I am participating in the Photoforum Members Show at Studio 541, Mt Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. I rejoined Photoforum when I was at Photobook-NZ in Wellington after several years absence. I submitted 3 images (medium format, colour negative film) for inclusion in the Members Show, which were made when I was walking Wellington on a recent visit. The exhibition was oversubscribed, so the curators/organizers reduced the three images to two. However, it was only due to the stirling work at very short notice by the team at Atkins Photo Lab in Adelaide that I was able to get the images printed, framed and couriered to Auckland. We had a week to do it.
All the images in the Photoforum exhibition are posted on Studio 541’s website along with the bio’s and artist statements. These show a diverse range of work that stands in opposition to, and digs beneath, the NZ is beautiful or a paradise school of photography.
Photoforum was co-founded in 1973 by John B Turner, Tom Hutchins and Max Oettli to promote photography as an artistic and expressive medium, to encourage co-operation and collaboration amongst the photographic community, and to provide mentoring for photographers. A secondary, but crucial aim, was to encourage photographers to actively engage in the public risk-taking of critical writing and curatorial practice, outside of the universities and polytechnics.
Over its 40 years history Photoforum has also helped to nurture a critical environment, but there is still a lack of critics and historians to better cover the field of photography in New Zealand. My memories of the early years when I was a member was that documentary photography has been the dominant language of PhotoForum photography.There is nothing like this community-orientated non-profit organisation, which has made valuable contributions to New Zealand art and art history, amongst the art photographers in Australia. We independent Australian art photographers are much poorer as a result of not having a similar DIY community of expressive photographers.
My 2 images in the exhibition are from a new project tentatively entitled Reconnections –ie., reconnecting with a very different Wellington after an absence of 40 years. I had worked in the public service in a depressing Wellington in the early 1970s, and I briefly returned around 2015 to find it a very charming and walkable city. Once my mother, who was living in Christchurch had died, Wellington became my entry point into New Zealand, and the city where I felt most at home. As my return visits to NZ became more frequent, Wellington emerged as my base for my personal and photographic reconnection with New Zealand.
The Reconnections project is about the space created by the migrant experience: the running away from an oppressive and inward looking NZ in the 1970s, the absence or void from not being in NZ, and then returning to NZ, and more specifically to a funky Wellington that rests uneasily within a volatile ecology, plate boundary subsidence, and rising sea levels in the low lying areas of Kilbirnie, Wellington’s central business district, the Hutt River floodplain and Porirua Harbour. Wellington, unfortunately, has several vulnerable coastal areas.
Reconnections is a project about personal trajectories, being separated by, and crossing borders. The narrative is one of journey, memory, forgetfulness and remembrance with the photographic language being around emotional states and so it is quite different to my poodlewalks work or the Mallee Routes project. The project is envisioned as a book,and I will avoid self-publishing through Blurb as they never promote their high cost books (it’s the cost of the postage from the US that pushes up the price). Blurb is probably the well-trodden path to obscurity, unfortunately.
Back to the Photoforum Members exhibition at Studio 541. The danger that can surface is what Mary Macpherson calls the snippet syndrome in her review of Pictures They Want to Make: Recent Auckland Photography. By this she means that as each person only has two or three pictures to support a statement in an exhibition (or book) covering 50 photographers, so the images can become a series of easily forgotten glimpses, as there is simply not enough work from each artist in the exhibition (or book) to provide depth or resonance with respect to their projects. This is more pronounced when viewing the images on a computer screen and there is no website attached to the artist statement to allow the viewer to dig more deeply into the photographer’s body of work.
I have spent some time doing a bit of digging to find out more of the exhibitors projects. Most of them have websites, and the links below are what I have been able to find about their photographic work online. These include Tamara Azizian, Mark Beehre, Harvey Benge, Caryline Boreham, Jon Carapiet, Cathy Carter, Sonja Gardien, Lara Gilks, Deborah Hide-Bayne, Niki Hill, Veronica Hodgkinson, Mary Hutchinson, Brendan Kitto, Maurice Lyle, Stuart Mackenzie, Julius Margan, Anton Maurer, Daniel Mayo-Turner, Gabrielle McKone, Solomon Mortimer, Tony Nyberg, Bertie Plaatsman, Maria Sainsbury, Haru Sameshima, Céline Sayé, Yvonne Shaw, Geoff Short, Stacey Simpkin, Ellie Smith, Mark Smith, Stuart Sontier, Martin Taylor, Jenny Tomlin, Julian Ward, Ans Westra, Yvonne Westra, and Jan Young. This represents a solid body of work.
The images on the above websites indicate that art photography in New Zealand is in a very healthy state. Photoforum should be very proud of what they have achieved over the 40 years. It should be a good and interesting exhibition, and one that indicates the scope and vitality of art photography in New Zealand. This recent burst of exhibition life by Photoforum shows that they are not resting on their well earned, historical laurels.