My last two visits to Wellington ( New Zealand) have enabled me to see that art photography in Wellington looks to be centred around the PhotoSpace gallery that is run by James Gilberd. The gallery opened in 1992 and it is the longest running photographic gallery in New Zealand. It remains the only gallery in the Wellington region dedicated to exhibiting contemporary New Zealand and international photography. It values a high level of craft and has a stable of established, regular exhibitors.
Unfortunately, 147 Cuba Street was closed, when I visited it. Though there are no state funded photography galleries in New Zealand, the City Gallery Wellington, regularly exhibits photography. The nearest photographic gallery to PhotoSpace is the McNamara Gallery in Whanganui. The current exhibition is contemporary ambrotypes and daguerreotypes by Joyce Campbell, and the gallery has good links to contemporary New Zealand photographers and publications.
This gallery has done far more foregrounding New Zealand photography over the past decade than the largely conservative Auckland Art Gallery and Christchurch Art Gallery, which have acted to marginalise photographers vis-a -is the public gallery system. They do so with exhibition programmes that function as if New Zealand photography wasn’t happening, or if they acknowledged photography’s existence, they were noted for their absence over the past couple of decades in dealing with the medium of photography critically.
The established Wellington-based photographers include Mary McPherson, Andrew Ross, Peter Black and Julian Ward. I knew the photographic work of Lester Blair from his Flickr days and came across the photos of Gabrielle Mckone recently whilst photographing in Wellington. I know next to nothing about the critical writing on New Zealand art and photography. I’ve only just discovered that Geoffrey Batchen is currently teaching at Victoria University. That is the extent of my surface knowledge of Wellington art photography.
I don’t really have much of a sense of art photography in Wellington, or its history since the 1970s–in contrast to the photography of the Auckland region. I did know that PhotoForum/Wellington wound up in 1992. Documentary photography has been a dominant language of PhotoForum photography, and this often focused on social and political issues. PhotoForum’s ethos was to publish the contemporary work of members and fellow travellers.
What I did see at Te Papa Tongarewa, was some 8×10 black and white prints by Mark Adams —eg., his Land of Memories’— and those by Laurence Aberhart. I also saw some of Wayne Barrar‘s colour photographs of salt ponds/works . These images were in Te Papa’s impressive New Zealand Photography Collected photography exhibition. Aberhart’s work has included images of memorials in New Zealand and Australia as well as rural churches, masonic halls, graveyards, glass-case museum displays, and suburban housing on the edge of dereliction.