Friday, 26 February 2010

CC put the lights on

The Lantern Festival starts in Auckland's Albert Part tonight, always a fantastic event in the city. Cut Collective, having realised their Public Access show at our Art Lounge was happening at the same time as the Lantern Festival, have got in on the act by creating some amazing lanterns that are now hanging from the canopy outside the Art Lounge.

They are pretty amazing and really brighten up Khartoum place, so if you are heading into Albert Park tonight, take a walk through Khartoum Place on your way there for a peak at the Cut Collective lanterns.
Here are some photos of the lanterns going up.
The lanterns ready and waiting to go up

Showing some of the artwork on the lanterns

Scaffolding to put the lanterns up

.....and they are up!

Time to head in for a cuppa

I couldn't resist adding a couple of photos from along the way. Remember Cut Collective's Public Access show is only on until 11 March and someone from Cut Collective is usually around each day if you want to have a chat with them.

Four of the six from Cut Collective pose (with great ease I might add) for a media opportunity

To give you a rough idea of what to expect inside the Art Lounge - there is much more though so well worth a visit of course.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Ans Westra's New Zealanders

Ans Westra has spent a lifetime recording New Zealanders and she has produced some remarkable images of how we look. They are records of both a time and place that look directly at life's intimate moments. This is one of the benefits to her documentary approach - it asks us to look at what we are seeing.

Her photographs convey human personality in a telling manner. You feel how closely she is looking at movement and gesture, as if they make up our physical signature. She shows how people are living their lives. These two young guys take delight in presenting their timber town haka to Ans' camera. The modesty of this image is really a measure of its charm. It's a simple moment of the artist communicating her pleasure in meeting these boys on a Murupara street and just stopping to record them. What is stunning about this photograph is that while it was made with a medium format camera - never an easy tool to use - it has been made quickly and with stunning confidence.

I really like the way this man cuts hair. No nonsense at a job that has to be done. The boy has the same attitude. The smoker could probably shear sheep just as confidently. Ans is physically close to the people she photographs and the framing, while it may appear casual, is always perfect for the shot. The focus is short so that while the background can be seen it is carefully kept a bit out of focus to concentrate on the presence of the figures.

The Gallery is fortunate in having 59 black and white photographs by Ans Westra in the collection. The first group was acquired in 1976 and the most recent ones in 1997. Looking at the entire collection again, I was struck at how consistent Ans has been in the ways in which she records people. All of the photographs are of people living in New Zealand and none of the images has been set up. There is never any sense that Ans has been searching for the ‘decisive moment’ which Henri Cartier-Bresson was such an effective advocate for with his own documentary photography.

There is a powerful tenderness in Ans' eye. This girl is not in any way scared of the photographer but she is wary. There is a tentativeness in her response to the woman she sees holding a big camera while looking down into a viewfinder rather than directly at her. This is a quiet inner city street at Wellington where children still play. Marti Friedlander, similarly, also took fine images of children using the street near their homes as a playground.

One of the strengths of Ans’ photography is her strong empathy with people. One hardly ever encounters famous or celebrity people in her photographs, she prefers to look at ordinary citizens. Her ability to represent the experience of young people from their own perspective is compelling. The event of the photograph, its simple taking, never becomes a big event for her subjects and that is why people come across as natural and unforced.

You cannot look at this photograph and not think that it is a picture taken during school holidays. Heat and water, sand and sun. Ans does not often choose such action shots. Yet, with swimming and water, the scene almost calls for a true moment of fun when flying through the air. It reminds me of this question - when did you last fly through the air and land on hot sand?

Credits: Ans Westra

Murupara 1984
gelatin silver print
From the series: Whaiora - The Search for Life

Holloway Road, Wellington 1973
gelatin silver print

Hikurangi 1982, printed 1984
gelatin silver print
From the series: Whaiora - The Search for Life

Otara, Auckland 1984
gelatin silver print

Te Kao, North Cape
gelatin silver print

Monday, 15 February 2010

Cut Collective inside and out

I went down to the Gallery to see how it was going with the Cut Collective installation and was amazed that they have started painting the outside of the Art Lounge already.

I'm no Peter Jackson, however, I did take a little bit of video footage so you could see what was going on (don't laugh at the shaky camera hand).

I'd really recommend any of you in the neighbourhood, to get on down to Lorne Street and see what they are up to. They will be back on site tomorrow (weather permitting) and it's pretty mesmerizing to watch them as they paint.

Otherwise don't forget that the inside of the Art Lounge is also open to the public from the 20 February to 11 March. There's loads going on in there, which I will save for another day.


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Cut Collective - Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of installation for the Cut Collective crew. I went down and had a look as I was so excited to see what they were doing. It looks fab! The Art Lounge looks like a whole new space. A wall has been built to cover the seating area and provide more space for the work. There were loads of stencils, cans of spray paint in a multitude of colours, ladders and drop-cloths strewn around the room. Some stencil work has already been done to cover the inside walls, and they look great. The colours and shapes are amazing.

Cut Collective are installing part of the work until the 20th February. Then we hope you will come down and see them in action, as they continue to work on the inside and outside walls of the Art Lounge. Well I will stop gushing and just let you look at some of the photos I took.

Hold on, that's not a member of Cut Collective, thats our front of house manager - trying to sneak into the group i think! Richard, you're not fooling anyone by holding up a stencil.

I'll be back on Monday to let you know how they are getting on.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cut Collective arrive...

Cut Collective, a fabulous collaborative group of 6 artists, are currently transforming our Art Lounge as part of their 4th annual Public Access show.

They arrived today and began work in the Art Lounge which will be open to the public from Saturday 20 February when you can head down to watch as they continue to work.

