Airport’s Arrivals Hall until June 30th, 2019.   

To view the entire photography series or learn more information on ‘Arrival’, click
here to visit Safari’s website.