Thursday, 26 March 2009

John Fields - Part 2

This is the second of my posts on John Fields. Please click here to read the first part.

In 2001 John Fields generously gifted Fijian, Milne and Choyce’s Store, Auckland 1970 (above) to the Gallery. This is one of the earliest local artworks to address the experience of Pacific Islanders at Auckland. A Fijian man is shown visiting the large menswear section of Milne and Choyce's Department store. ‘Milnes’ as it was affectionately known prided itself on having menswear at all price points from ‘affordable to exclusive’. This customer appears bemused by the amount of clothing that the store has available. More than this, the photographer has caught a surreal shopping moment when the costume traditions of Pacific and Pakeha actually encounter each other.

Humour, a delight in discovery and the presence of expressive oppositions characterise Fields’ 35mm images. I recently secured for the Gallery his unknown 1974 portrait titled John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland (below). This haunting work is a unique vintage exhibition print. No further prints were ever made as the negative was unfortunately destroyed in an accident.

John Allen was a work colleague of John Fields. He undertook part-time duties at the Auckland Medical School with Ron Bently, the Anatomy Department's technician who supervised the storage of cadavers. While Field’s photograph of John Allen seems like a snapshot, it is in fact a carefully composed portrait. John Allen was swimming at Takapuna beach when the artist, who was on shore, saw the visual potential to an asymmetrical intersection of three compositional elements – his friend’s bobbing head, the volcanic cone of Rangitito and the cumulus cloud hovering high above that island. While the photographer was standing out of the water off Milford Beach, the artist’s viewpoint appears higher than head height above the sea’s surface.

Many of Fields’ 35mm portraits of the 1970s have a surreal reality, with people observed in disjunctive contrast with their location. This portrait of John Allen has a palpable tension - the cloud's scale and a symmetrical volcano juxtapose with the swimmer’s glowing face, conveying an unexpected encounter. Allen wears an expression that has been ‘held back’ during the printing making him glow. His long black hair, moustaches and self-absorbed expression contribute to an impression that he is being seen at a time that is separate from current reality.

John Allen looks like a quintessential hippie and a man who appears from a distant past. Almost Christ-like, rising from the sea. By including only his head, the figure is less a swimmer than a human sea-creature. Mystery fills the image like a carefully wrought and prefabricated performance. I find such portraits unforgettable and I enjoy the fact that this portrait was totally unknown until recently. 35 years of being hidden from art history. Where is John Allen now?

Image credits:

John Fields
Fijian, Milne and Choyce’s Store, Auckland 1970
gelatin silver print
205 x 295mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of John Fields, 2001

John Fields
John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland 1974
gelatin silver print, toned with selenium
193 x 120mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
purchased 2009

John Fields - Part 1

In 1983, John Stacpoole presented the Gallery with an important sequence of black and white photographs taken by John Fields for their joint book project entitled Victorian Auckland (John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1973). Fields’ subtle photography, and Stacpoole’s honed text, remains the most wide-ranging overview of Auckland’s colonial architecture.

Some of Fields’ photographs for this collaborative publication utilised his Cambo 5 x 7 inch View camera. Other images were created with 35mm cameras. His architectural images were meant to have a descriptive intention and plenty of detail about texture and surface is noticeable. For example, the upstairs interior view in the Reverend Vicesimus Lush’s 1864 cottage must be one of the very few Victorian residences that retains its original furnishings.

According to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, all the furnishings recorded in Fields’ interior photograph are original to the period when the Lush family lived there. I know of no other comparable Victorian house’s interior in the Auckland region that retains so much of its pre-1900 contents. The original furnishings give the photograph a period authenticity without equal. The impressive chest of drawers is constructed with locally milled Kauri wood.

Another memorable image from Victorian Auckland is the close-up of the basalt wall (above)surrounding the Auckland Barracks, apparently designed by Major Marlow in late 1846. Sir George Grey, New Zealand’s Governor, had ordered the construction of a large-scale military barracks to protect the military garrison originally based nearby at Port Britomart. Originally named Barracks Hill, the site was enclosed with a 1300-metre long barracks wall constructed with volcanic basalt bluestone quarried from Maungawhau (Mount Eden). 60 local Māori built the stone wall, a 27 metre (90 feet) deep water well and all of the Barracks buildings. The 3.6-metre high stone wall took more than five years to complete (1847 -1852) and was intended to be protection against a Māori invasion, an event which never eventuated.

