April 13, 2009
The last few years have seen a proliferation of survey shows and publications of New Zealand photography and photographers – for example, Marti Friedlander, Anne Noble, Peter Black, Ans Westra, Gary Blackman, and Wayne Barrar. Most of these photographers began their photography as part of the documentary tradition: the photo-journalist, the street photographer--- Magnum and Robert Frank etc.
Barrar is the exception, and while he is a documentary photographer, his touchstones are more those of the early 1970s New Topographic school – Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Frank Gohlke – and their offspring. Incidentally, Barrar is the only one not to have a survey show to coincide with the release of his book.
Another exception is Lawrence Aberhart, as he uses an 8x10” field camera, shooting almost exclusively in black and white, works in terms of long exposures and he photographs architecture, interiors and exteriors, cemeteries, monuments, and seascapes. His work is influenced by an earlier age of photography, by those who used the large format camera (such as William Henry Jackson, Carleton Watkins, Eugene Atget and Walker Evans), and it can be seen as interpreting the vernacular architecture of rural New Zealand.
Lawrence Aberhart, church, Oromahoe, Northland, 2002, silver gelatin print
I have selected Aberhart as part of my Christchurch photographers series. Aberhart lived in Lyttelton ---the port of Christchurch---in the late 1960s and he has been methodically and single-mindedly photographing New Zealand. Aberhart's first substantial body of work was a series of 8x10 inch contact print photographs taken in 1981/82 when he travelled by car throughout New Zealand and photographed buildings, monuments, churches, statues, memorials and marae. There is a melancholy about these works---the flotsam and jetsam of New Zealand's colonial legacy.
Many were, Aberhart considered, 'under threat' and he consciously undertook this series of documentation surmising that some objects would not be in existence or in a similar physical condition ten years later. Indeed, many of the photographed objects from this period now no longer exist. He describes himself as 'an eclectic collector of cultural debris, as it washes up, and before it disappears'.
Lawrence Aberhart, caravan, Cromwell, 1977
He consciously documents –in thematic series– sites of historical and/or cultural interest which are on the verge of disappearing and which he encounters on his trips. The bi-cultural character of New Zealand’s history provides a rich source for his images.
Lawrence Aberhart, Balclutha, silver gelatin print
Aberhart's work is prominent in New Zealand and he is often seen as one of the forefathers of New Zealand's contemporary photographic history. His images are steeped in the history not only of his subjects but also of his chosen medium and his work constitutes a vital ingredient in the visual arts culture of New Zealand.