Saturday, December 31, 2011

Seeing Out a Dramatic Year

The Old Christchurch City Council Building, Tuam Street.
In August, I went away to Australia for two months to escape the earthquakes and their all-pervading intrusion into my life. When I got home, everyone reported there had hardly been any shakes; but on my first night home there was a 5.5 mag after shock. I was so dazed and removed I never even rose from the sofa. And since then, there has barely been a tremor we’ve felt. Like many people here, I thought the quakes were all over.
Cnr High & Tuam Streets

On December 22, I left Christchurch bound for Australia again and on December 23, the city was hit by a cluster of nasty aftershocks that once again set everyone on edge. I was only away a week and since I’ve been home, there have been several aftershocks over 4 magnitude and suddenly I’m carrying my cellphone from room to room again and making sure there are torches in handy places each night – just in case. And I’ve moved chairs away from the dining table so I can slide quickly beneath if I need to.
Tuam Street - The west side of McKenzie & Willis Building.
To some, that may seem a little melodramatic; to anyone living in Christchurch, it is bound to make sense – if only because very little else does. Every time we have relaxed our guard in the last year, we’ve been bombarded with aftershocks all over again. From Boxing Day 2010 to February 22, 2011 and June 13, 2011 – and now December 23, 2011 – we’ve all assumed that the decrease in aftershock activity has been the beginning of a very welcome end. We’ve all been proven wrong.
Cnr Manchester &  Welles Streets.
I hardly know what to say about earthquakes anymore – other than the fact that they are now so intrinsically woven into my everyday life, across a wide range of levels, that I might be surprised if they *did* stop. From the everyday irritations of mangled roads and lingering liquefaction dust, to cracked walls, sloping floors, broken chimneys, a humped driveway, broken footpaths & drains and a large window hanging in place by good luck rather than much else, it’s all ‘just what we have to put up with.’
The rear of High Street
When I was in Australia, everyone told me I should leave Christchurch. “Move to Australia,” they said. “Great idea,” I replied, “But it’s not as easy as that.” For one thing, there’s the small matter of not being able to sell your house until you have a sheet of costings from EQC. Fifteen months on from September 2010 – and through all subsequent aftershocks and new claims – I’m still waiting for that. And like many here in Christchurch, I’ve now become so disheartened by the lack of progress in this area, that I don’t even care anymore. I just get on with enjoying life. Sometimes I momentarily feel a sense of hopelessness but I recover quickly. I see no point in wasting creative moments stressing over something I cannot control. I suppose one day, somewhere in the future, I might have an almost-new house (or a completely new one if this one is demolished); but for now that seems about as likely as winning Lotto.
Corner Manchester & Welles Streets
In some strange way though, I’m happy to be a part of it all. I’m not like many others, claiming that 2011 has been a bitch of a year. For me it has been a fantastic year. It has been a year of enormous challenges – physical, mental, emotional – and I think I have become a better and more relaxed person as a result of it all. I’ve become a much better photographer too (in my own eyes anyway), because there’s seldom been a day in the last year, that I haven’t been out and about recording this earthquake mayhem at some level.
Corner Tuam & High Streets
As sad as it has been to see so much of Christchurch reduced to rubble and a vast acreage of broken homes and now-empty, overgrown sections, it has also been a huge inspiration to me. I’ve found enormous beauty in it all. There’s been irony and humour, the poignant and the dramatic. The fantastic, the unexpected, the ever-changing, the slow glimpses of renewal and determination are nowhere so exemplified as in Christchurch.
St Asaph Street
The Old Post Office, Cnr Brougham & Colombo Streets
The earthquakes have been brutal, the aftermath dirty, disconcerting, disconnecting and at times, terrifying but in coming to grips with all of that, I have given up silly, unrealistic expectations and I have relaxed into a changed reality. It’s not a reality I have any hope of changing but it is a reality that I hope will continue to change me.
Cnr Manchester &Welles Streets
I like the unpredictability of that. I like waking up each day wondering what will happen next. I like seeing the world around me shift and sway – not in those specific moments of a large aftershock I hasten to add; but in the day-to-day passing of time. I like that I have had the opportunity to experience #eqnz and I look forward to 2012 and whatever it may bring. I’m certainly ready for just about anything this unpredictable world can throw at me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas in an Earthquake Zone

