photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

Capturing Adelaide’s built heritage on camera

Cultural Heart People of Adelaide At Work

Adelaide’s cityscape is a union of heritage and contemporary architecture. Alongside crisp and clean 21st century additions - their glass exteriors mirroring the sky, are heritage-listed gems that showcase beauty through their earthy claddings of sandstone, bluestone, brick and marble. These historic buildings contribute enormously to the unique character and feel of Adelaide. They tell us much about our city’s past – as a place, and as a community – and now you can discover all of them in one spot.

The task of visually documenting all 2,497 of the city’s heritage-listed places as part of the City of Adelaide’s Photographic Survey was undertaken by Adelaide freelance photographer/cinematographer, Ryan Cantwell.

Ryan cantwell with bike

Adelaide photographer Ryan Cantwell with his faithful treadly.

Filipino by birth, Ryan came to Australia when he was three, growing up in regional South Australia. He moved to Adelaide in his early 20s, lured by the city’s music scene, landscape, food venues, and the chance to meet new friends through his passion for skateboarding. An interest in photography in his late teens, sparked during his graphic design studies, became a full-time pursuit in 2015. Apart from earning him a living, photography also serves as a sort of ‘life-recorder’ for Ryan.

“To document where you go and who you spend time with in your life is always nice to look back on - whether it's been the past week, a month, or a year. There’s something interesting about that.”
Ryan Cantwell, photographer

While in his own time he enjoys shooting friends skateboarding or surfing (”you can develop unique specialties with the quirks they bring!”), Ryan’s specialty is photographing editorial features about Adelaide, the place that – as he puts it: “lets me meet new people and see what they do in their part of the world.”

“When you come from a mundane country town with barren scenery, Adelaide is like a candy store of places to utilise.”

Taking to his treadly, Ryan navigated his way across the CBD, North Adelaide and the Park Lands over several weeks to shoot the city’s heritage-listed places at their best angle.

The photographs taken by Ryan as part of the Photographic Survey will be highlighted in several City of Adelaide projects. One is the City of Adelaide’s new Heritage Places of Adelaide database, an ever-evolving online resource that shares stories and photographs of our heritage-listed places via a user-friendly map. With a couple of ‘clicks’ users can explore our magical collection of heritage places, from buildings to bridges, and our city plan to statues, this database really has it all!

Ryan has kindly shared with us a little about his experience undertaking this mammoth task and getting up close and personal with the city’s past.


How did you approach the project creatively?

“On the camera side of things, I used a Canon 5D, Mark III and Mark IV with a 24-70 2.8 lens. That focal length covered the range I needed to shoot both up close to a building and from across the street when I was after a wider corner shot.

“Most of the task was done throughout summer, so my window of time and lighting was around 9:00 am to 2:00 pm - before the sun really kicks in. That time frame allowed the buildings to not have too much shadow on their facades and also highlighted some key features and areas that wouldn't be seen in an afternoon light. Angles were a bit tricky with some buildings, but I just did my best to stand where I could to get the best shot without being too intrusive."

Tandanya building by ryan cantwell
photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

“Where it was possible, I added a human subject to the photos, so there was someone walking dead centre into a building entrance or outside. It’s just a detail I like to use to add to the image composition.”

What are your favourite city heritage buildings to photograph?

“I’d have to say the buildings along the eastern half of North Terrace - like the Adelaide Club and Gawler Chambers. The scale and character they have still hold so much integrity in today’s streetscape, but the buildings were constructed so long ago.”

Gawler chambers by ryan cantwell
photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

Did you meet some interesting people along the way?

“Throughout the project, I bumped into a lot of people going about their daily routines: watering the garden or walking the dog, and they were always up for a bit of a chat and to find out more about the project and my work. People were curious as to why the photos were being taken and that sparked conversations about how places can change very quickly. I witnessed that myself. One day I photographed a corner house and only a week later the fence was being torn down and replaced with something more in-keeping with the house and the area. 

“I also met a guy who lives in a really small unique house in North Adelaide. He invited me inside to show me more about the building’s features. He had a serious collection of art work that blew me away. I felt like I went into a gallery that only existed by personal invite.”

What building were you most excited to uncover?

“The house designed by Robin Boyd on Palmer Place in North Adelaide. I love that a modernist design is in such an historic area – it’s such a contrast to all the ‘traditional’ heritage buildings on the same street. I liked that the house has a mushroom like form where the top half is the larger part of the house. I’d like to get the opportunity to see the house from the inside.”

Side shot of walkley house
photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

What’s your favourite architectural feature to capture?

“I’d have to say interesting stone or rendered features on walls. These things go under the radar at street level when you walk past them."

Church credit ryan cantwell
photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

"For the Art Deco and Modernist style places I liked that the buildings had strong shapes and lines. It helped to get the composition of the photo but also to see what shadow play they had to offer at the time of being photographed."

Art deco building credit ryan cantwell
photo-icon Ryan Cantwell

Did you come across any buildings you thought were heritage listed that weren’t – and vice versa?

“Yeah, there were a few buildings that fooled me into believing they were heritage listed, but they weren’t on the list to photograph. Visually, the building presented like it would be heritage listed and looked no different to the heritage listed buildings on either side of it – or in some cases attached to it. There were also a few that I was surprised to find out were heritage listed. When I double checked through my list of heritage places to photograph, read the blue heritage plaque or if I chatted to the occupant/owner, I’d get a bit of a run down to understand why.”


Enjoy a selection of Ryan's photos of city heritage places below ....

Ryan Cantwell - photographer

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