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New Zealand

“She took a picture and ran.”

reading room

Ans Westra, writer (1936-2023)

Just three weeks before Ans Westra died on Sunday, February 26th, I came across a small, oddly sized copy of her classic 1972 documentary photobook. A note about the country I live in Text by James K Baxter and Tim Shadbolt, purchased from Dominion Books, a charming second-hand bookstore in Herne Bay, for $30. It’s a strange book, a relic from the days of white rule, about colonial dreams starting to crumble, a new way of life, the first wave of really good medicine. A street photographer roaming Queen Street, A&P shows and traveling correspondents in the saleyards, documenting in black and white. Tim Shadbolt, then a spokesman for social protests, contributed a sweet, flirtatious and confused introduction to New Zealand’s changing face (“Everywhere seems to be crowded today. But there are a lot of lonely people in that crowd.”). Baxter reports from Jerusalem, and in between windy sermons (“When I think of my country, I think of the clouds of pain that weigh upon the minds of her people”), he writes some of the verses: provide the line. Commune life:

Now we’re running out of meat, but we’re on our way

Don comes with a goat on his shoulder

… Francie took a bath in the bathtub in the other room,

And the dinner was delicious – half a goat heart, kidneys, and testicles

Contains cabbage and soybeans.

The best report comes from Westra.

Cuba Street, 1974

The only writing she provides is a list of captions on the back of the book. “Old Man’s Blind Son, Hamilton” and “Plywood Mill, Auckland”. Also, “I’m watching the Miss New Zealand parade at the Cuba Mall.” No key messages, no boring sermons. It’s a straight documentary, written in the margins of the country she lived in.

Queen Street, 1983

Westra also photographed Māori in the country where she lived. It’s always complicated, and her death reminds me of someone graffitiing #LANDBACK a few years ago in her gallery suite where her work is on display. Anyone who takes a picture is taking something. Her taking Maori photographs and pinning them to books and gallery walls as white-gaze souvenirs inevitably has issues of appropriation. On the same day she died, Scott Hamilton posted an outraged thread on Twitter disparaging Westra’s 1964 book. Washday at Pa: “Westra misrepresented the poverty she found there as noble simplicity….Westra took a picture of her and fled….Westra saw the people. Par wash day Not corrupted by modernity, not interested in competing economically or politically with Pakeha. The word hippie wasn’t popular in her 1964, but it describes her vision of the Māori countryside well,” Hamilton said. stolen island But he can become patronizing and autocratic. He scolds that “many of her photographs suffer from sentimentality.” Is this the 1962, 1974, and 1983 Māori photos of her, what you see in this spread? looks like you’re trying

Wairoa, 1962

There was a bit of backlash in Hamilton’s thread, but there was also some support. I am encouraged by the fact that they are doing it,” he commented. ). Tabata made an interesting remark: “Many conservatives like her, Pakeha, Māori Hoki. Whitey will always be special to white Māori documentaries.

Te Kaha, 1963

But some Māori have a special place in Westra’s heart. Talia Marshall just wrote a Talia Marshall essay. So almost everything she writes flows through the river of genius. A few years ago she wrote about Westra at City Gallery Wellington. Her essay can be read like an argument she has with herself. A power of attorney from the Ministry of Education to Mahi. And her gaze is not the same as ours. But she meant it as a compliment, and goes on: white and brown.But this was on the cusp of change as Maori moved from papakaiinga and small towns to cities. Over the fence in Auckland, part of the migration, I fell in love with a Maori family. At first, noticing how spontaneous it looked, her camera started looking for us….At first it was Maori. I did it because anything could happen to her there. And the kids were often interested in the camera and it was her first point of access. I think it really shoots from the hip. “

Cuba Street, 1974

There is something kind of bland in the picture of A note about the country I live inThere is not much artistry. She was not a painter of light, nor was she a poet of faces. It’s photojournalism, postcards of the people and places she wanders her two narrow islands from 1971 to ’72. There are hippies, potters, lumberjacks, road workers, alcoholics, farmers, and a handsome young man picks apples in a photo captioned “Beville Her Commune in Molinsville.” Beeville! This was a famous commune founded by the Hansen brothers Ray and Dan.Richard von Sturmer takes the story in his road trip book manuscript Walking with Rocks, Dreaming with Rivers: My Year in Waikato“Beevil was self-sufficient, growing fruit trees and producing honey. During its 40-year existence, it developed considerable notoriety in the Waikato region. Beeville closed in 1973, and Ray lived with two women, Alice, his wife, and Anne, and together gave birth to 14 children. , she was a curious and mild-mannered bystander, recording New Zealand-ness without comment, you wouldn’t even know she was there.

Youth Club, Whakatane, 1963

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/ans-westra “She took a picture and ran.”

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