THE AESTHETIC WITHIN PHENOMOLOGY 2.
FLAT REALITY 3.ON A PERSONAL NOTE
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
It is some thirty years ago now that I first became involved, however peripherally,
with photography. My second job was working and training to be a commercial
artist at the Auckland Star, one of New Zealand Newspapers Limited's publications.
(It has since folded.) This was in the early seventies. I was employed
in the Sales-Promotions Dept. and tasked with, among other things, producing
travelling displays covering 100 years of news, as the "Star" was then
just 100 years old. All archival material was reproduced photographically.
It was in fact, for an eighteen-year old, not too demanding, but an educational
experience. The photography section consisted of two: The Englishman, Wilf
Tunney, who generously and patiently taught me his craft and his assistant,
the stunningly charming Christine Stranger.
In the early twenties
Chrissy was the first woman I'd met who was already an accomplished photographer.
She was also the perfect instructor -- speaking little but demonstrating
Chrissy was also in the perfect situation - she
had two wonderful models to work with her sister, Vicki, and her cousin,
Michelle. What a trio! Together they did everything: from making their
own pink crushed velvet hot-pants to spooky Halloween-like party costumes
to flatting together. God knows how they put up with me. By the time Chrissy
left for London she had one of the most impressive photographic portfolios
I've ever seen. later, she went to Spain and there, regrettably, we lost
contact. I'm sure, though, in the seventies, Chrissy was a real success.
In Auckland I also met the sculptor Adrian Hall who was then a visiting
lecturer at Auckland University's Elam School of Fine Art. Intellectually,
Adrian was a revelation and very generous with his time. I also first came
in contact with Leon Narby's light sculptures and early films. Films were
something else, as Auckland had a budding Film Festival. Adrian was creating
these model narratives which he could then photograph, among other things.
It was he and Leon who encouraged me to attend art school.
Leon had secured a teaching position at the University
of Canterbury, Ilam School of Art. I and my girlfriend, the journalist
Sue Pizarro, followed suit and moved south. Leon didn't stay long at Ilam,
just long enough to establish an Alternative Cinema and Scratch Orchestra,
before joining TVNZ as a news cameraman. Now he is regarded as one of the
finest cinemaphotographers in New Zealand. I still hold the impression
of his sculpture, though.
Laurence Shustak then
appeared on the scene. Shustak made his name in his native New York with
a portfolio of gritty photos of factory scenes, and also as the photographer
of Alan Kaprow's "happenings". He set up a new photography section within
the art school and had a definite impact on students' attitudes towards
his specialisation. As I was majoring in envirnmental sculpture photography
was a mandatory subject.
The ex-Ilam alumni Boyd Webb was somewhere in the background, too. Webb
was residing in London and making his name with elaborate narrative constructions
which he captured in spectacular colour photographs. He returned to Christchurch
at this time for an exhibition at the McDougal Art Gallery with his photographs
and a quirky performance piece, both predating the work of Gilbert and
Upon graduation I returned
to Auckland and a crippled New Zealand economy. So much had changed in
such a short period of time. A succession of jobs followed: art teacher,
cocktail barman (at the hotel where Gauguin had stayed and there framed
was his letter saying how much he detested the place), radio programme
producer, film scoring and newspaper proofreader and so on. However, a
lot of time was also spent learning to write while attempting to produce
photographic images to accompany text.
It is impossible to describe that entire period,
the mid-seventies through to the early eighties. Auckland was in creative
ferment with new bands appearing every few weeks, photographers and writers
popping up everywhere, too. The future cultural direction of Auckland was
formed in that period.
Chris Hignett had also moved to Auckland upon graduating from Ilam. Chris
spent several years studying Renaissance altar pieces and the constructing
collaged narratives which he then photographed in polaroid before transferring
the images onto transparencies. Amazingly detailed and crafted, technically
perfect work. His exhibition before departing for Sydney was a high point
of the time. There was also a counter movement, however. A nihilism had
set in, due to the precarious econmic situation and photographers began
producing anti-narratives and anti-aesthetic work, in both still, film
and early video. This work gained a strong following as it coincided with
the emergence of punk attitudes.This was also a period of extensive world
travel. my girlfriend, Sue Griffin a.k.a. "Ko" and I had the chance to
silmuteanously sublet an apartment in London (in a high-rise near Portobello
Road -- ugly place, dead amn on the street, however a carefree summer catching
up with many NZ friends) and in Paris a studio (wandering the streets at
all hours, old cinemas, old photographer studios and tango dance-halls
dating from the 30's -- cf Bertolucci). we were commuting between London
and Paris. A lot of photos were taken with a 2 1/4 square Rolleicord. We
tried to make a broadsheet "The New Scientist" -- it was a joke as it was
anti-science, anti-method, chance material. A lot of photos with Surrealist-like
text. Somehow those negs disappeared, although I have recently discovered
one or two.
Back in Auckland Sue went on to form a feminist-inspired dance-theater
and made a new career for herself.
I had a studio in the
city from then, too, and did a lot of work of an experimental nature, before
the opportunity to work in Japan arrived.
In Japan there has been
a very range of collaborations involving photography, film, video and multi-media
including experimental works, TV documentaries, slide presentations for
stage performances and developing photography projects for design students.
Japan must have one
of the most visually-oriented populations of any nation. Technically, astonishingly
achieved, too. Perhaps, though, Japan is too schooled in its visual comprehension
as images are either perfect copies of that which went before, certain
famous photographers such as Cartier-Bresson (the perfect moment and the
anecdote) or schools of method (the German team of Brend and Hilla Bechner,
the architectural photographers).
|In terms of "classic" technique
I refer to the New Zealander Brian Blake who did much work in China and
Asia during the 1950's. Another tendency of Japanese photographers is to
fluctuate between a fascination with the odd and bizarre or the perversely
cute. These extremes are found in a wide range of circumstances. There
also is, in general, movement between extreme artifice to a "realism",
a surrogate humanism, to the intensely personal experience which often
turns to be constructed away. There is then a certain limited range of
expectations from photographic images but it is a range which also sees
experience as being quantified.
For myself I do believe
that the personal view-point holds value, although I am not particularly
interested in what is a "good" photograph. An ad hoc chance approach interests
me still, however, the present work does contain an element of methodology
(as explained in the introductory notes). I've always been intrigued by
the distance the Italian film-maker Michelangelo Antonioni travelled, from
Swinging London of "Blow Up" (1966) to the Exitensialist aura of "The Passenger"
ALL THINGS EQUAL
The photographer in "Blow Up" (David Hemmings) is fed up with the role
he plays publicly and finds time to escape to a park. There he tries to
photograph the wind in the trees, or the lengthening shadows of the dying
day, that is, the ephemeral rather than the material. With "The Passenger"(Jack
Nicholson) it is the cinematographer's camera which focuses upon the minutia
of existence. Apart fron the almost non-drama of these films there is also
little method, a theme is merely implied, but there is an appreciation
-- and apprehension -- of that which surrounds one -- and all.
Lastly I wish to thank
this web-site's founder and editor, Robert-Gilles Martineau for inviting
me to put up this text with photographs.