One of the most poignant of all Fields’ photographs for Victorian Auckland is his image of the Graveboard, St Peter’s Churchyard, Onehunga (above). The painted board records the death of Reverend Charles Haslewood (1830-1863), a Naval Chaplain to the steam-corvette Orpheus. He drowned when the Orpheus was wrecked at the Manukau Bar on 7 February 1863 when the ship was heading for Onehunga from Sydney, where it was to take up Royal Navy duty in New Zealand. Of the crew of 256 men and officers, only 69 were saved, making this the worst maritime tragedy in New Zealand’s history.

During the 1960s and 1970s Fields also utilised both of his 35mm cameras - a Nikon and a Leica IIIF. The material that he shot on these cameras is equally eloquent as his View camera photography. It reveals how he employed other approaches to both his photographic style and content. Instead of carefully pre-visualising his subjects, he relied on spontaneity, chance and intuition to help him select his human subjects.

Image credits:

John Fields
Ewelme Cottage, 14 Ayr Street, Parnell circa 1971
gelatin silver print
242 x 193mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of John Stacpoole, 1983

John Fields
Barracks wall, Alfred Street circa 1971
gelatin silver print
132 x 202mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of John Stacpoole, 1983

John Fields
Graveboard, St Peter’s Churchyard, Onehunga circa 1971
gelatin silver print
249 x 185mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki
gift of John Stacpoole, 1983

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Welcome to Auckland

Times change rapidly in the world of visual communication. Email has replaced the fax, which has replaced letters, which has replaced postcards. Tony Simpson, in his foreword to William Main’s wonderful local book Facing an Era – Postcard portraits from a century ago (Wellington, Exposures, 2006, page 8) notes ‘In 1912 New Zealanders were sending and having delivered an astonishing 12,255,477 postcards annually’.

At Auckland during the first quarter of the 20th century, there was an enormous craze for sending postcards to friends and family, even if they lived in the same suburb. The cards were often real photographs, not lithographic reproductions. Some of the weirdest ones visually announced that the sender was sending postal greetings from New Zealand’s largest city. Frequently they had artwork with the appearance of a homemade collage. The cards were actually the postal version of the telegram, but had nothing of the ‘fear to receive’ factor that telegrams gained after the beginning of World War 1.

What is striking about these photographic postcards is their humour. They are not joke cards per se but employ photography to have fun. Their homemade, homespun factor is appealing.

Here’s one produced by Ellerback where Auckland’s inner city buildings and harbour are cut up just like a cubist collage. It certainly would not look like this without the compositional discoveries of cubism just a few years earlier. Yes, that is the Auckland Art Gallery inside the letter N! Albert Park is in the letter L. The hand colouring is novel also.

Rotary Photographic was much more conventional, but no less interesting.

While certainly saying Greetings from Auckland it was not produced in New Zealand. Rotary Photographic was one of Britain’s largest suppliers of postcards to the ‘empire’ and they produced everything from images of famous celebrities (see: to landscapes, to fashion collages like this one.

The Auckland Exhibition was held at the Domain from 1 December 1913 to 18 April 1914. This event was the first of Auckland city’s great public open-air festivals. One of the most popular attractions was the photographic studio where you paid to have a postcard made of you and a friend ‘flying’ an aeroplane. It is not known who took these festival postcards and there appears to have been a few operating out of the exhibition’s halls.

The two young men are formally suited. This is just as expected when one as one still dressed up for a visit to town and especially for the occasion of a studio portrait. The airplane is utterly fanciful. It is shown flying over the Auckland Exhibition Building at bottom left. Remember that this would have been the biggest building in the domain, as the Auckland War Memorial Museum had not yet been built.

