February 11th, 2014
The annual horse-racing day at Kumara is a social institution on the West Coast. The tiny settlement, once a thriving gold-rush town with dozens of hotels, somehow still maintains, however notionally, a racing club superintending the yearly race-day. In 1959 I was there, a 12 year-old, trying to make some sense of this ritual posing as a sporting event. Up until then, my only experience of photographers was of a couple of slightly seedy men running impoverished studios out of dilapidated buildings in Hokitika who operated within the conventions of lining people up according to height and, in the studio, using artificial light and a range of props whose main function seemed to be various kinds of concealment.
At Kumara that day I noticed this guy with a camera skulking around, taking photographs of seemingly non-existent subject matter. It was very odd, something completely outside of my experience, and I was dutifully puzzled. It was Les Cleveland, documentary photographer. When his The Silent Land came out from the Caxton Press in 1966 I recognised a certain character in Plate 54. Some of my less-than-kind friends have remarked on my proximity to the entrance of the members’ bar, but in fact my presence was philanthrophic rather than alcoholic. A kid I knew at school had got the string attached to his sun-hat in a knot, right up under his chin, and I was helping to disentangle it.
In 2000 a mutual friend told Les this story, and – with characteristic generosity and thoughtfulness – he made a new print of the image and gave it to me. On that day in 1959 neither he nor I knew the full import of that crossing of paths. The photograph may have recorded a particular event in fine documentary tradition, but it came to commemorate – at least for me – a highly significant moment in my life.
(Just a few months later, in 1960 during Westland’s centenary, there were various celebrations throughout the province, including a kind of Big Day Out at Ross, another small settlement/former gold rush town south of Hokitika at the then end of the Midland railway line, originating “over the hill” in Christchurch. Another photographer was seen to be skulking about, randomly clicking away, so, clearly, the Kumara guy wasn’t a one-off. This was stuff people did. The Ross guy was Brian Brake.)
Cleveland’s recent death has sent me back to the catalogue of his survey show at the Wellington City Gallery in 1998, Message from the Exterior: Six Decades. Such recognition was a bit late in coming, but Les was of an old school where careerist expectations were non-existent, and it would’ve been all fine with him. Lawrence McDonald’s astute curation and invaluable catalogue essay, A Dwelling With Many Rooms, stand as a fair and fitting tribute to his photography. But, as Lawrence pointed out, Les was also a singer, a song-writer, a poet and short-story writer, a soldier, a journalist, broadcaster, folklorist, protester, bushman, occasional welder, social media sociologist and distinguished academic at VictoriaUniversity. He was also a pioneer in taking popular culture seriously, at a time when people of taste and discrimination routinely treated its rowdy embarrassments with condescension. McDonald summed him up thus: “If you can imagine a man who is part Walker Evans, part Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, part Alan Lomax, and part Raymond Williams then you’re getting close to Cleveland’s turf.”
Laurence Simmons’ essay in the same publication, Looking Back: Les Cleveland’s poetics of documentation, examines the apparent distinction between the “poles of aesthetic or documentary intent and effect”, having implications across the board, not just for Cleveland’s work, and offering an erudite and thoughtful meditation that still remains largely unconsidered in the art world.
Earlier, though, Cleveland’s work found its first major foregrounding – when Les was 64 – in Athol McCredie & Janet Bayly’s fine 1985 PhotoForum publication Witness to Change, still one of the best photographic books to have been published in New Zealand. Sub-titled Life in New Zealand, Photographs 1940 – 1965, it took three photographers in chronological order – John Pascoe, Cleveland and Ans Westra – to illustrate the strands of embryonic social documentary photography in this country. McCredie’s four and a half-page essay sensibly allowed Cleveland to pretty much speak for himself, because he was a considered thinker and memorable writer, with the dozen full-page illustrations so deftly seen through the press by Brian Moss that they allow the photographs to speak for themselves too.
Cleveland’s lifetime achievement as a photographer is enormously significant, and that will become more apparent as time passes. That the reception of his work in the present day remains stalled is something explained by Simmons in his 1998 essay: “Part of the problem with the collison between the terms documentary and poetics has to do with the widely accepted distinction between documentary and art photography and the subsequent assigning of documentary to a marginal zone”. The essayist goes on to link Cleveland’s work with Barthes’ notion of the principle of adventure in all photography, that unexpected journey between image and viewer, and concludes that this adventuring is the very condition of Cleveland’s work, providing its “power but also the respository of its grace.”
Cleveland’s own adventuring has ended, but his work’s has just begun. Vale dear Les.
* Above image sourced from the publication Witness to Change – Life in New Zealand by Janet Bayly and Athol McCredie, PhotoForum/Wellington 1985.
