Sunday, October 13, 2013

Spring in North Canterbury

In Pink

In White

"Spring is sooner recognised by plants than men."
Chinese proverb

"Of course everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colours, there would be an unbelievable shrieking in the heart of the night."
Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Welcome to Christchurch

Welcome to Christchurch - the Copthorne Hotel, welcoming guests since ages ago

Advancing like an ancient dinosaur

Ninja - Ready for anything in Christchurch

History in the Making

Barbie - and the night out that went very, very wrong

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Way Things Used to Be

Every so often, in an idle moment, I scan through my digital photo files peering at old photos of Christchurch.
Old being pre-September 2010, before the 7.1 earthquake struck that is.
I'm always amazed by how much I have already forgotten, just three years on.
I took these photographs inside Christchurch Cathedral in the Square.
And as we all know, the Cathedral now sits in ruins - towers broken, steeple gone, roof collapsing, mould growing over the stone exterior, pigeons pooping through the interior.
It's a pale, sad shadow of what it used to be, of what you see here.
I'm not a religious person but I am very fond of church architecture and I often went into this cathedral - and, to my mind, the even more spectacular Catholic Basilica -  just to sit and watch and listen and contemplate.
Some of my favourite views are those minus people, or, as in this case, just a hint, a shadow of others.
(I've noticed that most of my photographs are either of people, or places - seldom both in one shot).
The famous rose window.
In storage somewhere now  (I think).
And with the choristers practising for the annual Christmas performance.
This year I guess they'll give us a tune in Shigeru Ban's Cardboard Cathedral - a very nice temporary replacement.
Same view, different day, different year and fewer people.
And the exterior view that dons a thousand (at least) tourist books.
I used to take this view so much for granted.
I take very little for granted any more.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christchurch in Eight Verticals

Spring Green

Memorial Stones

Unauthorised Vehicles

Bart Simpson

Empty Shell

Danger Construction

Bird Roost

Afternoon Light

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Under the Umbrella

Something about this image has haunted me since I took it in central Christchurch last week.
I watched this old couple walk up to the wire cordon, their faces bleak and pressed against the wire.
I wondered about the memories they had of their city and how they saw it now, post-earthquakes.

It was a grey day, filled with drizzle and cloud. 
The sort of day that always stirs my thoughts.
"Come along my dear, we must get out of this weather," he said to her.
She looked at him with a sad smile and together, they turned away from the fence
And walked toward another.
Umbrella raised.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Art in Unexpected Places

One of my favourite shots of Michael Parakowhai's Bull - looking ready to charge the portaloos.

He makes a good billboard too, outside the still-closed Christchurch Art Gallery.

I walked around inner city Christchurch last weekend and found myself photographing some of the many art works that have sprung up since the 2010 earthquake They are many and diverse, and I've photographed a lot of them many times, at different times of day (and night), in different weather. I like that we can do this now - that we have this sudden intimacy with contemporary artworks away from the more formal confines of an art gallery. It brings them to life in new ways I think.
I haven't names all the works I've shown here - mostly because I've either forgotten who the artist is, or, more likely, it's Sunday and I can't be bothered digging around in my files to find out. But I have gathered these images for visual pleasure - and to remind people everywhere that not everything about earthquake-stricken Christchurch is grey and glum and broken.
This is a fabulous display of photographs and texts related to the Christchurch earthquakes - interviews with those who have lived through the worst of it. It stretches along Worcester Boulevard and if you're in Christchurch, it's definitely worth a long look.
I like that the ability to decorate our battered city isn't restricted to the art elite. There's a ton of street art showing up, illuminating dark corners, and this series of works outside the broken (and closed) Christchurch Arts Centre - by school kids I'd say.
Dick Frizzell's marvellous work, set off beautifully by towering cranes and the skeletal beginnings of a new rebuild.
And a wider view, showing my favourite yellow work on the rear of Christchurch Art Gallery - artist's name forgotten and I'm too lazy to get out of my chair to find the appropriate issue of the gallery mag. part of the gallery's Outer Spaces series anyway.
""Fly me up to where you are" by Tiffany Singh, suspended outside the Christchurch City Council - and nicely reflected in the glazed facade.
Another work - I think - from Christchurch Art Gallery's Outer Spaces series called 'Faces from the Collection." Artist unknown.
"Faux Arcadia" by Michaela Cox, high on an exposed concrete block wall at the intersection of High and Hereford Streets.
Street art, Restart Mall
Street art, Restart Mall
The painted aerial pedestrian walkway over Colombo Street - or part of.

