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Sunny Nyssen — Moths to a Flame

Posted on March 2, 2015

Sunny Nyssen documents a well wrapped sub-culture.

I’ve always been drawn to observing sub-culture. If you look beneath the surface of our daily surrounds you can see worlds within worlds. Everyday objects and scenes that form part of the urban environment are ubiquitous and simultaneously conspicuous. Nowhere is this more apparent than the humble kebab van.

Not to be confused with the latest food trend afflicting Melbourne — food trucks — kebab vans are permanent structures usually affixed to an car wash or petrol station, in some form of urban symbiosis During the day the vans are closed for business and invisible to the average passerby. As soon as dusk hits the vans slowly awaken from their daytime slumber and light up the night sky in an array of flashing, blinking neon. And like moths to a flame, the nightly crowd of shift workers, taxi drivers and inebriated revelers flock to their favourite van for their fill of meaty goodness.

Run mostly by Middle-Eastern immigrant men, the vans have a cultural life of their own. Some stock homemade, freshly brewed, exotic teas and serve as a traditional meeting place. Others offer Halal meat especially imported to appease their local Muslim customers. And yet others are revered for their quick salt and protein fix — the mythical hangover cure or preventative measure after a big night out. After all, kebabs aren’t known for their nutritional benefits.

Traveling around the streets of Melbourne I was surprised by the number of vans in every neighbourhood. It’s an odd feeling to truly notice something for the first time after spending a lifetime passing it, seeing it, ignoring it. It was hard to miss. Next time you visit a car wash, look for the silent nocturnal beast recessing from the sunshine, waiting patiently for its mysterious night time rendezvous.

These series of images provide a snapshot of that nocturnal world. To the casual observer this alternate world could be seen as fleeting and transient. In fact it is a place that is in operation during our darkest hours, seven days a week, all year long. For the humble kebab van owner, their van is their second home. For some of them it’s a workplace but for most it’s a way of life. I can’t help but wonder what they think of the surface world, the world in which we live our sedate, daily lives.

Sunny Nyssen studied at Photography Studies College.

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