Thoughtfactory: pictures experiments journeys

brief working notes on various photographic projects

reflections on photography in Wellington

I've been continuing to search the web looking for more Wellington-based art photographers,  other than  those I mentioned in an earlier post on this blog and on a post here. I was interested in those art  photographers who had an online presence,  and  in my search I came across Mark Marriott, Hans Weston, Tracey Kearns. These are photographers with a body of work and who exhibit regularly. 

By all accounts Wellington has a number of  good active art photographers, non-profit galleries,  some small artist-run spaces and a photographic dealer gallery.  The  art photographic scene appears  to be lively, the work interesting, with much of it is  project based.  There are more reflections on the Wellington photographic scene  here.

An example  of a project based  body of work  is the  recent book by the poet /photographer Mary Macpherson.  Old New World, consists  of  her photographs made over seven years  about the changes in New Zealand society as seen in the small regional/rural towns throughout the country.   The narrative is one of a shift from a traditional New Zealand, to places of prosperity and development that look very different to the 1960s and 70s. Peter Ireland interpreted the work "as a melancholy lament for the steady disappearance of the New Zealand of her childhood and youth, especially since the economic “reforms” of the 1980s." 

Maybe not.  There  is a section that deals with places that have been changed or transformed through development. Ireland says that:

The road trip is a bit of a guy thing, and, formally, her imagery then tended to echo the style pioneered here by Robin Morrison and furthered by other male photographers such as John McDermott and Derek Henderson [ie., The Terrible Boredom of Paradise]

However, the  photographic  works that Macpherson says that she thought about before making her Old New World photographs  were Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places (for his photographing of everyday streets and buildings with tremendous formal sophistication)  Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects (his restrained, yet socially charged images) and Walker Evan’s photographs of buildings.

These are  American photographers and the surprise is that there's no mention of New Zealand photographers; even though Macpherson says that she is aware of,  and looks closely at,  the work done by New Zealand photographers, particularly the work about journeys around New Zealand and explorations of place and identity.  What does that imply about NZ photographic culture, or Macpherson's understanding of that culture?  Maybe Macpherson quietly references other NZ photographers, such as  Morrison and Henderson, as well as Lawrence Aberhart and Peter Peryer.  

Macpherson says that the body of work in Old New World is part of trying to understand her world and where she fits in it. In that sense photography--- as meaningful, sensuous, particular works of art---is a form of thinking and self-discovery. What this indicates is that though artworks are indeed objects, the truth-content of art is of the world while also offering critical reflections upon it. 

I mention Macpherson's work here because when I was looking at the photographs in Old New World I wondered if  there is  similar work being done by contemporary Australian art photographers. I cannot recall any off hand. Certainly no photographer  that I know  of in Adelaide is  working on such a project---exploring the way that the layers of time and history and development that sit within a townscape, and to photograph things within their everyday context.   

Yet Australia as  a place to be  has been changing rapidly since the 1980s. So has its identity as a result of these changes. It is quite different from our remembered past because things change: buildings are demolished or  their uses change or  they have facelifts; towns can slowly die.  These with their  street and  artworks are the public containers of our history and identify.