I can't quite believe it, but my first gallery exhibition opens later this month. American Granite will run from June 22 - July 16 at Photospace Gallery on Courteney Place in Wellington, New Zealand.
Getting to know a new city if you're there on holiday or staying for a while can be an overwhelming experience. There's so much to do and see - where do you start? Guided tours are one way of getting underneath the hood of a city, but another way is getting to know a local. But how can you do that? I found a group on Reddit (r/Wellington) that leads photowalks around the city who welcome anyone to join in. As a long-time resident of the city, I know it quite well, but it's always good to take a fresh perspective, so I thought I'd grab my camera and go along. Pukeahu War Memorial Park is a wide open space and a perfect place to pick for the start of a photowalk. Twenty people managed to find each other to start a 2-3 hours of walking, talking and making photographs. It was an inclusive event - any camera was fine - and it soon became clear to me that a few people were more there for the walk than the making of photographs, so that made for a diverse group to be with.
I set myself a few tasks for a photography workout. To use some of the colour filters that are a feature of my Fujifilm X-T1 (with the 18-55mm XF kit lens for the afternoon), to try some double exposures, and to continue practicing using spot metering for exposure. Here are some of the pictures I made that the afternoon.
First, from Pukeahu War Memorial to Central Park in Brooklyn.
We moved on after checking in that we were all still together and on track.
Finally, we headed into the city via Te Aro.
At the end of the walk, we stopped off at Photoflux - New Zealand's first Sci-Fi bar, with a strong dash of cameras and photography as a theme too - lots of Minolta and old 110 film cameras on display in the bar itself. One of the most interesting things about the afternoon was a print swap at the end of the session in the pub. Those people who had brought prints along to exchange put them all in one envelope and took turns to draw another one out. This led to some really fascinating conversations about the photos, who took them, what they were doing when they took the photo and about the content of the photo too. The street portrait that I took out of the envelope was taken in Indonesia at the end of a 5-hour conversation, and I also heard about making a photograph of a monkey in the Bantu caves in Malaysia. Certainly a well-traveled and diverse, friendly group, and a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon, making photographs and sharing some tales over a beer with actual physical prints.
I wandered home back to the car, taking a few more photographs to round off the afternoon.
I've managed to dig out my blog from moving to NZ back in 2005. It's been offline a while now, but I still have the text files, and some of the photographs I made. I'll be posting some here. This one is from when I was flying over to New Zealand from the UK to emigrate, back in February 2005. I had planned to go to the Cook Islands for a week or so, but Cyclone Olaf had other plans. Read on ... Coming into Rarotonga on the delayed morning flight from Tahiti, verdant tree-covered mountains rose from the sea, out of the mist. No - not mist - smoke. The island was on fire. Smoke clouds floated around, enveloping the island in a sombre veil. I half expected to see King Kong come out from behind the mountains.
The islanders were clearing up after three cyclones in a fortnight - the worst grouping for over 18 years. The fires were dead trees and debris - there was nothing else to do with it. The French troops from Tahiti were the first foreigners to arrive to help resurrect the island, followed a day later by engineers from New Zealand and then a Hercules from NZ containing mulchers and other heavy machinery.
A week after the last Cyclone (curiously named Olaf - Cyclone number 3), some parts of the island were still without electricity and water. Cyclone Meena (1) was bad enough, but Cyclone Nancy (2 - culturally diverse these cyclone names) did the most damage to the ecology of the island. What was once a lush green paradise had been reduced to a desert island landscape - brown rotting coconut palms everywhere, beaches eroded beyond recognition, and sea water spray killing palms and ferns far inland. The beaches are full of debris, and the once green lagoon close to the shore on the south side of the island has been polluted by large influxes of sea-water. Much of the fish life is now gone - not that you'd know it from some of these photographs I made.
Driving through Avarua, it became clear that the clean-up had only just begun. Trader Jack's - the big watering hole in town - had been blown apart. Pete, a bar owner in Avarua was lucky - the Cyclone blew straight through his open structure bar and had left most of it intact. But he had lost all of 16 years worth of plants and cultivation, completely washed away when the sea invaded the land and stole it all away when it returned to its usual territory. Many of the businesses and beaches of the more developed North and West of Rarotonga and taken the brunt of the Cyclones. Mano, my host for my stay, explained that it was the power of prayer that had kept the island from an even worse fate.
"People were saying 'What is that idiot doing down there on the beach shouting at the sea?' I say that if you have the Lord God Jesus Christ and you accept him in your heart as your saviour, he will protect you from anything."
I had heard that the South Pacific was still heavily influenced by missionary zeal, but i wondered how widely this view was held. The island was certainly full of well-maintained churches - Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Missions, Jehovah's Witnesses - many flavours of Judeo-Christian creed were available to be tasted. The big event was Sunday morning when the whole island pretty much came to a standstill for prayers.
I didn't stick around long enough to see for myself. The state of the island, and the trade winds blowing rain relentlessly off the Pacific Ocean on to the island persuaded me fairly early to cut my stay short. I was going to stay here for longer than a week. In the end, it was three nights. Matty, a Kiwi with family connections on the Cook Islands, had been coming to Rarotonga since he was a kid. He was going to stay for seven weeks, but was also re-considering his options
"Man, this was paradise - but now if you look at it, it makes me want to cry." It's so bad that you couldn't see it how it was." Matty's girlfriend was supposed to visit him for a week - he had just called to cancel the visit. "She's a high-class chick. She'd only be disappointed".
When I travel, I try to be aware that the gap between my fantasy of a place and its people may be somewhat different from my actual experience. As I sat thinking about this on the longest flat section on the island (the runway), I realised that the gap between my fantasy and reality on triple-whammy-cyclone Rarotonga had probably never been bigger. I did see some great things while I was there, but there wasn't a lot open, and people were clearly busy. I stayed a while but then got the last seat on the last plane out before the next Cyclone was due to make an appearance. I'm sure the Cook Islands will recover, although it may take some time for things to start growing again. I may be back, but not if its blowing anything more than a light breeze - enough to blow away the smoke.
Note: I have since been back - and had a great time too. There was no wind.
A long time ago in a galaxy called City University in London, I did a night school course in Travel Writing. I then traveled a lot, and in the course of my life, I have taken a lot of photographs while doing said traveling. What I have not done is much at all with this material. This needs to change. So, as a further step, I joined the New Zealand Travel Communicators today - an association of travel writers, photographers, and broadcasters.
One of the first things I might do is collate some of what I have learned about travel writing and post them as a series of blog posts. I have also managed to unearth some blog posts I have made between 2004-2012. I've ben blogging for a long time, but much of that wither isn't in the web, or is stuck in archives somewhere. I will surface these as we potter along, as well as developing new material and images.
I'm looking forward to this.
Photo Credit and Copyright: Sarb Johal, (Amritsar, India 2008).