I’ve entered these three photographs into the above mentioned Auckland exhibition showing at the Mairangi Arts Centre on the North Shore from May 2nd to 11th. Although I have had work in an exhibition before, this is my first attempt at printing and mounting specifically for an exhibition where I hope not only to receive an award — well you never know —but to actually sell something. The brief is architecture from Auckland’s downtown area, the Viaduct and Britomart. My entries were all shot in the Wynyard Quarter, downtown Auckland’s newest development built for the opening of Rugby World Cup 2011. In each case I used a 50mm lens, my favourite walkabout lens. The image of the seagulls and the “Lightbox” staircase were both “grab shots”, while the Viaduct Events Centre photo was one of many images I rattled off during a brief burst of sunshine on a wet, stormy day. The seagulls are flying off a sculpture called the “Wind Tree” by Michio Ihara. “The Lightbox” is a shipping container converted into a staircase. I decided to convert the photos into black and white as I think they have more impact, and I used a red filter on the two photos with sky to accentuate the drama of the moment.
A sacred day for all Kiwis and Aussies. As I couldn’t drag myself out of bed for a dawn service standing in the rain, I thought I’d post some ANZAC images instead, taken at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and, above, from Melbourne’s wonderful Shrine of Remembrance in the Botanical Gardens which we visited in January.
This is one of my favourite festivals but I don’t get along to it as often as I would like. The crowds at night can be overwhelming and it can be impossible to find anywhere to park. The Auckland Lantern Festival is celebrated on the first full moon following the Chinese New Year, and this year it celebrated the Year of the Snake. The snake, apparently, represents wisdom and intuition, so I wonder why it always gets such a bad rap. The festival is a reminder of the tremendous influence Asian culture, especially food, is having on Auckland. There are dozens of stalls selling amazingly yummy stuff at the festival. Obviously if you are going to photograph lanterns it’s best to do so when it is dark as they shine brilliantly, but this year that wasn’t possible. And I actually found it a much better experience and easier to photograph with light in the sky. It also brings people into play who would otherwise be very hard to photograph. I think the lanterns are terrific! All photos were shot with a f1.4 50mm lens.
A visit to Alcatraz in October 2012
“You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”
Such was the welcome faced by fresh inmates to America’s most notorious prison; the law as laid down in Section Number 5 of the Alcatraz Prison Rules and Regulations,1934.
How times change.
“From New Zealand? Kia ora, Bro! Welcome to Alcatraz!” Yes, the wardens these days are a friendly, hospitable lot.
Alcatraz — made in Hollywood
Alcatraz is the most popular attraction in San Francisco after the Golden Gate Bridge, and booking your visit there is essential. On sunny days, sitting in the deep blue waters of San Francisco Bay, passed by yachts and ferries filled with tourists headed back and forth from its dock, Alcatraz appears quite benign. Cliffs and whitewashed buildings gleam pleasantly in the sun; gulls sweep around its summit and in the background the Golden Gate Bridge glows.
So although I was initially disappointed that my visit to Alcatraz coincided with the first day of persistent rain the city had seen in months, it turned out to be the perfect accompaniment to sampling the depths of despair so many must have felt upon arrival – because in the rain and greyness Alcatraz is unimaginably bleak.
Cloud (or was it fog? – hard to tell the difference in San Francisco) swirled around the lighthouse above the cellblock, and the lamp on the dock gangway glowed brightly in the gloom. We shuffled off the ship, several hundred of us gathered in the rain like latter day prisoners below a guard tower to hear an introduction to the island.
Alcatraz has had many occupants over the years, but hardened criminals constituted the population only between1934 and 1963. After the lighthouse was built on the uninhabited rock in 1847, a fort was constructed for the defence of San Francisco Bay and by the Civil War in 1861 Alcatraz bristled with cannon. At the turn of the century Alcatraz’s defences had become obsolete, and in 1907 the army decommissioned the island as a fortification.
The army then began building the huge concrete Cellhouse you can tour today, and in 1915 Alcatraz was renamed “United States Disciplinary Barracks, Pacific Branch”. But it was the Great Depression of the 1930s and the gangster-ridden era of Prohibition that led to the creation of the Bureau of Prisons, which, in turn, became most interested in using Alcatraz as a high-profile, maximum security facility.
