Monday, November 20, 2006

little world, little room

i've been reading the excellent book 'contemporary new zealand photographers'. this morning i came across some nice imagery in the introductory essay by gregory o'brien that is part of the same general universe as my safe little world concept...

"The camera is a small room
large enough for you and me
but one of us
will have to stay outside...

The camera has four walls, a roof and a floor; it is a miniature house in which shutters are opened and closed; in which light and shade are constantly being adjusted... if the camera is indeed a small room, how has the architecture around it changed? And what about the neighbourhood?"

nz art has always been very conscious of the nz landscape - there is an on-going, however slight, sense of unease about our human intrusion on the nz wilderness. the nz landscape is often a place of frightening beauty. in part, my safe little world concept is about the suburbia we've placed on that landscape, and no matter how far suburban boundaries extend, our rugged nz wilds are just around the next bend in the road - the mountains, the bush, the sea.

i found out by reading o'brien's essay that there is a bit of an on-going theme of small structures in the middle of that wilderness (o'brien says that those structures can act as a metaphor for the camera itself). and the more i think about that the more i see that that is true. i am always drawn to pictures of small buildings in harsh environments - drawn as if i have no choice in the matter.

when i was young we used to go to our family bach on kawau island in the hauraki gulf north of auckland. that was a place of frightening beauty for me. we had a small two-storey house with the bush encroaching down a steep hill behind us. each summer dad, my brothers and i would pull tiny manuka saplings out of the hillside to keep them from growing big, to stop the bush from reclaiming our section. in front of us was the harbour. i think of rainy days when mist was hanging on the hills across the harbour and in the bush there was a kind of intense quietness. at night, unless the moon was out, it was completely dark. the wekas (like a kiwi but with a short beak) in the bush around us had an incredibly strange other worldly call that they used to sing in chorus.

as much as i loved that wilderness, there were times that because of its strangeness, loneliness and darkness, our little bach was a necessary sanctuary.

my favourite photo that i have taken so far is this one:

which, as you can see, fits very well with what i'm talking about. the location of this bird hide (a small building to watch birds from) is miranda on the firth of thames, south of auckland. my parents have managed to find another wilderness place to build - their house is further up the road. the firth of thames is another rugged strip of nz coastline - a place of strong winds and impressive skies. the hide in the picture looks across the firth towards the coromandel ranges - a mountain range covered in almost impenetrable bush. on the far side of those mountains is a playground for wealthy aucklanders. but those mountains are always at their backs, and the pacific ocean is always in front.

on the headphones: 'fitter, happier' by radiohead, from the album 'ok computer'.

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