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Head Hobo: Hobogestapo

When we are out late at night, breathing in the sweat and spice of Sydney’s nightlife, there are moments to be forgotten, and moments that shouldn’t be, but so often are. There is love in a glance, sex in a smile, abandon in a dance, heaving shows of masculinity, flickering flirtations, and wicked flounces of feminine whiles. Unfortunately, these precious, tiny memories can be dropped like beads of sweat, or washed away beneath a groggy tide.

From bared nipples to secret smirks, sudden kisses to wild acts of flamboyance, the Hobogestapo cohort have seen and documented it all. Creating photographic memories of nights in and days out, the group push the boundaries of photojournalism, lifting the veil off of the forgotten and unforgettable moments when we are at our most vulnerable. Think scenes of elation, ecstaticism, retribution, infatuation, insanity and more.

It sounds like anarchy, and to a certain extent, it is. These auspicious photographers seek out the madness in the mundane, offering a chaotic view of bourgeois youth that highlights the dichotomy between our day and night lives. Their images belong more in the realms of photojournalism than under the cheap banner of social-snappery. See armies of teenagers raving in their underwear, a half naked model wielding a butcher’s knife in druggy vehemence, and scenes of social and political rebellion as homosexuality explodes lustily onto the glittering streets of Mardi Gras.

Behind the enormous archive of late-night revelry and day lit festivity sits the unassuming Alex Singh – one of the brains behind the outfit, whose vision has seen Hobogestapo grow from scene-snapping duo to an international creative collective. Hidden in an attic overlooking Crown Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills, he and Hobogestapo have plans to transform the way that photographers make money and do business. Singh is supporting young talent, involving himself in the creative direction of marketing campaigns, blurring the boundaries of photographers’ roles in New York, and working on high-street magazine editorials. If there’s a collective conscious watching over the social un-consciousness that is the underground night-scene, Hobogestapo is it, and Alex Singh, a.k.a CARLITO, is its originator.

“Right now, we’re talking about re-designing our website. Nothing’s concrete; we’ve been discussing ideas for the past few months. It’s a big project,” he says as the steady rumble of nearby construction threatens to deafen us both. Singh isn’t bothered by the sound; he evens points out how ‘cosy’ his cramped office space is with a laugh. He continues: “I’m trying to push the radical side of it, and do something totally different. You want to do something so that people take notice. We also want to have an online store so that we can start selling our work.” While a redesign and relaunch of the website will surely surprise fans of Hobogestapo’s signature online aesthetic, the new territory the collective is now traversing will be the real talking point. “We want to be able to facilitate video on the site,” Singh explains. “Our cameras can take videos at film quality. In the U.S. there are some companies that are shooting advertising campaigns off of them!”

Singh now leaves a lot of the grittier work to younger photographers, though he’s never been adverse to getting his hands dirty, and has just returned from a long tour with Good Vibrations festival. “Direct shooting night life at parties and stuff like that doesn’t really interest me personally any more. In fact, I don’t go out that much any more,” he explains, and adds: “To be able to shoot videos, and produce films, would keep me interested though. I’m trying to transition to shooting more interesting stuff, like high-art fashion stuff.”

But what has changed, we wonder? Nothing much, Singh assures. The short but significant tradition of Hobogestapo is steeped in constant, organic growth. After meeting fellow head-Hobo whilst partying one night, Singh and his professional partner Wes have grown the business so that photographers contribute from around Australia, and now, around the world. It’s his thirst for new frontiers that keeps Hobogestapo alive, but he’s convinced that Australia is the best place to start out. “I’m trying to push my photography beyond the night-life. The good thing about Australia is that you can pursue several different avenues with your photography, where as in New York you’re a bit more limited to ‘this is what you do’. You can get away with more here. Over there the industry is very developed, and defined.”

“I always just thought it’d be a way of making some interesting images while having a good time,” Singh explains of the company’s origins. “It was going to be purely a hobby,” he assures us. “We didn’t even think people would really find out about us, hence using a name like ‘Hobogestapo’. There really wasn’t much creative consideration in that one!” While he may not have thought out the name, Singh is thinking now, and adds: “It’ll definitely cause problems for us down the line – we’ve flown under the radar for a little while now.”

Their recent work for creative agencies goes under the ‘Hobo’ name as response to the potential problems they’ve perceived at the professional neck of the photography industry. They’ve started shooting fashion weeks, and are keen to display their diversity on an international stage. “The bulk of our revenue came from club gigs initially,” Singh explains, “but that’s been scaled back to a degree. Now it’s through higher end events, conceptual work, art direction for projects and creative direction. It’s such a big mix of things we’re doing now.” The sorts of companies they’ve been working with are the ones with the vision to do something creative, to step outside of the realms of purely promotional work. Hobogestapo’s portfolio, and clientele list, is becoming impressive. With his eye for detail, playful eloquence with word play, hunger for higher end work and eye for new talent, Alex Singh is steering a team of talented young creatives into new and uncharted territories. We’re excited to see what comes next.

words: Zac Bayly


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