In the sunshine, with its wonderful views of San Francisco, one can imagine that life outside the cells on Alcatraz was not to be sneezed at. There were up to 300 civilians living there during its time as a penitentiary, families and children of the guards and other prison staff. There was a school, they played games, had a bowling alley and a soda fountain shop, and went shopping to the mainland on any one of 12 daily sailings laid on for them. The impression is of a sweet island existence, which is more than can be said of life for the inmates.
I was struck by the cruelty of the proximity of the island to the glittering city across the bay – so very near, yet so very far and out of reach. It’s hard to imagine years of incarceration in a tiny, cold cell where you could stand and touch both walls simultaneously, knowing that real life existed just there among the bright lights over the water.
The main cells in B and C-Blocks are on three tiers and uniformly stark: a bed, toilet, and sink with cold running water. They were not shared, which, for many prisoners, was a blessing: privacy was cherished, and the likelihood of sexual violation was lessened. If you ended up in D-Block, it meant you were segregated, in solitary, albeit in a slightly larger cell, but banged up nevertheless for 24 hours a day. You did get one visit to the exercise yard a week, on your own.
The tour of the Cellhouse building, which stands at the island’s summit, towering menacingly over the other structures, is much more of an experience than merely looking into a succession of depressing, empty cells. This is because of the wonderful “self-guided” nature of the tour. You are given headphones with a control consul, and as you pass cells, or enter various “cellblocks”, commentaries are delivered in a personal fashion by past guards and their prisoners. It sheds great light on the tremendous darkness of the daily existence endured by prisoner and captor.
In fact, you really have to pay attention to the commentary, because if you turn the wrong way, which is easy to do, it becomes quite a challenge to push through the crowd to find the relevant cell for the story being related. I got hopelessly lost trying to figure out where the 1946 riot and (unsuccessful) escape attempt took place, and found myself in the cafeteria where it most certainly never happened. The food in the cafeteria, incidentally, was regarded as the best in the entire prison system.
Alcatraz is, of course, shrouded not only in fog but in myth: made in Hollywood. In the guardroom Clint Eastwood stares out of a montage of movie posters: “Escape From Alcatraz”. Well, it seems that despite numerous attempts no one did, or lived to tell the tale, including Eastwood’s character Frank Lee Morris. But the temptation to leave must have been overpowering for prisoners who had nothing to lose. Life in Alcatraz was not life in any true sense of the word. Better risk a bullet or die in the ocean. And that’s what many did.
In the 29 years Alcatraz operated as prison, 36 men attempted to escape. Twenty-three were caught, and six were shot and killed during the escape. Two drowned. A further five prisoners are still listed as “missing presumably drowned”, including Frank Morris. They may have made it and lived an anonymous life in a backwater somewhere, but I have my doubts. The ocean currents are quite something to behold, and the frigid sea is suitable only for seals. Prisoners were always given warm showers so they would not become inured to the cold sea.
Another Hollywood myth I had dispelled was that the “Birdman of Alcatraz”, Robert Stroud, played by Burt Lancaster, never had any birds in Alcatraz, not even the tiniest canary. It turns out his real nickname was “Bird Doctor of Leavenworth”, the prison from where he was transferred and gained his interest in birds. Neither was he the mild-mannered, humane individual played by Lancaster, but a vicious, murdering thug.
Two other infamous inmates of Alcatraz included Al Capone and George “Machine Gun” Kelly who, it is said, boasted constantly about his exploits, yet was regarded as a model prisoner by Warden James A. Johnson. I found the mugshot of Capone especially fascinating. He is not looking into the camera but, it seems to me, to a wider audience, grinning, smug and arrogant with more than a hint of psychosis thrown in.
Capone’s existence at Alcatraz was fairly uneventful – though he was once stabbed with some shears and went to the prison hospital – and he singularly failed to elicit from Warden Johnson the special privileges he had obtained by manipulating the system at previous prisons.
As you exit the Cellhouse building through the gift shop, where you can buy prisoner issue tin mugs, handcuffs, keys and caps, there is a poster display of notorious Alcatraz inmates. These mugshots are compelling in their commonality: the defiance in the hard stare that follows you around; not the look of men down and out and captured, but a confident, unshakeable look that says, “You won’t break me. I’m hard.”
But that was before they did their time on “the Rock”, the great leveller.