August 12th, 2013
Sad news just received, is the death of Allan Sekula, USA artist, theorist, critic and teacher, on 10 August 2013 http://www.examiner.com/article/allan-sekula-1951-2013
Visitors to the Auckland Art Gallery, would have recently had the opportunity to view Sekula’s work, as part of the 5th Auckland Triennial. http://aucklandtriennial.com/artists/allan-sekula
February 10th, 2013
In the early-to-mid 1970s photography here was almost 100% a photographers’ preserve, and, as usual among practitioners, most of the talk centred on cameras, film and paper. It was all a bit bewildering for someone like myself not only not a photographer but largely uninterested in the technical side. What about the imagery? It seemed the only way to make any sense of that was to go on looking. Of course, in those days the opportunities were few and far between.
The Baigent/Collins/Fields show at the Auckland Art Gallery in 1973 was a revelation. Three bodies of work extensive enough to give a sense of individual style and approach, allowing the realization that “a voice” could come through a camera. Ironically, perhaps, what first drew me to John Fields’ work was the quality of the printing: a tonality, richness and precision that simply illuminated the subject matter. Through his typical generosity and patience John shared his technique with many emerging photographers and set new standards of presentation. He was the consummate professional.
As I became more familiar with his work the print quality issue receded and the imagery began imprinting itself on my consciousness. I’m at the age now where the awareness of forgetting is a daily trial, but John’s images remain vividly in my memory. His solo show at Snaps in, I think, 1976 remains one of the most affecting photographic exhibitions I’ve ever seen. What remains for me, ultimately, is what a constantly sharp eye he possessed. Perhaps a photographer’s greatest asset.
John was a lovely man. Gentle, modest, generous and with a quiet but devastating sense of humour. He was a remarkable human being and great company.
In 2008 David Langman – a tireless promoter of John’s work in later years – asked me to write a short preface for a small book he produced for a Fields’ show at Wellington’s Photospace. Fields’ lively eye roamed far and wide, producing a body of work characterized by diversity of subject but connected by a thread of social awareness, humour and a formal sensibility that can still stop one short with its elegance and pungency. And there are the classics of New Zealand photography: the view of One Tree Hill through the factory chimneys, the agapanthus against the unpainted sunlit colonial weatherboarding, the Fijian man in traditional dress seemingly bewildered among the clothes’ racks of the department store. Moments in time that at once define it but escape being limited by it. The gift of photography that Fields’ work presents in abundance.
Farewell dear John. Thank you for your marvellous, enduring work.
-Peter Ireland, Whanganui, 10 February 2013
View further tributes to John Fields here
February 8th, 2013
John B. Turner: John Fields, Tony’s Restaurant, Wellesley Street, Auckland, 27 May 2009.
JOHN FIELDS (1938-2013)
It is with a real sense of loss that we note the death of John Fields on Monday 4 February, 2013, at his home in Guyra, NSW, Australia. A major influence on post World War II photography in New Zealand, John was an inspiring founding member and one time President of PhotoForum Inc. He wrote distinctive technical reports for PhotoForum magazine in the mid-1970s as well as contributing his own photographs, before he left for Australia in 1976. John’s presence and his lively (hand-written) correspondence will be missed by many friends, but his legacy as an exemplary and influential photographer will continue.
Our condolences go to John’s wife, Patricia, and their daughters Kerry and Helvi and their families.
-John B. Turner, Beijing, 7 February 2013
We attach below John Turner’s 2008 tribute to John Fields and his legacy from our PhotoForum blog of 11 November 2008.
John Fields. Forty Years Ago Today: selected vintage photographs.
PhotoForum November 11th, 2008
Photospace Gallery, Wellington, in association with Galerie Langman. 12 November to 2 December 2008. Opening: Tuesday 11th November, 5.30 pm.
A selection of 38 vintage prints by John Fields, the US-born, Australia-domiciled photographer who worked in New Zealand from 1966 to 1976 is now showing at Wellington’s Photospace Gallery. Fields will attend the opening.
John Fields: Chimneys, Onehunga, 1968.
John Fields, now 70, did much to raise the standards of New Zealand photography during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Excited by guns, hunting and the sea as a youth, Fields, who was born in Gloucester, Massachusetts, joined the US Navy on his 17th birthday. It was while he was on duty in the Pacific and Far East that he became an avid photographer. He subsequently attended a course in colour photography at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, worked as a freelance photographer and studied expeditionary filmmaking at Harvard with Robert Gardener. In 1965 he became a photographer at Massachusetts General Hospital, working under Dr Stanley Bullivant, a noted English cell biologist. When Bullivant transferred to the University of Auckland in 1966, Fields accepted the opportunity to join him.
