Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft histories.
On my daily walk into the city, I’m frequently reminded of all the things in my own neighbourhood I never stopped to photograph: the humpy roof of architect Ian Athfield’s freshly demolished First Church of Christ Science on Willis St, one of countless fantastic window displays at Hunters and Collectors, or a particularly witty protest sign I saw near Parliament years ago. After a quick moment of regret, I reconcile myself by remembering I live in the same city as Andrew Ross.
Ross talks about his photography as a duty. Attentive to the ever-evolving nature of his city, Wellington, Ross has been active in documenting local scenes on the precipice of change for over 30 years. At Photospace Gallery on Courtenay Place, Ross’ latest exhibition, People and Places, has recently opened.
It’s the photographer totally in his large format, silver gelatin print element. Ross is often recognised as a master photographer of historic places, however, it’s not just the age of a building where the appeal lies. Ross talks about being drawn to environments that “feed the souls” of their inhabitants. This extends beyond homes, to bookstores, music venues, ceramics studios, and motorcycle garages, all of which he has photographed for this exhibition.
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And although he’s behind the camera, these are all environments where Ross is a part of the community or a friend to his subject. This familiar association is apparent in his works. There is a quiet sympathy present in his photographs. You can appreciate this in the images where Ross’ subjects meet the camera with a sense of ease, and the trust and faith they have in their photographer’s perspective is plain to see. One such image is that of Rainbow Books on Riddiford St, Newtown, where the bookstore owner Brian Stenner and dog Tag sit proudly in front of the teeming bookstore alongside friends, Lindsey and Gordon.
Ross’ photographs of people are excellent, but it is his photographs without them that I find the most beguiling. While they may 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 within these spaces.
The photograph of a Glenside living room is a prime example. Here is a riot of a room, where objects abound and light fittings are put to work as coat stands. But despite this chaos, the photograph is meticulous. The room is suspended still, as light pours in and every interior element is captured with Ross’ signature precision. As a viewer, this photograph and many others in People and Places are ones to luxuriate in – demanding you to get up close and bask in their details.
Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, the annual graduate showcase at Massey University College of Creative Arts, continues this week. It is always worth a visit and this year I was especially impressed by the photography of Iolo Adams and Amber-Jayne Bain, both graduating with a Bachelor of Design with Honours.
Iolo Adams’ installation Windows to Yesterday and Tomorrow includes verdant images of the Wairarapa bush. The images have been carefully constructed to offer a generous study of this environment. In one photograph, a mirror has been inserted into the landscape enabling the single image to convey multiple, meta views of the sun-soaked Wairarapa scene. The result is visually dynamic and technically accomplished. The same level of care has gone into the curatorial arrangement of Adams’ photographs at Exposure which come together as an immersive and striking presentation.
The Rogues Gallery is a series of powerful portraits by Bain. Here, Bain has photographed a range of fellow photographers, writers, and other artistic people with the intent of capturing something of their creative essence. Each subject has been photographed by Bain twice, with two distinct approaches to portraiture having been utilised. There are relaxed, contextual photographs of the featured individuals in their own environments as well as close-up studio portraits that immediately command attention.
Bain’s images of arts practitioner Natalie Jones evidence the photographer’s dual method. In one image, Jones is seen working away into the night from inside her caravan office, while her accompanying portrait shows a very different Jones positioned in the centre of the frame against a deep red backdrop, staunchly looking right at the viewer. Bain has a real skill for this latter kind of photography, depicting her subjects with a confident blend of humanity and strength.
Both Adams and Bain have physical photobooks to accompany their exhibited works and, with a show as expansive as Exposure, it is well worth allowing plenty of time to not only enjoy the works installed within the galleries, but also to view these and other photobooks which have been finely assembled and offer further perspectives on the work of these emerging photographers.
- People and Places, Photospace Gallery, until Jan 28. Exposure Exhibition He Kahoni Kitea, Massey, until Nov 25.
PRINT: Sebastian Clarke (Ngāti Awa, Pākehā) is a writer and researcher interested in New Zealand architectural and craft histories.