Ellerback (active 1900 – 1910) New Zealand
Auckland circa 1910
gelatin silver print, with red ink wash
Private collection

Rotary Photographic (active 1905- 1910) Britain
Greetings from Auckland circa 1909
gelatin silver print
Private collection

Unknown photographer (active 1913-1914) New Zealand
Allan and friend circa 1914
gelatin silver print
Private collection

Monday, 23 March 2009

Listening to Yinka on the radio

I just listened to the recording of our International Art curator, Mary Kisler, discussing Yinka Shonibare MBE with Kim Hill on National Radio. It's so great and explains some of the work so well I couldnt resist adding the link here:


Image credit:
Yinka Shonibare MBE
Reverend on ice, 2005
semi-opaque synthetic polymer resin, cotton (Dutch wax), wool, leather, wood, steel
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased with the assistance of NGV Contemporary, 2006, image courtesy of the artist, James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © the artist. Photo: Christopher Burke

Friday, 13 March 2009

Introducing the Liebherr 355 HC-L

For any one who has been regularly checking the web cam, you will know that for the past few weeks Hawkins has been busy excavating the ground between the heritage buildings. They have about 3 metres more to go, and once this has been finished they will have dug out about 20,000 cubic metres which is around 2,000 truckloads.

The development project is now at an exciting stage - particularly for people like me who love machines! If the weather is okay this coming weekend (14 March) - and we hope we don't get our third wet weekend in a row! - work will start on erecting a huge crane on site. Some of the tower sections have already been delivered to the site and those will start being assembled Friday afternoon. On Saturday the A frames and counter weights will be added and then, probably on Sunday the gib (the big arm) will go on. The crane will be on site for between 15-18 months and there will be two crane drivers for most of that time - one to drive and the other to work on the ground overseeing the loads to be lifted and positioned.

The yellow crane (it's a Liebherr 355 HC-L), could lift 6 elephants and not only that, it could swing them 60 metres in any direction! While we have no intention of doing that, its 32T capacity and 60 metre radius will be used to move large, heavy material on site - things like precast concrete panels, flooring and structural steel framework and assemblies which are made off site then trucked in. These will need be erected between the heritage buildings, the Wellesley/Kitchener wings and the East gallery and at the northern end where the new glass clad atrium will be built.

It will be hard to miss the big yellow crane - as it will stand 36 metres high - and it will be close to Kitchener Street at the end of the heritage building. It's actual location is where the new forecourt and entry to the gallery will be.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Contexts for cartes

To my eye, a carte-de-visite is an unforgettable object – it is physically tiny but often has a big visual wallop.

What is a carte-de-visite? An albumen photograph, usually measuring about 115 by 65 millimetres, is glued directly onto a thin piece of card. Frequently the photographer’s name is printed on the card’s back. Cartes were the first photographs to enter a mass market – they were cheap to manufacture, affordable and quickly reproducible.

Unlike either the daguerreotype or the ambrotype, that were current from the early 1840s to the early 1860s, carte-de-visites became widely fashionable as a visual memento. Prior to this, photographic portraits were not accessible to the public because they just cost too much.

Patented by the French portrait photographer André Disdéri in 1854, the carte- de-visite was rapidly taken up and just as suddenly dropped as a portrait process. By 1880 making cartes had almost ceased as a studio practice. The name carte came about because it was thought people who had a miniature portrait made would use them as visiting cards. Mostly, cartes entered family photo-albums or were presented as visual keepsakes to relatives and friends.

One of the first New Zealand artists to advertise the benefits of his daylit Auckland studio was the very media savvy John Nichol Crombie (1827 - 1878). He was the artist who created the moving ambrotype portrait of Tamati Waka Nene in his photographic ‘rooms’ (Auckland War Memorial Museum Library collection, catalogue number GN672.2 N437). From 1855 to 1873, Crombie was one of New Zealand’s most prolific photographers, firstly with daguerreotypes and later with albumen prints. While he produced some landscapes, his speciality was creating portraits of individuals in his daylit studio.

Crombie’s portraits reveal his subtlety at arranging his sitter, the look of their costume and the disposition of the surrounding furniture, textiles and flat backdrop. This young boy looks down and beyond the plate camera while wearing day clothes very similar to those worn by the day students at Auckland’s Church of England Grammar School - where brilliant painter/photographer/ chaplain the Reverend Dr John Kinder was Master. The way that the boy has utilised the highly polished table to steady himself and the relaxed nature of his pose is typical of Crombie’s skill as a portrait artist.

