Ralph Kelly lost his 18 year-old son, Thomas, to one of those one-punch attacks in Sydney’s Kings Cross. Whether he was “killed” or “murdered” seems academic – I don’t think someone like Ralph ultimately cares for the distinction. That much was obvious when I profiled him for his work in lobbying politicians, law-makers and anyone else who’ll listen to stop the violence.
What struck me about this photo session is how empty it all felt. Bereft. We shook hands, shared a pleasant and intelligent conversation, and you could feel the passion in everything he says. But it also felt like he was just going through the motions. I got the sense it was all rather pointless to him. He wanted to be somewhere else, far away from here. I could see it in his eyes. And there’s nothing wrong with that – I’ve actually seen it a lot with actors and musicians who are doing their hundredth interview for the day.
But for Ralph, it was different. He’s not doing this for money. He’s not doing it because it’s in his contract. He’s doing it for his son. He’s doing this because his son can’t.
My usual practice is to get a sense of the personality and motivations behind the people I photograph. But here, I felt like I was capturing a shell of a man. Everything’s been taken from him, and all he has left is his mission. Again, there’s nothing wrong with any of this – it’s just what popped in my head as I tried to gauge the most appropriate way to talk to him.
After taking this photo, we shook hands and went our separate ways. I presumed he had somewhere else to be. About thirty paces away, I looked back and saw that he was still standing there by the perforated wall, hands in pockets, gazing beyond the passing traffic in front of him towards the next block.