Further notes on a few of the photos

Helena Hughes - Zia in mask
Helena Hughes, Zia in mask, 2007

Page 4
Helena Hughes, Zia in mask, 2007
My friend Helena took this photograph of her daughter Zia, aged about eight or nine. I liked the way the mask she was wearing had eye-holes cut into it – they reminded me of the lens-holes in a camera. It looked as if, through these openings, Zia was photographing the world – with her camera-mind and her photographic memory. I placed her at the beginning of See What I Can See, on the left hand page, facing into the book. She is thinking about and looking at all the photographs that follow.

Page 11
Peter Black, Leslie and Diana Camera, 1979
Photography is an art of coincidences. After See What I Can See was completed, I showed the page layout to Lucien Rizos, who took the photograph of the boy with camera on page 10. Coincidentally, on page 11 of the book, there is a picture of a woman with a camera taken nearly forty years ago and, just over the woman’s left shoulder, you can see a long-haired man with a camera. Lucien told me that he was that man – on the beach with Leslie and her camera, all those years back.

Page 16
Jason O’Hara, Sea change (approaching Raoul), 2011
Another photograph taken during the Kermadec expedition can be found on the bottom left corner inside the front cover of See What I Can See. Bruce Foster’s image captures a sailor on the deck of the HMNZS Otago using the age-old technology of the sextant to plot the ship’s course as it motored northwards. Like the other photographers involved in the Kermadec art project, Bruce Foster was impressed by the powerful, surging energy and character of the waters that lay between New Zealand and Tonga. A few months later he made another photograph, Mapping the Pacific 2, which captured both the surface of the sea and the huge amount of plastic that humanity dumps into it. His photograph, made up of two distinct picture-files, asks us to question not only how we think about the environment but also what we need to do to preserve it.

Bruce Foster - Mapping the Pacific 2

Bruce Foster, Mapping the Pacific 2, 2011–12

Page 37
Peter Peryer, Rabbit, Lightning Field, USA, 2000
The title Rabbit, Lightning Field, USA spells out the fact that Peter travelled all the way into the New Mexico desert to take a photograph, presumably, of the famous art-installation by Walter De Maria called The Lightning Field (1977). But once he arrived in that remote place, what did Peter Peryer photograph? Not the hundreds of metal poles (between 4.5 and 8 metres high) which conduct lightning – Peter photographed, close up, a tiny rabbit!

Page 46
Bruce Foster, Penny, Sydney, 2008
Bruce Foster told me about a trick that he and a number of other photographers (including Peter Black and Bruce Connew) used to do at weddings. People always bring cameras to such momentous events and, after the ceremonies, they often leave them sitting about on the dinner tables. Whenever Bruce and his friends spotted an unguarded camera, they would pick it up and race around the room taking lots of photographs – good photographs! – before returning the camera to its point of origin. Imagine all the wedding guests who, upon having their films developed, discovered a lot of images they had no memory of.

Page 92
Peter Black, Wanaka, 2010

I have hung around with photographers long enough to get a strong sense of their magnetic nature – how it is they attract interesting things: people, animal, birds, clouds, just about everything. Peter Black is one of these magnetic people. You walk down the street with Peter and all sorts of things start happening. We were leaving the Wellington Public Library one day when we happened upon a regal-looking Māori man wearing a bowler hat and carrying a ceremonial tokotoko (walking stick). The man looked up at the sky; he looked down at the pavement. We expected him to chant an ancient invocation. And then he started waving his stick as though he was summoning some kind of cosmic power. A few seconds after Peter took the second photograph (below), a taxi pulled over and, before we knew it, our chiefly figure was driving off.

Peter Black - Wanaka

Peter Black - Wanaka

Page 61
John Miller, Hastings Ratana Band, opposite the Temple, from the series ‘Ratana Pa’, 1976
John Miller is a master-photographer of the energy that flows between people. We always get the feeling the characters in his photos are part of something larger than themselves – that’s certainly true of the Ratana brass band on page 61. It’s not always large groups of people he photographs. He captures a similar sense of friendship and togetherness in his image of the poet Hone Tuwhare talking with an elderly woman. Hone was a serious talker, believe you me, but I have a feeling this kuia could out-talk even him. She has taken charge of this conversation – and Hone is grinning like a schoolboy, while the carving behind them looks on, like a third character in this meeting of very good friends.

