On the Queen’s Birthday holiday weekend — not celebrated in Britain itself, just the colonies — we came across an exhibition of all things British in The Cloud, a strange architectural creation which resembles a huge glow worm plonked on Auckland’s waterfront for the Rugby World Cup in 2011 to serve as “Party Central”. There was a party of sorts when we arrived last Sunday: an extravaganza of classic British cars, from the Mini to the MG and Bentley lovingly restored and cared for by New Zealand motor clubs. Given the choice of taking one home, I would be torn between the Bentley and beautiful red MG, above. Though the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish is hard to ignore. And I don’t think you are supposed to do that.
We returned to Bethells with some Trinidadians last weekend to show them the raw beauty of Auckland’s west coast. The tide was out and the wet surface of the sand gleamed like a mirror, perfect for reflections. As a surfer left the pounding waves and I caught him as he passed the distinctive headland of the beach. The result is the fastest amount of views I have ever had on Flickr so I thought I’d post it here. I converted the image to black and white using Silver Efex Pro2 and upped the contrast by a fairly extreme amount creating what is almost a silhouette.
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.
At the latest count we have 35 regional parks in the Auckland region, most of them set in glorious countryside along the coast. When it comes to walking, hiking, swimming, running, surfing, mountain biking, hang gliding, picnicking —we are spoilt for choice. Every year thousands of Auckland schoolchildren spend educational days, sometimes camping overnight, in the parks learning about the value of an unspoilt, well maintained environment and the simple beauty of nature. Future custodians undergoing early training. It’s a truly invigorating thing to recharge one’s batteries in such places. A couple of weeks ago we took some visitors from England on a walk over the hills of Shakespear Regional Park on the Whangaparoa Peninusla. I haven’t spelt Shakespear wrong, it’s the name of the man who once owned the land. Like many of our regional parks, areas of Shakespear remain part of a working farm, bought and run by the council for the enjoyment of Aucklanders and our visitors now and forever. Shakespear is one of our favourites because of the views it affords looking over the Hauraki Gulf to the city of Auckland. Over the hills, not far away.
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.
This will be my last entry for a month as I’m off to Trinidad and Tobago via San Francisco. So I thought I’d put up one of my favourite photos as a parting shot, as it were. It’s the original colour version of the black and white detail that makes up the header of this page. Piha is Auckland’s most famous surf beach, renowned for its dangerous rips and unpredictability. So dangerous can it be a reality TV series is made each year focusing on the work of the local life saving crews called Piha Rescue, which says all that needs to be said about the perils of swimming here. But that doesn’t stop hordes of holiday makers doing so every summer, some of whom get into difficulties after downing one too many beers in our unforgiving, burning sun. No danger of drowning, you’d think, when this mid-winter photo was taken. But Kiwis are hardy, and some might say foolhardy as, shortly after this was snapped, a man stripped off and ran into the freezing surf, though he didn’t stay submerged too long. I was so lucky to be there at the moment the sun peaked out of the clouds, bathing this scene is such a dramatic way. I feel it sums up the dangerous magnificence of Piha perfectly. Later the sun came out properly and so did the beach walkers, revelling in the beauty of this wonderful place.
We’re thinking about where to go in the summer holidays. Spring has sprung and if we don’t book somewhere soon all the best value spots will be taken, especially in the Coromandel. The Coromandel Peninsula is a forested finger of land sticking far out into the Pacific Ocean, blessed with countless pretty coves and sweeping golden bays. Unsurprisingly it’s the favourite holiday haunt for Aucklanders, including us. Just two hours from the big smoke it can, nevertheless, be a pain to get to at weekends and holidays when it seems the entire city has the same idea. But, once there and away from the main towns, it can feel surprisingly empty. Our favourite base in the Coromandel is Kuaotunu, a small holiday village with a nice beach, but surrounded by a wealth of really amazing ones. It’s that choice that makes it such a good place to stay. Kuaotunu beach is a great for a walk, or a run. This fellow was out jogging soon after the sun had risen. It gives you good idea of how uncrowded the Coromandel can feel. Bring on summer!
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.