Another from "Faces in the Collection" - this one by Michael Smither.
I like the way it sits beside advertisements for hayfever and allergy medications on the outside of a Cashel Mall pharmacy.
And perhaps my favourite shot of all - One of Neil Dawson's sculptures, sitting on a cordoned off patch of grass like a strange space ship clone. It used to hang over Cashel Mall before the earthquakes. Now it sits here under the trees, behind the cordoned off Otautahi building, waiting for a new beginning.
We all do a lot of waiting around here.
So it's nice to have interesting things to look at.
We could be waiting a lot longer yet.
For repairs.
For a new city.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A City's Scars

There's a haunted, almost ghostly feeling to parts of east Christchurch now.
Almost three years on from the first  7.1 magnitude earthquake of September 4, 2010, huge swathes of some eastern residential suburbs lie abandoned and desolate. Thousands of red-zoned homes sit in a state of abandoned squalor or, increasingly, they have vanished off the face of the earth, as demolition kicks into high gear.
I've walked these red-zoned suburbs constantly over the last three years, watching the downward progression of once-vibrant neighbourhoods. Yesterday, on a cold, grey, mid-winter day, it was an even more sobering experience than usual. The level of decay and ruin seemed heightened and my imagination found it more difficult to conjure up the memories of how things used to be. 
As hideous as the Christchurch earthquakes have been over the last three years, I've always had a willingness to capture the aftermath on film. I've felt a palpable sense of excitement at the strange and compelling sights in our broken city. The city's scars have stimulated my imagination and made me think in depth about memory, identity, loss and fear.
Yesterday, I just thought about loss and I wondered how some people will ever recover.
Our city is scarred.
Our people are scarred.
The residential earth is very definitely scarred - scraped clean, torn asunder, flooded, over-grown, unkempt.
In parts, there is little trace left of human habitation - a lone flowering camellia warming up to the idea of spring; a tenacious clump of snowdrops defying winter.
A lone specimen tree, the only survivor of demolition.
Christchurch has been in the news constantly for the last three years.
The rest of New Zealand has been bombarded with images and tales of destruction.
The inner city has been highlighted - the commercial  impacts emphasised.
But out in the ruined, red-zoned eastern suburbs, whole communities have battled with much more than broken architecture and invasive liquefaction. They've had to leave their homes - homes they've often lived in for decades. They've had to farewell their gardens, with whole chapters of their past relegated to memory. Then, as well as battling for compensation and negotiating the rebuilding of their lives, they have had to watch all physical evidence of those years be wiped off the face of the earth.
As much as we all hate the word resilience in Christchurch, it does capture something of the strength and determination needed to come back from all that.
Call me sentimental if you will but there's something heart-wrenching about wandering streets filled with scraped-bare sections, a solo tree trying to survive the rigours of demolition.
We all knew it was coming - that stripping of the residential land; but up until recently it was a house here, a house there - shocking but manageable. You could get your head around those small ruptures in the residential landscape. A few months on, it's a different story. Now there are huge tracts of land sitting vacant. Sometimes as many as eight or nine properties in a row, gone.
To say it is sobering is an under-statement.
I wonder what the previous owners think now when they drive by their empty sections - if, in fact they have the will to even do that. How do you look upon that land and not re-live the horrors of the actual earthquakes, hotly followed up by the horrors of disaster and recovery bureaucracy?
I am sure there are many who never go back.
I am sure there are many who are just pleased to have the whole business settled, regardless of the fact that they've lost so much.
When I see stubborn snowdrops and daffodils pushing through these scraped-bare gardens I am both dismayed and heartened at the same time. I feel an intense melancholy, a nostalgia for the recent past, for sunnier more stable times; but at the same time I feel a rush of pleasure that so many Cantabrians have, like the snowdrops and daffodils, pushed through the (bureaucratic) crap and come out the other side. It's depressing that many (including myself) have yet to even begin that battle with authorities and insurance companies; that three years on, some will probably *still* be waiting two years from now.
That should be a wake-up call for all of New Zealand because, as Marlborough and Wellington earthquakes have recently demonstrated, none of us can afford to ignore the ramifications of disaster.

Abandonment, ruin, decay and emptiness can all stimulate our imaginations and fire us up at a creative level but there is no escaping the fact that these residential voids - laden with loss - come at a huge human cost. That cost may not have been in lives lost - I don't think anyone died in the suburbs, in a residential setting during any of the Christchurch earthquakes - but who is to say the loss of a home is not just as traumatic?
To me these empty spaces represent a sad pause, a silent hiatus in the evolution of Christchurch social history - a hyphen if you will, that bridges the gap between before and after (the earthquakes).

My natural inclination is to fill the voids with memories.
I layer them with meaning and in the deep, all pervasive silence, I stand there and imagine I can hear laughter.
Sometimes, that feels like the only thing you can do.


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