Auckland is known as The City of Sails and if you spend any time here you’ll soon see why. There are boats and yachts of every conceivable shape and size to be found all over our fair city, from expensive berths in grand marinas to those parked up behind the family car in any number of suburban driveways. It is said that one-in-four Aucklanders owns a boat. It’s no coincidence, I suppose, that all our gold medals bar one in the London Olympics were won on the water. The biggest sporting event in New Zealand after the Rugby World Cup is the America’s Cup, which we’ve also won, of course. Take a drive along the coastline of Auckland’s North Shore or any stretch of road bordering the Waitemata Harbour and Hauraki Gulf and you will see sails of some kind billowing in the breeze, lots of them. I see them everyday form the deck of my home, regattas, flotillas, lonely specks on the ocean. Last weekend I saw Team New Zealand practising for the Americas Cup in their giant catamaran with its vast red sail. The picture above was taken in Devonport looking towards the city. I had no idea there was race on that day, just good luck and great light. The photo below was taken from a ferry heading into port near the Harbour Bridge. There wasn’t a race on; rather, it was a typical day on the Waitemata when the wind is up. Magnificent.
The Spirit of Napier statue on the city’s Marine Parade represents the rebirth of Napier, rising from the ashes following the devastating 1931 earthquake which left the city in ruins. Napier city centre was rebuilt in Art Deco style and today it remains one of the finest examples of that architectural style to be found anywhere in the world. In 2011 Napier Council approved the recasting of a new ‘Spirit of Napier’ sculpture in time for the Rugby World Cup using a high quality silicon bronze. It was reckoned that silicon bronze which would better withstand the harsh coastal elements. This photograph is of the original bronze statue and I have always liked it due to the dramatic lighting and seagulls in flight around it. The birds were actually interested in the sandwiches some council workers were eating just out of shot. One of the men threw a crust and the gulls pounced making for a suitably striking shot of a memorable piece of art.
Ohinemutu is a suburb of Rotorua in the central North Island but was originally the name given to the region’s first Maori settlement. Here, beside the steaming lake, an elaborate marae, or Maori meeting house, was built alongside the lovely mock-Tudor church of St Faiths. Rotorua, of course, is famous for its geothermal activity and there are many places where you can see geysers, bubbling mud pools and steaming water. If you don’t like the smell of sulphur you won’t be too keen on Rotorua. This steamy lakeside area was all the more atmospheric on the day I visited because of the rainy weather which exaggerated the steam coming off the water. Early Maori chose this area for its lakeside setting and endless geothermal energy which they were able to use for cooking, bathing and heating. In pre-European times, Ohinemutu was the main centre for the Lake Rotorua region. Visitors and food arrived at this busy settlement before travelling on to the surrounding villages. Today, it’s still a hive of activity used by local Maori and visited by streams of coaches filled with tourists. Inside St Faiths, which is beautifully decorated with Maori carvings and and European stained glass, is a glass window behind the alter facing out towards the expanse of the lake. Upon the glass is etched the figure of Christ clad in a Maori cloak, or korowai, and he appears to be walking upon the water.
The Auckland Domain, where this Sunday afternoon kiss was snapped, is Auckland’s oldest and most impressive city park; definitely one of its greatest assets. You would never realise the park is what’s left of an old volcano called Pukekawa; the explosion crater and tuff ring, to be precise. It’s one of 50 volcanoes that have erupted from the Auckland Volcanic Field upon which our city sits. No one knows where or when the next eruption will happen. It’s probably safe to say that volcanic eruptions, anyway, were far from the mind of this couple locked in their lingering embrace. They seemed oblivious of everything around them as the jazz musicians on the bandstand they’d come to see played on without them.
I found this while going through photos that might suit the upcoming exhibition and, in particular, for a self-publishing book project called New Zealand All Black and White which I’ve decided to undertake at the same time. This means converting many photos to monochrome with Silver Efex Pro2, something I am quite enjoying. I have always liked black and white photography, especially as it relates to street-style pictures as I think this format brings an immediacy to the subject which adds extra impact and mood. When New Zealand hosted the Rugby World Cup last year, we had many special events that went on alongside the rugby. You certainly didn’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy the World Cup and one of the best places to soak up the festivities was Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter on the waterfront, an area specially redeveloped from its industrial past in time for the World Cup. The Argentinian team bus was parked there one afternoon and Puma supporters were giving a demonstration of something they do even better than rugby, or football, for that matter. Yes, the Tango. It’s quite fascinating to watch when performed with skill and panache like these two dancers.
After Tuesdays’ crazy weather we were rewarded with a spectacular evening’s moonrise over retreating rain clouds. I was looking at the clouds when I was surprised by a full moon suddenly popping up through the cloud cover. This was taken from the deck of our house from where I have shot many memorable images.