It's the Christmas season and I take it I'm supposed to feel festive and jolly.
I like to think I feel that way most of the time - even living in a city battered by earthquakes and regardless of Christmas. Sure, there are days when the realities get you down - when you're sick of driving your car into huge potholes, or over popped-up manholes; when you're tired of having to travel across town negotiating endless detours, road works, road cones and puddles; and when the dust and crap, the heavy lorries and the metallic clawing of diggers and cranes sends shivers down your spine. But overall, I feel pretty fortunate to have survived 2010 and 2011.
But there are thousands of others in Christchurch who will have a miserable time over Christmas this year. They may have lost family, their houses, their businesses, their futures - or, if they live on the Sumner cliffs, may be about to.
They may be living beside huge road construction zones like this monstrosity on Woodham Road.
A situation that's unlikely to change for many weeks to come.
They may be like this antique dealer, contemplating valuable stock reduced to rubble in the ruins of a city store, unable to get in to retrieve anything, unable to move forward until they've waded through harrowing and frustrating bureaucracy - a process that will drive them to the point of despair in its own right.
Or this Linwood firearms dealer, who has sealed up his shop (having removed the firearms and left a sign to that affect) and has tried to make someone else's day brighter by offering them free bricks from his rubble.
Or like these Bexley homeowners, they may have had to send an urgent message to the North Pole, enlightening Santa to their plight and begging him not to try climbing down their supported but still unstable chimney. (Children all across Christchurch are likely to be frettiing about the loss of their chimneys and how Santa will access their homes for present delivery).
Or worse, perhaps they no longer have a home at all. Perhaps it's lying in a state of ruin like this Bexley home - its front torn asunder and all their possessions broken and exposed to the world; their gardens now abandoned and over-grown.
And there will be many Christchurch people who will not be able to go to Christmas services at their local church. If they were once members of the Avonside Holy Trinity congregation, this is all they'll find on the site of their once beautiful Victorian Gothic church - a pile of broken tiles, some rescued lumps of masonry and this small box of lichen-covered roof slates - all set on one side of a huge, now vacant city lot.
Empty,  Quiet.
We know you've probably all had a gutsful of hearing about our earthquakes - the destruction, the loss, the chaos - but this Christmas day, if you don't get the present you were hoping for, or your Christmas dinner turns pear-shaped as old family resentments rise to the surface over the Christmas turkey, think a little of these Christchurch people who  have lost an unquantifiable amount and who are having their second Christmas in an earthquake zone. Not me, I'm fine. I'll be baking in the Melbourne sun for Christmmas.
Many people like these won't be having any fun at all.
Cast your thoughts in their direction.
It won't take you a minute.
And we *will* be grateful.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Barry's Provocative Unpublished Minutes - 147

"Monument and Pedastal."
The latest in our ongoing series of prints from one of New Zealand's leading printmakers, Barry Cleavin.

Friday, December 2, 2011

To Cathedral Square and Back

Last Sunday, I took a walk into Cathedral Square to get that obligatory shot of the broken cathedral. That sounds a little callous perhaps and in truth, unlike many, I didn't find it a particularly emotional experience. I have always loved the Christchurch Cathedral as an architectural statement and I appreciate that for many, it is a Canterbury icon. But for my part, I'm a little 'cathedraled-out.' It's had such an obscene amount of news coverage - especially compared to the far more impressive Catholic Basilica across town - and I always knew that for me, standing in front of the ruin was going to be an anti-climax - if that's a term that can be applied to earthquake ruins.