The finest carte-de-visite portraitist in England was, arguably, Camille Silvy the French aristocrat who had a portrait studio from 1859 to 1869 at Porchester Terrace, London. He had exceptional control of his studio’s natural lighting and created portraits with exceptional sharpness. Silvy also achieved terrific naturalism by getting his subjects to sit in wonderfully relaxed poses. He frequently recorded grand sitters so his skills soon made him very famous. This woman is shown turning away from reading the book she is holding, such a casual and carefree gesture was still uncommon in studio portraits.

Frederick Irwin operated the London Portrait Rooms at Princes Street in Dunedin. He rapidly became well known because his portraits were considered much better than what any daguerreotype could offer. His sitters frequently reveal a more dashing élan than those of his competitor William Meluish, who was better at taking landscape views. This portrait is ultra-stylish, almost rakish. The matching tweed waistcoat and trousers, with the dapper over-coat, could almost be something that we see in a wonderful contemporary fashion show by WORLD at Auckland.

John Nichol Crombie (1827 - 1878) Scotland/Australia/New Zealand
Unknown schoolchild circa 1865
Albumen print carte-de-visite
Private collection

Frederick H. Irwin, operating as the London Portrait Rooms
(active 1863 – 1875) New Zealand
Unknown student circa 1865
Albumen print carte-de-visite
Private collection

Camille Silvy (1834 -1910) France/England
Miss Helen Faniet circa 1860
Albumen print carte-de-visite
Private collection

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Before the opening - Yinka Shonibare MBE

Leisure Lady (with ocelots) all wrapped up

Even though the exhibition is already open, here are some more installation images from Yinka Shonibare MBE that I didn't get around to writing about before the exhibition opened.

Setting up the ice for Reverend on Ice

The Reverend being unpacked

Paul Spencer from the National Gallery of Victoria attaching the Reverend to the Ice

Textile conservator, Tracey Wedge, cleaning the fabric on The Age of Enlightenment - Jean le Rond d'Alembert to ensure it is spotless for the opening.

Photos by John McIver


Yinka Shonibare MBE
Leisure Lady (with ocelots) 2001
life-size figure and fibreglass ocelots, cotton (Dutch wax), leather, glass
Vanhaerents Art Collection, Brussels, Belgium, image courtesy of the artist, James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © the artist

Yinka Shonibare MBE
Reverend on ice 2005
semi-opaque synthetic polymer resin, cotton (Dutch wax), wool, leather, wood, steel
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Purchased with the assistance of NGV Contemporary, 2006, image courtesy of the artist, James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © the artist. Photo: Christopher Burke

Yinka Shonibare MBE
The Age of Enlightenment - Jean le Rond d'Alembert 2008
life-sized fibreglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, mixed media
courtesy of the artist, James Cohan Gallery, New York and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London © the artist

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Opening night

The opening night celebrations for Yinka Shonibare MBE held last Friday were fabulous. Our Art Lounge was decorated with brightly coloured candles on black candelabras all over the room which gave an atmosphere of glamour and colour, appropriate to the beautiful work upstairs.

To add to this the staff serving for the evening, from Dawsons Catering, were painted by Sandy Cutts with the most amazing masks. Here are a couple of photos of what they looked like.

Lastly a few images from the night. If you would like to see more have a look see more check out our photostream here on Flickr.

Auckland Art Gallery Director, Chris Saines

Director, Chris Saines with exhibition curator Rachel Kent, Senior Curator at the MCA Sydney, Australia.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Auckland Art Gallery flickr group

I have set up a flickr group for any photos of the Auckland Art Gallery any of you out there might have. This came from a recently browse through Flickr searching for the tag 'auckland art gallery' and finding numerous photos, old and new of the gallery.

So, if you have photos of yourself in front of the gallery, old photos of visits to the gallery, or perhaps you have been following the redevelopment work on the Main Gallery etc. Please add them to this group. I'm not sure what to do with them yet (any suggestions?) but while the main gallery is closed for development its great to see so much of the gallery's history here.

Auckland Art Gallery flickr group

I have also set up a photostream for the gallery, on which i will put all sorts of photos. Including photos from the opening nights of exhibitions, public programmes etc etc. Currently i have uploaded some past exhibition openings to get things started.

Auckland Art Gallery flickr sets