Jordan G. Teicher
In rural Australia, a man’s shed is his kingdom. It’s a place to drink, hang out with his buddies, work on his car, or do whatever pursuit strikes his interest. For photographer Jasper White, these individualized spaces became a matter of sociological interest when he saw a shed belonging to his sister’s neighbor on a visit in 2008. White photographed more than 100 sheds over the next couple years, traveling through small towns in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia in search of the most visually appealing man caves. “They're almost like visual diaries of a guy's life,” White said. “You have a sense of his aspirations, fears, loves—the whole thing is kind of there.”
While man caves are not a phenomenon unique to Australia, the shed does seem to occupy a unique place in rural Australian culture. (Listen to John Williamson’s brilliant musical ode to sheds to get the idea.) “They perform an important role,” White said. “They help these guys to express themselves. It is a form of creative expression. It's an outlet. It can help a lot of men get over isolation.”
Sheds can serve a number of purposes, and over the course of his project, White saw the full range. One was designed to function as a nightclub, complete with a rotating disco ball. Another had a climbing wall. Another, belonging to an inventor, was fully automated with a complicated system of levers and pulleys.
While man caves in America might constitute a den or some other small room within a house, rural Australian homes tend to be situated on large lots of land, allowing the men to construct their personal sanctuaries on a much bigger scale. “You can have a shed the size of an aircraft carrier,” White said. “In fact, one of them had an aircraft in his shed.”
In towns where the local bar shuts early, a man’s shed can serve as an after-hours gathering place for the entire community, White said. While women can be seen in the sheds from time to time, White said it’s predominantly a “boys club.” “I think the women are quite glad the guys are out of the house,” he said. “In some ways it can ruin relationships. In other ways it can save them.”