I have always had a desire to document the lives of people about me ever since I was a teenager. Traveling home from a biking holiday through Southland we stopped at a small town where I saw a group of boys playing a video game in a takeaway store. Despite not having a good camera or the skills to use one I knew I wanted to convey the story of the boy with thick glasses staring deeply into the glare of the computer screen. That compulsion to document others lives is what drives me to make photographs.
My preferred photo medium is documentary photography - getting close to a subject without becoming an intruder in their environment or dexstroying a potential moment. The idea is akin to the Observer Effect in physics; it is known that at some point most subjects being observed will eventually be affected by the process of being observed. Over time I have learnt how to get close enough to tell stories without imposing on my subjects; I have learnt to be seen and at times acknowledged but then, most importantly of all, to be forgotten. By letting people get on with what they do I capture images that tell real stories. I try to capture more a moment but also supporting elements that help tell the story.
While documentary photography is the process of people ignoring me, the portrait is my opportunity to engage people directly with the camera. In making a portrait I don't judge a person but seek to be their advocate; ultimately I want a subject to be represented in my photograph without any bias on my part. How that person decides to present to my camera is how they will present themselves to an audience.
The most important element I seek within my images is integrity; I want my photographs to be transparent of any distracting techniques so that there is no confusion on the part of an audience about what they are seeing. I want my portraits and documentary images to reveal my subjects in an honest way. My intent is to reveal something of my subject’s inner self, a brief glimpse beyond the usual façade of daily life.
We live in a world where we send hundreds of photographers to sporting and celebrity events or to photograph warzones; everybody wants to see who is winning the game, who is the best dressed and who is getting shot and yet most of the time we seem to forget about the people we rely on the most, those living down the street from us. I want to engage with the ordinary people about me, I want to learn about them and share what I learn with a wider community.
THE OAMARU MALE (1994)
In the early 1990s, the Forrester Gallery director Warwick Smith invited me to photograph a project on the people of North Otago. At the time I was the photographer on the Oamaru Mail newspaper and after some discussion it seemed appropriate that the project could focus on the lives of the males in the community. One year later the project, a collection of 48 black and white portraits and documentary images opened at the Forrester Gallery and later toured several centres in the South Island. The project is now part of the Forrester Gallery.
IN OUR OWN LAND (1999)
In 1995 I began work on a project on the remote Chatham Islands.
On the islands I was told I was "a cop until proved otherwise". After a couple of weeks I returned to the New Zealand mainland, borrowed a friends darkroom and printed up some of the photos I had made. I then returned to the islands, taped 8" x 10" prints up in the window of the general store and overnight the local perception of me changed. I was given access to the community, including remote Pitt Island.
The Chathams project was reproduced in several major magazines about the world, in part because Chatham and Pitt Islands were to be the first the dawn of the new millennium. View images here.
THE STRIP (2000)
Throughout the 1990's The Strip was one of Christchurch's most popular destinations. It was a 100-metre stretch of bars and restaurants over looking the city's Avon River; during the day and evening it was popular with dinners, but late at night the venues transformed into nightclubs. In 2000, following the success of the In Our Own Land exhibition, I was asked by the director of COCA to photograph a body of work that captured life on the Strip. After getting the consent on the nightclub owners, I made several visits to The Strip over the course of a couple of months. The photos were made between the hours of midnight and 3.00 am, and all the photographs were made in available light. The project captured a side in the city that has since been lost; these buildings were destroyed in the 2010/2011 earthquakes.
THE HALFWAY LINE (2011)
Rolling invisibly across the lower South Island of New Zealand is the 45 south parallel, a line of latitude halfway between the equator and south pole. The line mostly crosses oceans aside from two brief landfalls on the South Island and a remote strip of South America.
In 2005 Mercedes Magazine commissioned a photo essay along on the line as it travels the South Island, and afterwards it was decided to and compile the work into an exhibition.
The Halfway Line exhibition at the Forrester Gallery, North Otago, 2011.
PORTRAITS FROM A BROKEN CITY (2012)
In 2010 and 2011, the New Zealand city of Christchurch was rocked by a series earthquakes. The first 7.1 magnitude earthquake occurred at 4.00am on Saturday, September 4th, 2010 and fortunately there were minimal casualties. But the aftershocks continued and on Tuesday the 22nd of February, 2011, one particularly strong aftershock destroyed several already weakened buildings and killed 185 people. Two square kilometres of the central city became an exclusion zone known as the Red Zone and for the next two years, local residents and some of New Zealand's best photographers were excluded from the area. After a year of petitioning government departments to let experienced photographers document the disaster, I decided to photograph my own personal project during visits to the city. The resulting body of work is a series of portraits that portrays residents going about their business in the damaged city. The work is yet to be exhibited.