Used to working in both commercial and personal photography (he had his first one-man exhibition in 1966, and was used to visiting photography galleries in the U.S.), Fields noted that he felt that he had arrived in a “cultural vacuum” in New Zealand, where so little seemed to be happening in the art and photography scene. He was forced to reconsider his U.S. photography experience and clarify for himself the fundamental differences between personal and commercial (or professional) photography, and the photograph as a document, or as a work of art. Coincidentally, at the time, these were issues confronting local photographers such as Gary Blackman, John Johns, Ans Westra, Gary Baigent, Richard Collins, Marti Friedlander, John Daley, Max Oettli and John B. Turner, for example, who were also seeking outlets for their personal work.
As well as working full time at the University of Auckland’s medical school, Fields’ explored New Zealand with his cameras. He was a prolific photographer by New Zealand standards and his exemplary 35 mm technique set him apart from most New Zealanders who discovered how much they had to catch up. Inspired by his discovery of Walker Evans’ classic American Photographs in 1969, and especially Lincoln Kerstein’s seminal essay in that book, he had his old 5×7 inch view camera, previously used for commercial colour photography, shipped to Auckland. Large format view cameras were a rarity in New Zealand outside of some commercial studios, and so it was by Field’s example and generosity that Laurence Aberhart and Richard Collins, among others, had their introduction to a classic view camera approach. Not content with contact printing alone, Fields also made enlargements from his early 5×7 inch negatives. Later he acquired an 8 x 10 inch camera for views and interiors, while continuing his 35 mm work.
Impatient to improve the local photographic scene in Auckland, John Fields organised the collaborative group publication of Photography – A Visual Dialect: 10 Contemporary New Zealand Photographers in 1970. It included, for the record, three works each by Gary Baigent, Simon Buis, Richard Collins, John Fields, Ken Foster, Alan Leatherby, Roy Long, Mac Miller, Max Oettli and John B. Turner. For July 1972 he organised an invitational exhibition to be shown at Auckland’s prestigious Barry Lett Gallery, which included Gary Baigent, Simon Buis, Richard Collins, Mac Miller, Do Van Toan, John B. Turner, Ans Westra, and Fields himself.
In 1973 his collaboration with the architectural historian John Stacpoole, Victorian Auckland, was published to acclaim. That year 25 of his photographs were also included in the Auckland City Art Gallery’s exhibition and catalogue, Baigent Collins Fields: Three New Zealand Photographers.
John Fields was an influential teacher at the University of Auckland’s Elam summer photography workshops. He was also a major figure behind the founding of PhotoForum Inc in 1973, and contributed photographs and technical reports for PhotoForum magazine.
Fields was the recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council grant for photography in 1975, to enable him to do an extensive documentation of the goldfield town of Thames, on the Coromandel Peninsula. Well into the project, for which he contributed much of his own savings, he was frustrated to find that the New Zealand Department of Inland Revenue would not budge in its insistence that his photography was a mere “hobby,” and therefore not eligible for the kind of tax concessions U.S. photographers received. Consequently, with his wife Patricia and their young daughters, Kerry and Helvi, Fields upped and left for Australia in 1976.
In Sydney, New South Wales, he first taught workshops at the Australian Centre for Photography, then became Chief Photographer at the Australian Museum, Sydney. His work is in the notable publication, Minerals of Broken Hill (1982) and he made the prints from the original glass negatives for the book Frank Hurley in Papua: photographs of the 1920-23 expeditions (1984), for which he collaborated with Dr. Jim Specht who researched and wrote the text.
Fields moved to Armidale, NSW, in 1987 to become Photographer-in-Charge at the Media Resources Unit of the University of New England. For five years prior to his retirement in January, 1998, he was the Liaison Officer with the University’s Publicity Unit. Since retirement, among other things, he has taken up painting. He now lives in the rural town of Guyra, N.S.W.
John Fields can be seen as both a realist and a romantic. His early work weaves between the picturesque on one hand and classic modernism of the kind associated with Edward Weston and Walker Evans on the other. In his hands metaphor can be used for aesthetic, lyrical purposes, but is just as likely to be used to drive home an ironic social critique, especially in regard to conservation of the land and man’s increasing alienation from nature. That his work is of a superior technical standard is an added bonus.
-John B. Turner.
August 20th, 2012
It is with great sadness that we hear of the death of Auckland (ex Wellington) photographer and PhotoForum member Helena Hughes who passed away on 16 August after a long battle with cancer. We extend our sincere condolences to Helena’s family and friends.