I was - and always have been - much more interested in 'the lesser buildings,' the everyday fabric of the city, the places where daily lives have played out in ordinary and extraordinary ways. The big BNZ building for instance (top image) is one of the next to be demolished and that will create yet another wound in the architectural perimeter of the Square.  And I like the eerie abandoned quality of so many of the shops - places we've walked by so often and never really noticed. Now, as doors and windows swing open and shut in the wind, we think about what might have happened inside the empty shells. The ghosts of busy days gone by.

I love the unexpectedness of a sofa in Cathedral Square.
And the shabby, overgrown grassy patches that would never normally be tolerated in the Garden City

I am fixated (photographically speaking) on diggers, cranes and torn apart walls, on the patched exteriors, the building scars and the broken masonry.

And the poignant personal statements you come upon without warning - a tiny note on a wire fence, a rose stuffed between steel girders, or here, a tattoo commemorating the Christchurch earthquakes - the pain etched into skin, never to be forgotten.

The Cathedral itself, is a sad sight - a broken shadow of its former self.

But I'm more interested in the abandoned grassy banks of the Avon, along Oxford Terrace, where the grass is now nearly hip-high and the park benches are barely visible. It's a sight so far removed from my memory of a crisp, clean, clipped, immaculately-presented Christchurch that I stand in awe of it.

I am lost for words when I see once-busy city intersections covered in leaves, debris and broken buildings. Not a soul in sight. It's how you m ight imagine a scene from some weird, futuristic movie where people have been wiped off the face of the earth.

The interlocking panels of wire fencing adding to the feel of a city cut off from the world - a forbidden place.

I revisit current demoltion sites over and over - this one the Grand Chancellor - in the hope of better coming to terms with the eroding cityscape.

And I marvel at the steel beams, the scaffolding, that crazy patchwork of bars and braces holding fragile 'friends' together in the hope they won't collapse before they can be restored.
It's an ever-changing city - every day seen afresh, every day different and every day a little less of what it once was.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Queenslanders at Play

When I visited Port Douglas in September, I really enjoyed wandering about with my camera, shooting whatever image took my fancy. Amid all the lush, tropical landscapes there are a few people - Queenslanders at rest, at work, at play. Here's a short photographic amble through a day.
Mossman - The morning paper.

The Port Douglas Sunday markets
Afloat 1
Afloat II
At home at the caravan park.
Show boys
Basking on a luxury yacht
Looking on at the Cozzie Club

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christchurch on the Bright Side - Four Photos

A Rose on a Basilica fence

Local hero writ large on a broken wall.

Latimer Square park bench cast adrift in long, overgrown grass.

The bent spire of the Victoria Street clocktower rising above wild flowers on a now-vacant Victoria Street lot.

Barry's Provocative Unpublished Minutes - 146

"Track Pack."
This week's addition to the ongoing series of prints from one of New Zealand's leading printmakers, Barry Cleavin. To see others in the series, click on Cleavin in the index line below.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Head Start on History

As I walked around Christchurch's Cathedral Square yesterday, I thought about how I was watching history unfold before me. I've thought about that a lot in the last fifteen months since the first earthquake struck the city in September 2010. I've fretted some days, about the vast swathes of the inner city that I have never photographed - gone now, just little pockets of remembering buried under a pile of already-forgotten buildings. But where to begin? Is it even possible to catalogue a whole city in crisis?
I could give up but most days I feel compelled to record some of what is happening to the changing face of Christchurch. Who knows where my thousands of photos will end up? Maybe they'll be discarded after I've gone, maybe they'll be stuffed away somewhere, like millions of other images of this broken place. It matters not ultimately. For now I am happy trying to make sense of it all via a camera lens. And some days, like today, I like to get a head start on history, giving some of my images 'the gloss of age' ahead of their time.

"History never looks like history when you're living through it. It always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable." John W Gardner. " No Easy Victories."


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