Through a Renter's Lens – photo competition top entries


Over the last few months the Tenants’ Union was delighted to host a statewide competition and exhibition of renters' photography. We were thrilled with the number and quality of entries we received on all the three themes of People, Place and Pets.

Beyond technical skill, aesthetic appeal and excellent composition, the renter photographers were able to capture the human side behind the rental crisis currently gripping NSW. Check out the top entries below – tap on each photo to see it full size, and scroll down the page to see statements / stories.

We exhibited the top entries and awarded the winners at a special one-night exhibition at Customs House.





Summer Shenanigans

I rented my three-bedroom house in Flood St Leichhardt with a view to having my family from Bendigo up for Christmas. So mum, dad, my sister and her two boys bunked down with my son Toby and I for a fun 2021 Christmas-NYE. The three boys – Tobin, Zane and Will – slept in a tent in the backyard. One of my favourite parts of living in the house was lying in a hammock strung between the two old olive trees in the backyard. Here my dad – also Rod – in his summer attire, is playing hide and seek with my youngest nephew Will – aged 6 at the time.

Photographer: Rod Smith
People Category Winner

John and his Vincent Bach Stadivarius

As well as being one of the leading figures on the international trumpet scene and the owner of Australia’s largest collection of historical trumpets, John Foster, 45, is also my neighbour. When he’s not performing on the global stage John spends much of his time practising at home; a cosy centuries-old terrace a few blocks off Enmore Road in Sydney’s inner-west, that he’s rented with his wife Kirsty for the last decade. As we moved in last July, my new housemates and I quickly found ourselves the audience of John’s rehearsals, as the sounds of his Vincent Bach Stradivarius – his most prized piece of brass that he’s owned since age 12 – reverberated through our new rental. We were soon welcomed to the neighbourhood by his friendly smile at the door and have since enjoyed many colourful yarns from over the fence, and the occasional slab of cider – a peace offering of sorts – after a long day of practice. “Most neighbours have been very understanding. I always introduce myself and explain that I never play before 10am and after 5pm…they even say that they like the sound of the trumpet, well at least that’s what they tell me,” says John.

Photographer: Aston Brown
People Category Semi-finalist
People's Choice Award Winner

Keith Street Kitchen

This photo was taken in winter at my close friend Laura's house. Here their neighbours and friends, partner (my housemate) and activity fill the room. The conversations and movements overlap and abut but do not interrupt each other, my dog jumps for a toy swung mid air, Henry makes Laura laugh while Julia investigates images on the fridge. All these things could drown each other out, but much like our houses who are full to the brim with guests or housemates, pets and various to-ings and fro-ings, it fills the space with a warmth that a draft free house could never come close to. 

Photographer: Marlow Filmer-Sankey
People Category Finalist


Dad, is this our house? No, we rent it. I mean, It’s someone else’s and we’re just living in it; and we give them money to live in it. And Daddy, can we get a house with a pool next time? Na, pools are too much work. You have to keep them clean and I’m already really busy. Why do you have to keep them clean? Why do you think? So if you swim in them, umm, with leaves in the pool, maybe some leaves will be sharp; and if you swim and it has a lot leaves in the deep side, then you’ll touch the leaves and you might drown. And Daddy, when will we get our own house? I don’t know, maybe, maybe after a long time. Dad, can we get a big house with an upstairs? Maybe, let’s see. Daddy, is that rats? Yep. Maybe one of the rats is getting married.

Photographer: Max Lewis Liberman
People Category Finalist

The Secret Castle

Home is not just four walls, it's where the love and warmth of family reside. The bond of family is what truly makes a house a home, even a humble pillow fort can be transformed into a cosy and loving home through the love and laughter shared by family. 

Renting in NSW may present challenges, but if my children have a safe and secure roof over their heads, my heart is filled with love and contentment knowing that my family is under that roof with me.

Photographer: Ryan Adams
People Category Semi-finalist

Tea and Book

This photo was taken in late 2021, from the back steps of my share-house. Which stood under the shadow of the Mirvac Marrickville hospital development. 

Sitting in the temporary 'greenhouse' constructed from pallets and found windows. Positioned in a corner of the garden that caught a stream of early morning sun. Surrounded by a garden of pot-plants, ready to be moved at anytime.

Photographer: Liam Robertson
People Category Semi-finalist


Transient Home

"A home is not made from bricks and mortar, but love and memories". This quote from the classic movie "The Castle" is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. It highlights the importance of being able to sink your roots into the ground and imprint your identity on the environment around you. Our homes are now seen as nothing more than investment opportunities to be flipped and sold in spite of the lives of the occupants. 

This transitory feeling is reflected in my photograph with my sister being transparent at her desk. As young renters we are vulnerable to having our home whisked away at a moment's notice for reasons such as excessive rent increases or no-cause evictions. The house will then be rid of our identity with a new coat of paint as if it were diseased. 

Photographer: Daniel Gerling
Place Category Winner

In Our Living Room

I’ve moved houses five times in the past six years. The two possessions most dear to me that have accompanied me through all the moves is art works and my books. Hanging on the wall are a few artworks I own. I was so proud to have found this big, white bookshelf for free on Facebook marketplace to house my steadily growing book collection. By sheer luck it fit the little alcove perfectly- seamlessly blending into the room- a statement centerpiece of our living area.

We’ve all had our share of living with incompatible strangers- that’s why I decided to give living with a friend a shot (and after seeing the rent prices for single studio dwellings). Living with a friend comes with it’s own challenges and compromises- but the thing I most treasure is being able to do our own thing in the quiet and respectful comfort of a home that we’ve built, together. My housemate is reading by window and her shadow is reflected in the picture frame I’m holding. It’s a reminder that this companionship is a memory that will travel with me through future houses, as treasured as my art and books. 