As a sneaky peek, here are a few photos of them preparing in their studio. Just to tease you with a taste of things to come.

Cut Collective - Public Access 4
20 February to 11 March
Outside 24/7
Inside 10am to 5pm
Auckland Art Gallery, Art Lounge

Friday, 5 February 2010

John McGarrigle and the American Photographic Company

One of the most intriguing photographers to work in Auckland during the 19th century was the talented and enigmatic John McGarrigle. He promoted his business as the American Photographic Company (Do not confuse this with the photo studio of the same name that operated in Dunedin). McGarrigle created many exceptional carte de visite portraits of Maori. I have always thought that they were less formal and more natural than the engaging cartes made in the 1870s by Auckland's Pulman and Co. If we only knew more information about McGarrigle's studio!

The National Library’s Time frames states that McGarrigle’s studio flourished from the 1870s to the 1890s but this date range is not correct. The precise dates of his Auckland operation have not yet been discovered but they are certainly early in the practice of local photography. I know that he was active from the mid-1860s to March 1874, when he closed his business.

The American Photographic Company was a small operation. John McGarrigle seems to have both owned the business and taken all the portraits himself. His approach always respects his sitters and they are well lit from the skylight above. The sitters either look directly at the camera or just slightly to the side. They seem totally engaged with the portrait's event. Only a plain backdrop is used and the portraits are frequently close-ups, either straight head and shoulders or shown seated at half-length. His lens is precisely focused on the face and the sitters remain utterly still. Not easy in such a long exposure.

John McGarrigle created some of the best early photographic portraits of Maori. Some sitters wear street clothes, others are costumed for this special occasion. It seems that the photographer had no preference for either traditional Maori costume or European clothing. I never sense that he fabricated his sitter's appearances although, of course, he had the usual 'library' of costume props around his studio. Every photographer of this period kept clothes for clients to wear. Although, when McGarrigle uses such a costume 'set-up' to make portraits, it is always simple. Such a direct approach shows why this portrait of a Maori youth is a stand-out image by the American Photographic Company.

The Gallery purchased this portrait in 2003. It seemed kosher at first - a rare carte de visite made by the Burton Brothers (2003/28). Yet, I was never convinced that it fitted with the Burton's studio style, it is too simplified, too essentialised in its detail.

The Burton Brothers name is printed right there at bottom left but I can now confirm that this portrait was not taken by either Alfred Burton (1834-1914) or Walter Burton (1836-1880).

Their firm issued this carte de visite but they did not make the image. I am certain that John McGarrigle made the wet collodion glass negative in his studio at the corner of Queen Street and Wellesley Street East. (I am writing this blog only 200 metres away). It dates from sometime between 1865 and 1874. Consequently, this portrait belongs with the first period of New Zealand's carte de visite portraiture.

In 1878, four years after he closed down, John McGarrigle sold his American Photographic Studio’s glass negatives firstly to Hayes and Mandeno of 194 Queen Street. They then on-sold them to Dunedin’s Burton Brothers. The Burton's were selling albumen prints taken from the glass carte negatives by 1880. Interestingly, this carte de visite is actually one of the Burton Brother's scarcest photographs. I have not traced another print of it.

No vintage print made by McGarrigle is currently recorded as being held in any public collection and no other vintage image produced by the Burton Brothers is catalogued as being in the public domain.

When exhibiting this portrait in the exhibition Flaunt during 2003 we noted - ‘Cartes de visite earned their name because they were the same size as calling cards, and were sometimes used for that purpose. It was not uncommon for photographers to persuade Maori sitters to display taniko (embroidery) borders from the hem on a korowai (cloak) draped around their shoulders for aesthetic reasons. However, the combination of traditional hair feathers, a tiara and a ‘roman toga’ over one shoulder makes this particular image highly unusual within the genre. Although no doubt supposed to be a romanticised depiction, when juxtaposed with the young man’s expression a sense of unease is created in the contemporary viewer.’ (Flaunt, 2003).

Here is an scan of the photograph and you can see that there are illuminating differences between McGarrigle's wet plate negative now owned by Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand and Auckland Art Gallery’s carte de visite. The negative has a more extensive tonal range – the top lit from the skylight is even more apparent. The Gallery’s sepia carte de visite is much softer in tonal range with all highlights being less distinguishable.

This portrait is entirely set up. The figure is obviously not a boy but a young teenager. He is not dressed in anything like 1860s street wear. Ngahiraka Mason, the Gallery's Indigenous Curator Maori, and I both believe that the careful haircut indicates the likelihood that he attends a Church of England Mission School. His tiara is a surprising addition that, to me, makes clear allusions to Roman portrait sculpture where ceremonial laurel wreaths were worn to indicate a significant public achievement.

One never encounters contemporaneous portraits of European teenagers at Auckland waering such material. I noted here that a characteristic of McGarrigle's portrait style is his penchant for producing three-quarter views towards his sitters. He concentrates his focus point on a person's eyes and uses a narrow focal length to gives his portraits their immediacy and intimacy. Few portrait photographers working here made more memorable studio portraits at that time as John McGarrigle. Only the earlier portrait work of Hartley Webster and Dr John Kinder bears comparison.

I am grateful to John Sullivan, Curator of the Photographic Archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library of the National Library of New Zealand and Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography at Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand for their assistance with my research for this entry.

The Te Papa image credit for this negative currently reads:
Maori boy
Burton Brothers
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand

I wonder whether they might consider changing it to read:
Maori youth
John McGarrigle, American Photographic Company
1865 -1874
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand
All the best for Waitangi Day 2010.