A farewell service will be held at 1pm on Tuesday 21 August at Te Mahurehure Marae, 65 Premier Avenue, Point Chevalier. State of Grace Limited 0800-764-722.
July 11th, 2010
It is with great sadnesss that we hear of the death of Stella Daniell, who died on 5 July 2010 after a struggle with cancer. We extend our condolences to Stella’s daughter Kate Walmsley and Stella’s family and friends. In lieu of flowers please send donations to the Malaghan Institute for Cancer Research., P O Box 7060, Wellington. Messages can be sent to Stella’s family, c/- 306 Willis Street, Wellington 6011. A funeral service will be held at Old St Paul’s Cathedral, Mulgrave Street, Wellington on Monday 12 July 2010 at 1.30pm. www.lychgate.co.nz Stella’s work is presented on PhotoForum’s website, and much more of Stella’s work can be seen at http://stelladaniell.orlando.co.nz Thanks to Reg Feuz for sending this 2003 photograph of Stella and Kate with (from left to right) Alan Knowles, Roland Idaczyk and Richard Lomas, seen at the New Zealand Centre for Photography, Wellington on Friday 11 July 2003. – John B. Turner, Director, PhotoForum Inc.
March 1st, 2009
Thanks to James for his comment on the quietly disappearing NZCP. As a sometimes subscriber (some years being more affluent than others) I am saddened that the magazine has disappeared and the collection is following in its wake. I am also decidedly unhappy that the information regarding said disappearance has not been forthcoming…. what’s going on there NZCP? (last update on the NZCP site was May 2008).
Thanks James for the update.
Thanks Rob for his new comment on the original post.
October 8th, 2008
A range of over 30 publications is currently on display at the Dunedin City Library as a local tribute to the late Hardwicke Knight, New Zealand’s pioneering photographic historian, who died on 25 August 2008 at the age of 97. Knight’s books, which include his groundbreaking Photography in New Zealand : a social and technical history (1971), Burton Brothers Photographers (1980), and his anthology New Zealand photographers : a selection (1981), are among his earliest contributions that have become essential reference sources for the study of the history of photography in this country.
Frederick Hardwicke Knight was born in North London on 12 July 1911 and at the age of eight was introduced to photography, which became an abiding pastime, both supporting and complementing his wide-ranging antiquarian interests for the rest of his long life. The youngest of eight children, he became an adventurous youth and travelled widely throughout Britain and the Continent (including France, Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Spain and Armenia) and to Panama during the 1930s. In 1938 he married Mollie Saunders, a vivacious cockney whom he had met in London four years earlier. When World War II was declared he registered as a conscientious objector and trained as a nurse with the Friends Ambulance Unit. Later, his photographic skills led to his secondment to a plastic surgery unit under the celebrated New Zealand-born surgeon, Sir Harold Gillies. Hardwicke trained as a medical photographer, and when in 1957 the position of director of medical photography at the University of Otago was advertised, he successfully applied for it and that year, with Mollie and their young children, Simon and Deborah, he emigrated to New Zealand.
The Knight’s established themselves in a cottage at Broad Bay on the Otago Peninsula. Surrounded by evidence of a history whose stories had seldom been told, and a lack of appreciation of the achievements of New Zealand’s pioneer photographers, Hardwicke set about collecting their photographs, extant equipment, and recollections of their lives, which became an ongoing resource for so many of his publications, exhibitions and lectures on a wide range of local history topics. These included several picture books on Dunedin City, a history of the Otago Peninsula, and church building in Otago. He produced books on several local photographers, including Joseph Weaver Allen, John R. Morris, and the Coxhead brothers, as well as the Burtons, and wrote about notable characters such as William Larnach. Knight was New Zealand’s representative on the editorial board of the prestigious History of Photography magazine through which his articles introduced some of our pioneer photographers to the international community for the first time. He also wrote articles for the British Journal of Photography.
While some of his best-known books were produced by John McIndoe and Allied Press, local Dunedin publishers, to ensure that other projects came to fruition, Knight took on the role of publisher as well as author or editor. His most ambitious self-published book was the monograph Sedgfield: the life and work of William Russell Sedgfield, pioneer photographer (1988), on the notable but previously neglected British photographer. His self-published books include those on J.W. Allen, John R. Morris and the Coxhead brothers. And to remind us that he was a photographer in his own right, in 1983 he also published a collection of his own photographs. Well-known for his extraordinary private collection which transformed his Broad Bay cottage into a museum, he was a genuine eccentric and independent thinker who got things done.
