Wandering in a daze-entering via the exit door.
Nikon D810, Sigma 25-104/f4 ART
ISO 100, 1/320s @ f8
“The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery, is of little worth.”
― Ezra Pound
This is the first article of two, offering some thoughts on what is shaping up to be a new body of work, taking a direction that is both surprising and quite unexpected and yet, on balance, which shouldn’t be so. The first article explores my responses to this place. The second, entitled Artist’s Notes, offers some thoughts on where it appears to be going. For now. I will probably look back in time and laugh at myself.
I hope it is of some value to you.
The photographer in me has wandered in a daze for days which are turning into weeks, wondering where to start, what to say and how to begin. The Maker of Images recognizes that an artistic period which has become increasingly comfortable, a stained and dog-eared book with well-thumbed pages, will sit and sulk in the corner for some time, because a new period is underway, a new form of expression is beginning to form, to take shape. On the one hand he is enmeshed in it, on the other he is sitting on a park bench to one side, observing the process, wanting to step in and take charge, but knowing that would be most unwise. There is a problem here, but what is it? Define the problem and the solution presents itself, he says, not wanting to have anything to do with a solution, for once reached, that means the end of a journey. As long as the road is there, there is a reason to walk onwards. For the genesis of a new journey lies in the decaying detritus of the past.
The Hokianga is different to any other place I have ever been, let alone lived in or lived in alone. There is a story here, a mystery at once mystical, at once obvious, and yet tantalizingly elusive. This is not the spare, austere, male grandeur of the Maniototo or the silent mountains of the South island, with its demands that you look out and up into the heights and the distance, a place which compresses and shrinks you into your proper proportions and scale, where the rendition of tiny detail takes its place amidst the grander forms of the land. The Hokianga is not a place which asks you to describe the Big Picture and weave a narrative about the grand and sublime.
No, the Hokianga is everything that the other is not. It is gentle and feminine. There are no grand landscapes here, no male external pomp and circumstance. This is the balance, the antithesis, the counterpoint. This is a land which asks you to look inward, to sink below the surface and consider the small and micro, to explore subtle sub-narratives. Here the detail is the narrative, for in the metaphors of the miniscule may lay the breadcrumbs littering the path to Understanding. This is not a place where stilettos of rain shatter themselves on you in a myriad of angry ice needles; here the rain slides soft and warm onto the skin, layering caressing it as it slips softly down and away. There is no aggressive and angry portent in the clouds, no promise of drama and fury and potential catastrophe as it plucks furiously at anything not firmly impaled to the earth. Here the clouds arrive gently, speaking in soft voices, guided by an ambling shepherd in tune with their rhythm.
If the Maniototo is a place of the Mind, then the Hokianga is a place of the Heart.
Here history is the glue which binds the community, whakapapa is the prized commerce of communication. You are who you are connected to, both in the present and in the well-polished mirrors of your own and a collective past.
So, knowing that the old ways, the ways I had honed and polished over years had no currency here, I stood and looked and listened in trying to find the invisible pattern I sensed around me. I watched the wind whispering to the rosemary growing beside my back door; I watched the herons sailing in like ghostly galleons to land in the trees in the village, taking in all the rigging at the last second before they crashed into the docks. I watched the currents in the harbor as they eased inscrutably around the mysterious headland across the bay, and wondered why I was so drawn to the lone white house on the hillside which formed its flank, what metaphor it was suggesting. I bought a coffee at the local café and got deep into a discussion on quantum physics with its owner. And I watched the metronome of the ferry sailing to Kohukohu and back on the half-hour.
And, not knowing where to begin, I began where I was, photographing without prejudice or preconception, responding to whatever drew my attention, gathering it into the kete of my image browser, picking out and discarding the weeds, and allowing what flowers remained to fall where they would. I rode the ferry early one morning for two hours, wandering in and out of the mists which layer the harbor in cryptic mystery.
And, as I moved further and further into my own family history, discovering cousins and second cousins and third cousins back to Kupe and beyond, as I was helped to write my own mihimihi and anchor myself to the past, I began to realise how much my ancestry had made me a part of the kōrero of the Hokianga.
And the artist has begun to find two picture-making issues that I need to solve.
How do I reverence the past while facing the future, and how do I weave the concerns of the artists who have been here before me into the kete of the Present and Future?