Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft history.
As I walk into town every day, I’m frequently reminded of one of the things in my own neighborhood I’ve never stopped to photograph: the humped roof of architect Ian Athfield’s newly demolished First Church of Christ Science on Willis Street, one of countless fantastic window displays at hunter-gatherers, or a particularly witty protest sign I saw near Parliament years ago. After a brief moment of regret, I come to terms with the fact that I live in the same town as Andrew Ross.
Ross speaks of his photography as a duty. Aware of the ever-evolving nature of his city of Wellington, Ross has been documenting local scenes at the brink of change for over 30 years. Ross’ latest exhibition, People and Places, recently opened at the Photospace Gallery in Courtenay Place.
It is the photographer entirely in his large format silver gelatin print element. Ross is often recognized as a master photographer of historic sites, but it’s not just a building’s age that creates its appeal. Ross speaks of being drawn to environments that “nourish the souls of their inhabitants”. This extends beyond homes to bookstores, music venues, ceramic studios and motorcycle garages, all of which he photographed for this exhibition.
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And while he’s behind the camera, these are all settings where Ross is part of the community or a friend of his subject. This familiar association is evident in his works. There is a quiet sympathy in his photographs. You can see this in the images, where Ross’s subjects hit the camera with a sense of ease, and the confidence and trust they have in their photographer’s perspective is clearly seen. One such image is that of Rainbow Books on Riddiford Street, Newtown, where bookshop owner Brian Stenner and Dog Tag, along with friends, Lindsey and Gordon, sit proudly in front of the teeming bookshop.
Ross’s photographs of people are excellent, but I find his photographs without them the most compelling. Even if they do not appear in the frame, these interior images reveal to us so much about people and serve as worthy portraits of those who cultivate their lives in these spaces.
A photo of a living room in Glenside is a prime example. Here is a riot from a space where items abound and lighting fixtures are used as coat racks. But despite this chaos, the photo is meticulous. The space floats silently as light pours in, capturing every interior element with Ross’s signature precision. As a viewer, this photograph and many others in “People and Places” are the ones to enjoy – inviting you to get up close and bask in their details.
Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, the annual graduate exhibition at Massey University College of Creative Arts, continues this week. Always worth a visit and this year I was particularly impressed by the photography of Iolo Adams and Amber-Jayne Bain, who both have Bachelors of Design with Honors degrees.
Iolo Adams’ installation Windows to Yesterday and Tomorrow contains green images of the Wairarapa bush. The images have been carefully created to allow a full study of this environment. In one photo, a mirror has been inserted into the landscape, allowing the single image to convey multiple meta-views of the sun-drenched Wairarapa scene. The result is visually dynamic and technically perfect. The same level of care has gone into the curatorial arrangement of Adams’ photographs at Exposure, which come together in a haunting and evocative presentation.
The Rogues Gallery is a series of stunning portraits by Bain. Here Bain has photographed a number of fellow photographers, writers and other artists with the intention of capturing some of their creative essence. Bain photographed each subject twice, using two different approaches to portraiture. There are relaxed, contextual photographs of the characters featured in their own surroundings, as well as close-up studio portraits that immediately grab attention.
Bain’s images of art practitioner Natalie Jones demonstrate the photographer’s dual approach. In one image, Jones can be seen working late into the night in her trailer office, while her accompanying portrait shows a very different Jones, centered in the frame against a deep red background, staring steadfastly straight at the viewer. Bain has a real talent for this latter style of photography, portraying her subjects with a confident blend of humanity and strength.
Both Adams and Bain have physical photo books to accompany their works on display, and with an exhibition as extensive as Exposure it is worth allowing plenty of time not only to enjoy the works installed in the galleries, but also to peruse these and other photo books have been finely curated and offer further perspectives on the work of these up-and-coming photographers.
- People and Places, Photospace Gallery, until 28 Jan Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, Massey, until 25 Nov
PRINT: Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft history.