Photographer: Lehan Zhang
Place Category Finalist

The Clowns Complete Me

This is the first time I have ever moved out of home, I am 24 years old. My family home held a lot of judgement towards my art, and whenever I wished to create I felt like I had to hide. Moving in to my own space has allowed me the creative freedom to decorate and create an environment that inspires my creativity and vision. The walls are covered in trinkets that I have collected through my years. In this image— My vinyl collection and a single clown can be seen, alongside my own clown persona. We look towards each other with the same sentiment— We have settled, this once empty space has become home. My once clipped wings have spread again, like in the cross stitch art behind my head. 

Photographer: Berry Antonietti
Place Category Finalist


The kitchen is one of the most important rooms of our rented home. It is where we prepare breakfast, Cook lunch and dinners; Make batches of jam and Indian pickles. Where we bake sough-dough bread, birthday cakes and banana bread from over-ripe bananas. Throughout the day cups of tea and coffee are prepared. The littlest one likes to sit on the bench top while the dishes are being washed.

Photographer: Max Lewis Lieberman
Place Category Semi-finalist

Growing together

This photo is of a space in the Northcott Public Housing estate that was once just a dry patch of dirt. The community has grown in to a beautiful garden and art space. To me, it shows community and a place i'm glad to call home.

Photographer: Charmaine Jones
Place Category Semi-finalist

Wall to the World

In the worst place I ever lived, my bedroom wall had recently been painted. Which sounds better than it was. Because, due to broken guttering, rainwater ran down the outside of the building and led to the walls being so damp that the paint never fully dried. Because of this, I had to position my bed away from the wall because otherwise I’d roll over at night and get paint on my pyjamas. 

I live in a far better place now (and pay handsomely for the privilege). But sometimes when I see walls or guttering, I’m reminded of the power imbalance between landlords and tenants (and their agents). They can get away with covering up all sorts of flaws in their properties. But we have to walk on eggshells, hoping that the most ordinary wear and tear doesn’t get inflated into excuses for withholding deposits.

Photographer: Eamon Norry
Place Category Semi-finalist


Coffee Watches Anxiously

Coffee is a very nervous cat, diagnosed and medicated for anxiety, just like his human. A flat is not just a home for Coffee, it is the instinctive understanding of safety and security all creatures seek out. 

The past year living in Newtown, Coffee has blossomed into new confidence, trusting visiting friends, welcoming affection, and he’s learned to love a good brush. While still skittish, he’s learned the escape routes he needs if we look like we’re walking too fast, if our hands might lash out to carry him to the dreaded vets office. He’s become comfortable here.

Coffee and his human received a no cause termination notice and are forced to vacate by the 16th of February.

When we consider the practice of treating a rental property as a financial asset, - from the perspective of a cat, we can see the barbarism at work. 

Photographer: Dylan Young
Pets Category Winner

Mister Leo

We always know when there is about to be a thunder storm as Mister Leo will burrow a little hiding spot under the bed blankets before it begins. He has many hiding spots around our home but under his blankey is one of his favourites.

Photographer: Dan Durt
Pets Category Finalist

My Mantis Friend

Our pets / are not on the lease / they arrive / without appointment / fluttering / flying / crawling / taking up residence / in overgrown foliage, / jasmine vines, / and my trove of cheap pot-plants / I welcome them all / bees, beetles, butterflies / caterpillars / inching their way / from leaf / to leaf / dragonflies darting / rapid fire / back and forth / around the washing line / and camouflaged in fern fronds / each summer / glimpses / of green mantids / four generations now / of wondrous tiny hunters / I like to call my friends / small humans request / I coax one / onto my fingers / so we can admire / their splendid presence / and cadent dance / at dusk / while crickets chirp / I sometimes spy / the majestic predators / spring into action / pounce ! / a fly for dinner / as I weed / and water / compost / and clip, clip, clip / cultivating / soft greenery / in this concrete courtyard / I wonder / when the decision comes / a renovation / will bring higher rent / and new tenants / what will happen / to the insects ?

Photographer: Katriona R
Pets Category Finalist

My housemates

After long stints in small apartments, my housemates and I were so excited to finally live in a house with a backyard and heaps of space. We slowly began to fill the space with lots of new housemates. Over the course of our twelve-month lease, we welcomed three cats, a foster dog, and four chickens. Some would say that we went overboard. I’d say: you’ve got to take the opportunities that you can in this rental market.

Photographer: Lucia Brown
Pets Category Semi-finalist


This photograph epitomizes to me the absolute incredible survival, procreational and best reincarnational life anyone could desire.

Sex, food, shit, more sex

Any wonder they all for facing upwards.

Laughing at you coz their coming straight back

Photographer: UniversalOdessey
Pets Category Semi-finalist

Little Bean

"A home is not made from bricks and mortar, but love and memories". This quote from the classic movie "The Castle" is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. It highlights the importance of being able to sink your roots into the ground and imprint your identity on the environment around you. Our homes are now seen as nothing more than investment opportunities to be flipped and sold in spite of the lives of the occupants. A landlord in NSW can refuse permission for a tenant to keep a pet, without needing a reason. This means people wanting to grow their family are unable to do so, and people already with pets experience great difficulty finding someone willing to give them a lease. Imagine being refused a lease because your child was deemed undesirable. 

Photographer: Daniel Gerling
Pets Category Semi-finalist



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