'Empty Chairs At Empty Tables' Is a Portrait Series Capturing Melbourne's Hospitality Industry in Hibernation
The photographs and film feature much-loved local chefs and venue owners, including Guy Grossi and Karen Martini.
We're all very familiar with the sights and sounds of a buzzy full restaurant, the chefs behind the pass doing what they love and crowds of diners gathered to enjoy their work. But lockdown has presented a sombre flip side of this; those same restaurants emptied of life and standing eerily silent, as the hospitality world waits to return. It's these more intimate scenes that a documentary project Empty Chairs At Empty Tables has set out to capture.
The compelling photographic series and accompanying film are the work of photographer Mark Chew, and his son Archie Chew and partner Alicia Easaw-Mamutil, both videographers (Alicia + Archie). With most of their regular work on hold due to lockdowns, the trio completed a pandemic pivot of their own, turning their skills towards a new project exploring the realities of a hospitality industry in hibernation.
Seven local chefs and restaurateurs feature in the series, shot in Mark's signature documentary style, including Guy Grossi, Karen Martini and France Soir's Jean Paul Prunetti, each captured in striking black and white, sitting in their own empty restaurant.
"I wanted to show what it's really like, what restaurants and chefs look like when they're not doing what they're destined to do," Mark explained to Concrete Playground. "We didn't want it to be too negative. We wanted to give the chefs the opportunity to talk about why it's hard for them [and] what's at the end of the tunnel."
And the stories confirm that the reality of venue closures goes well beyond silent dining rooms, with each of these restaurants existing as part of its own community.
"All the chefs made the point that cooking the food is a big part of it, but it's not all of it," the photographer said. "It's about the performance and the buzz. There's a little bit of theatre, there's feedback from the customers, interactions. And a lot of that is what keeps them stimulated, keeps them pushing on."
The film itself captures another layer, sharing an extra dimension not always accessible by photography alone. "When Mark goes and takes these portraits, there's always these really great stories that come as a result because the actual process involves getting to know these people," explains Archie. "It's nice, with the video you get to see how the photograph is made."
While Empty Chairs At Empty Tables digs into an unfortunate chapter of Melbourne's hospitality story, it also gives an optimistic nod towards the — hopefully — not too distant future, when the industry is allowed to blossom again. And it serves as a reminder of why these passionate people are so important to our community. As Archie reflects: "It's about so much more than just food."
Check out the full film here:
Top Images: 1) Guy Grossi of Grossi Florentino; 2) Hannah Green & Rosheen Kaul of Etta; 3) Jean Paul Prunetti of France Soir; 4) Karen Martini of Hero; 5) Khanh Nguyen of Aru; 6) Daniel Leuzzi of Freddy's Pizza; 7) Tom Giurioli of Freddy's Pizza.
Published on September 24, 2021 by Libby Curran