 John Miller - Hone Tuwhare and local kuia Kiritahanga Poihipi

John Miller, Hone Tuwhare and local kuia Kiritahanga Poihipi, Tukaki wharenui, Te Kaha-nui-a-tiki marae, Te Kaha, June 1973

Page 65
Marie Shannon, Across the Water, 1988
Marie Shannon’s photograph brings together two real life arms and a painted background. This melding of real life and art can be a great way of creating visual poems, riddles, or just interesting compositions. A friend of mine in London, Mari Mahr, is a great creator (or composer) of these kinds of situations. In some of her best recent work she brings together objects and drawings by her late husband, the New Zealand artist Graham Percy (you might have heard of him – in 2010 I wrote a book about his art, A Micronaut in the Wide World, and an exhibition toured New Zealand). In her photos she ‘remembers’ Graham by showing his drawings in a new light. Mari Mahr thinks of these works as a conversation with Graham, whom she misses very much. Mari’s work can be sampled on her website »

Mari Mahr, from the series ‘Inventory of ourselves’, 2011–Mari Mahr, from the series ‘Inventory of ourselves’, 2011–

Page 68
Andrew Ross, The Mutton Club, Taupo Quay, Whanganui, 4/8/2009

While working on the book, I bumped into photographer Andrew Ross at an exhibition opening and I told him how much I liked his photograph of the giant hand. He then told me a rather gruesome story, which I decided not to put in the book. If you look closely at the giant hand you will see that three of the fingers have had their tips lopped off. Andrew said the guys who carried it up into the Mutton Club had to trim the fingers so that the gigantic object would fit through the doorway. Now, here’s the really ghastly bit: if you look closely at the photo, you’ll see that the three fingertips are parked, up against the wall, on the right hand side of the image.

Page 77
Layla Rudneva-Mackay, Yellow Curtain, 2008
When I wrote my first book about New Zealand art for young people, my curator-friend Emma Bugden was worried there would be too many paintings in the book – she preferred photographs, videos and installation art. You might have read the story. After she had questioned my intention of putting lots of paintings and drawings in the book, she went home and, in the middle of the night, a painting which hung on the wall above her bed fell down and hit her on the head. She thought she was being punished for saying mean things about painting.

Anyhow, a few years later, I find myself writing this book, See What I Can See, which has lots of photographs in it (and only one painting). Emma reckons it is payback time and this photo-book is her revenge for having the painting fall on her head. Not only that: she told me the other day that she actually appears in my new book (well, she almost appears). In Layla Rudneva-Mackay’s photo of two people holding up a curtain in a quarry: well, guess who the person on the left is (you can see her fingers at the top of the fabric) – that’s my friend Emma. She’s sneaked into my book!

Page 92
The photos in this book have a lot to say about nature and the environment. If you look beyond See What I Can See, you’ll find a huge amount of landscape photography which captures the grandeur of the New Zealand landscape – in magazines, on billboards and in picture-books.

I like photographs that not only show us what nature looks like but which also question what we think about it. The image below is a great example of that. When people who are concerned about the environment say ‘Keep New Zealand Green’, they don’t mean cover it in astro-turf or fake plastic grass like the lawn in the foreground of Peter Black’s image. This photo makes you think about ‘fake’ as well as ‘real’ nature. All around the putting green, native trees have been planted – although they’re too orderly to look all that natural. And the (real) grass is almost too neatly mown.

Peter Black, from the series ‘At Home’
Peter Black, from the series ‘At Home’, 2010

Page 94
Julian Ward, Cuba Mall, Wellington, 2014
It pays not to pigeonhole photographers into one category or another. While Julian Ward takes many great shots of people on the streets of Wellington and elsewhere, he is also very alert to the kinds of patterns and visual effects which we discuss on page 94 of See What I Can See. One of my favourite images by Julian is the ‘street’ photo below, which presents a pattern of birds gobbling crumbs. It’s a beautiful arrangement of white shapes on a black background. These pigeons (and chooks) keep reminding me: Don’t pigeonhole photographers!

Julian Ward - Feeding Birds. Staglands Village, Akatarawa
Julian Ward, Feeding Birds. Staglands Village, Akatarawa, 2005