15.10.2020Capturing COVID: Melbourne’s eerily-quiet rail network through the eyes of Metro’s James Ireland

Before 2020, the only time you would see Melbourne’s railway station platforms completely deserted was in the hours before the morning light peered over the horizon.

Now, six months into the coronavirus pandemic, those eerily empty and unnervingly calm platforms have become the norm for our city.

While these scenes can be dispiriting and make us long for a time before we’d ever heard the term “COVID-19” – it can at times be oddly beautiful.

It presents a rare opportunity to see our great city’s rail network in a new light – and tell a story never told before.

It’s a chance to take an unencumbered look at what we’ve built in the 166 years since Australia’s first passenger train made its maiden journey from Flinders St to Sandridge – now known as Port Melbourne.

Since coronavirus restrictions have been in place, Metro Train’s Senior Media Advisor and in-house photographer, James Ireland, has been spending his time out on the network documenting this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event.

“Most of my photography to date has focused on our people and passengers. I’ve captured faces displaying every emotion that human kind is capable of feeling – but this is a chance to show emotion without a face.”

“My goal has been to capture what this time period feels like in visual terms. By shooting big, wide photos that take in a lot of the environment, I can show just how empty they are. I’m also unearthing details and stories of our city that people may not have seen or heard before.”

“By shooting in a high-contrast black and white, I can capture the mood in a more direct way. By using light instead of colour, I can use darkness to make empty areas feel small – and by using light I can make an area feel even bigger.”

With the working title Melbourne’s Back, James’ photo series will be released in full once the city has begun its journey back to its former glory.

“My ultimate goal is to portray hope. Once we’ve begun to return to a state of normality and fill the city’s streets again, I think my pictures can show what we’ve been through, and how resilient we actually are.”

“I’m also capturing some of the Metro people who are still out on the network every day making sure those of us who do need to travel can do so, safely. Their stoicism and drive really comes through, even behind a mask, but there’s also a sense of sadness to their faces which I think reflects on us all.”

For now, James’ photographic journey continues, as Melbourne continues to navigate a path out of lockdown.


**Photo credit: James Ireland

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