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architecture, critical writing, urban, Wellington

critical writing about photography

December 17, 2015

I have been digging around  the web looking for more contemporary Wellington-based photographers,   other than those I mentioned in an earlier post here and here  on this blog.  In doing so I came across  the work of Mark MarriottHans Weston, Tracey Kearns  —art photographers who have both an online presence and who exhibit regularly. Wellington has a number of  good active photographers and  small artist-run spaces.  The scene appears lively and the work interesting and diverse.

A good example  is Mary Macpherson’s Old New World, a  book of her photographs made over seven years  about change 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. Presumably, the background reference  is to the way that the neo-liberal mode of capitalism has systematically  shaped New Zealand’s economy and society,  so deeply affected aspects of everyday life as the process of  commodification permeates all segments of society including art.  A book is an appropriate form of expression  for this kind of  photographic work about our historical experiences about what is passing away.

In  reworking  of the photographic approaches of  Walker Evans, Steven Shore and Joel  Steinfield Old New World  is against forgetting the past by proposing to remember the poetry of  place in the landscapes and urbanscapes  of the backroads of New Zealand. In doing so the text puts the  past and recent works of New Zealand art photography into a different light,  and opens them to different  meanings inside and outside the art institution.

 Macpherson, who is a poet as well as  a photographer,    says that this body of work is part of trying to understand her world and where she fits in it–ie., a trying to make sense of the changes.  In that sense photography, as meaningful, sensuous, particular works of art  is a form of thinking and self-discovery. What this suggests is that though artworks are indeed objects, the truth-content of art is of the world while also offering critical reflections upon it. This is a stance that is quite different from the contemporary adherents of the Romantic notion that art must establish itself as the antithesis of reason.
tree, Wellington CBD

tree, Wellington CBD

Whilst  reflecting on  Macpherson’s  Old New World  work  I  became curious about the breadth and depth  of the critical writing about photography and the visual arts in Wellington. I wondered if the situation in Wellington was the same as Adelaide. Both are provincial cities with the  mainstream newspapers getting smaller,  the resources devoted to journalism and editorship dropping, and the space for the visual art continuing to shrink.   So where to for critical writing on photography?

Mark Amery, speaking in relation to Wellington,  says that the closure of his fortnightly visual arts column with the Dominion Post newspaper in 2014  leaves Wellington without any visual arts commentary. The story is a familiar one: the mainstream media are increasingly treating the visual arts as irrelevant. The consequence is that Wellington’s visual artists are  left with the  critical writing about their work having a marginal existence in niche online publications, just like Adelaide with the  Adelaide Review.  Emery, who runs  public art programme Letting Space, mentions  the Pantograph PunchThe Lumière Reader,  Eyecontact and The Big Idea  in relation to New Zealand.  Continue Reading…

architecture, colour, digital, urban, Wellington

art photography in Wellington

December 7, 2015

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.

Coop Bank, Wellington

Coop Bank, Wellington

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.

Continue Reading…

architecture, digital, Encounter Studio, urban, Wellington

in Wellington, New Zealand

May 10, 2015

I spent a couple of days in Wellington, New Zealand. I hadn’t been there since I worked in the CBD as an economist and lived in Hataitai on a ridge above the shoreline of Evans Bay in  the early 1970s.  I was expecting a lot of changes and I was prepared to be  rather disorientated.

It was a quick photography trip built around renewing my NZ driving licence and I spent the two days that I had available walking around the CBD and  the inner suburbs such as Thorndon; then seeing  photography  exhibitions and checking out the art hubs/centres when the wind turned into a gale and/or it started  raining heavily.


Wellington is a very walkable city, it is easy to get around, and it offers good photographic opportunities due to  the  CBD being on a narrow coastal plain located between Wellington Harbor and the Wadestown  hill face.
Continue Reading…

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