Something of Knight’s sense of achievement against the odds, and his delight in what an individual might achieve in New Zealand is conveyed in a 1978 note to the author in which he lists five points in favour of Dunedin, one year after the centenary of William Henry Fox Talbot’s death. The first was that Dunedin was the only centre in New Zealand that devoted a full page newspaper item about the British inventor of negative/positive photography, and the second that Dunedin’s Kodak branch devoted window space to commemorate Talbot. His third point was that the Otago Museum was the only NZ museum to devote its foyer to a display of calotypy in commemoration of Talbot, and the fourth that it was also the only museum to honour this country’s Nineteenth Century photographers with a permanent display. His fifth point of pride was that members of the Dunedin Photographic Society had more international competition award successes than any from other centres. Knight, of course, was largely responsible for the first four of those achievements which were real enough and worthy of note.
Hardwicke was nearing retirement as head of the Medical Photography Department at the Otago Medical School of the University of Otago when I first met him in 1970, while sourcing photographs for the ‘Nineteenth Century New Zealand Photographs’ exhibition which was launched at New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery that year and later toured. Hardwicke, tall, suited, and still quite debonair in a slightly scruffy way, struck me as a wonderful character with wide-ranging interests and experiences. My first visit to his Broad Bay home was memorable. After introducing me to his wife Mollie (a wonderful character in her own right) in a room dominated by antique clocks, I recall Hardwicke ducking through an interior doorway and returning with a beret on his head with a sizeable cobweb dangling from it. The cups of tea came in scorching-hot army issue tin mugs. This was a kind of collector’s paradise and among the special treasures shown to me were Francis Frith’s photographs of Egypt, some rare cameras and early manuals on photography, and some gorgeous 20 x 16 inch August Sander portraits. He was very knowledgeable about the history of photography in general, and was generous in swapping notes and documents about pioneer New Zealand photographers to assist my own budding research in this field. Knight did not always identify the sources of his information and published images, and his early practise of reproducing images from low quality copies was a source of frustration for those following after him. Occasionally, as with his Princes Street by Gaslight (1976) he stretched credibility too far in his attempt to elevate the work of some of our pioneers. In this case, in order to “prove” that D.L. Mundy should rank beside the celebrated Scottish photographer and adventurer, John Thomson, whose celebrated documentary photographs were seen in Street Life in London, (1877), Knight presented heavily cropped details of people appearing in Mundy’s survey of shop fronts on both sides of Dunedin’s Princes Street in the early 1860s. Mundy’s documentation was thorough, and of considerable importance, but the people in his photographs were largely incidental, whereas the street traders, the subjects of Thomson and Adolphe Smith’s book, and were represented as distinct characters with great skill and sophistication. One doesn’t have to agree with some of Knight’s conclusions, but his pioneering research and prolific output is a lasting monument to his exceptional contribution to New Zealand’s history and photographic history. Te Papa Tongarewa The Museum of New Zealand acquired Knight’s photographic collection (some 20,000 items) in 1991.
When Max Oettli and I visited Hardwicke last December, during ‘The Rise of New Zealand Photography 1839-1918′symposium at the University of Otago, he was frail and confined to his private hospital bed. His eyesight and physical strength had deserted him but his mind was still alert and interested in the comings and goings of the world.
We were able to tell him that it had been recommended that the published papers from the symposium should be dedicated to him in recognition of his pioneering work in this field. He showed interest in the diversity of studies covered by the symposium and acknowledged his frustration at no longer being able to indulge in his passion for research.
New Zealand has lost a rare individual who achieved a great deal. Mollie Knight died in 1999, and Hardwicke is survived by his son and daughter, and a devoted partner of his last seven years, Ursula (Sally) Stockinger.
— John B. Turner.
May 27th, 2008
Cornell Capa, who founded the International Center of Photography in New York after a long and distinguished career as a photojournalist, first on the staff of Life magazine and then as a member of Magnum Photos, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.
…In Mr. Capa’s nearly 30 years as a photojournalist, the professional code to which he steadfastly adhered is best summed up by the title of his 1968 book “The Concerned Photographer.” He used the phrase often to describe any photographer who was passionately dedicated to doing work that contributed to the understanding and well-being of humanity and who produced “images in which genuine human feeling predominates over commercial cynicism or disinterested formalism.”…
The funeral of William “Bojangles” Robinson.
USA. New York. 1949
Image care of magnumphotos.com
March 20th, 2008
Griffiths died on Tuesday in his home in London after a battle with cancer.
The quote recently coined upon the death of the great Arthur C Clarke applies equally aptly to the passing of Philip Jones Griffiths “The death of any sufficiently brilliant man is indistinguishable from immortality”