Monday, January 31, 2011

The Clubhouse - New Zealand Architecture

Cashmere Tennis Club, Christchurch
Cashmere Bowling Club, Christchurch
The New Zealand clubhouse is much more than another architectural variant.
The clubhouse encapsulates a thick slice of New Zealand sociological history.
It is a place ingrained on the New Zealand psyche - a place for many, around which everyday life revolves.
Geraldine Golf Club, Geraldine, South Canterbury Ellesmere Brass Band Rooms, Leeston, Canterbury
In my own lifetime thus far, the only clubs I've belonged to have been a tennis club and a netball club and once, temporarily, when all reason departed, a badminton club. It goes without saying that the latter was not a success. I quickly discovered that being good at tennis doesn't necessarily equate to being good at badminton and a few weeks later, crippled by humiliation, I creapt away. but that's a different story........
North Otago Billiards & Snooker Assn, Oamaru Mackenzie Squash Club, Fairlie, South Canterbury Rangiora Bowling Club, Rangiora, North Canterbury Much more recently, my interest in clubrooms and clubhouses has been revived, not from a participatory point of view but for what they mean and contribute to New Zealand society. I find myself 'digging around' small-town New Zealand in search of those quaint old buildings that have, and still do, contribute so much to the communities they sit in. Of course, like-minded people have been forming clubs since Ancient Greek times, so I shouldn't be suppose that these old buildings and the people that haunt them will all be gone in another hundred years; but it does seem they're too often overlooked and that an interest in joining clubs has been superceded somewhat by lazier pursuits - like sitting in front of television or computer games. Railway East Smallbore Rifle Club, Central Christchurch
Temuka Boxing Club, Temuka, South Canterbury I find myself increasingly intrigued by the notion of clubs, by the reasons people form these busy little clusters that, in many cases, rule their lives. Whether they be sports clubs, or clubs for musicians, hobby groups, political, military or religious groups, gentlemen's clubs or arts clubs, you'll always find a core of zealous (sometimes over-zealous) locals who give up umpteen hours of their own time to make sure their club runs smoothly (and that everyone obeys the rules). I find something hilariously funny and yet, at the same time, something poignant and innocent, in that. I may well be getting sentimental and silly as I get older but times do seem to be changing. The clubs and those hard-core club members are still there - especially in small, more isolated towns - but many modern families have different priorities these days and with far more social and leisure activities available, they're much more able to find their own amusement, without feeling the need to join clubs.
Woodend Bowling Club, Woodend, Victoria, Australia
Woodend Bowling Club, Woodend, Victoria, Australia I'm equally intrigued by the buildings that clubs occupy, or build for themselves.
The grand bowling clubs (I swear there are more bowling clubs in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world; almost every town has one, many have more), the cute little 'halls,' the solid brick edifices that allude to far grander activities than reality presents - they're all there. The golf club is another favourite - you'll find those all over New Zealand too, based in anything from a huge, modern edifice to a rickety, corrugated iron shed clinging to the edges of some tiny town. Some clubs are 'open-doored' and easily accessed; others are virtually windowless with an air of secrecy and privacy that their close-lipped members seem to encourage. I find it all fascinating.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dolphin Spotting

If you're looking for things to do in Christchurch, you don't have to go far - just over the Port Hills, in Lyttelton (New Zealand's third largest port), you'll find the team at Black Cat Cruises ready and waiting to take you out on the water with their Christchurch Wildlife Cruise. A couple of days ago, I did just that. I'd been lured along with the promise of sightings of the rare Hector's dolphins and a two hour cruise around Lyttelton Harbour. The sun was shining, the skies were blue and I couldn't find any good reason to decline. I was joined by about 22 others - mostly tourists from assorted European and Scandanavian countries, and a couple of Japanese girls.
It's always intrigued me that Lyttelton Harbour is actually the crater of a massive volcano that erupted eons ago. You can still see evidence of that in the cliffs (crater sides) around the harbour (see bottom image) and the boat's crew are very good at pointing out the best of the geological features along the way. Here in Canterbury, we're quite tuned into natural disasters at the moment and it was interesting to see how the 7.1 earthquake on September 4th has impacted on the cliffs around the harbour. More immediately, on the little lighthouse that sits in the inner harbour (above). It's now on a distinct lean after its foundations were shaken loose in the earthquake.
And so to the dolphins. I must point out that although we did see Hector's Dolphins on the trip - just three - my photographs of a few fins poking out of a vast expanse of water are simply too embarassing to display here, so many thanks to Black Cat for the loan of these stunning images. As they point out, they have hundreds and every one of them is beautiful.
The Hector's Dolphin - Tutumairekurau in Maori - is native to New Zealand and is one of the smallest and rarest dolphin species in the world. They grow to about 1.2m (4ft), which is significantly smaller than the Bottlenose Dolphin, which grows up to 3m in length, or roughly the length of a small family car. They were named in honour of Sir James Hector (1834-1907), who examined the first specimen. Born in Scotland, he was the first director of what is now the Museum of New Zealand and was New Zealand's most influential scientist of the time.
It's estimated that there are just 6,000-7,000 Hector's dolphins and around 1,000 of those live around the Banks Peninsula coastline. Our captain on the day suggested we "look out dorsal fins - small, dark and rounded like Mickey Mouse's ear," which, it has to be said, is easier said than done when you're trying to programme your camera while clinging to the boat's rails as it surges through the rolling ocean. But, as promised, right out by Beacon Rock, we spotted a trio of the little beauties, frolicking in the waves. There's something universally pleasing about dolphins. I've never quite worked out why we humans all go slightly potty over the sight of them, but I can certainly see why it happens. You just can't help smiling when they rise out of the water and swoop under the boat.
They're usually found in groups of 2-8 individuals and occasionally, several groups come together to form a large, temporary pod of about 50 dolphins. Black Cat's Lyttelton Cruise is limited to dolphin spotting but over in Akaroa they run Swimming with Dolphins cruise that puts you right in the water with them - the only place on the planet where you can swim with Hector's Dolphins. Only ten swimmers are allowed in the water at any one time and for every customer who views, or swims with dolphins, Black Cat sets aside a portion of the ticket price for research and the study of the dolphins. The also provide the Department of Conservation with daily data on the dolphins' movements and behaviour. You can find out more about that at
I always think it's a real shame that locals overlook great activities like this, thinking them the preserve of tourists. Unless you're a boatie, you're unlikely to ever get the chance to to experience the diversity that Lyttelton Harbour offers. Lyttelton Harbour is just one of 37 bays or inlets around Banks Peninsula and it has a rich birdlife - you get up close to spotted shag rookeries and their fascinating guano deposits (image above) - and a wealth of fascinating historical and geological points of interest from World War II gun emplacements to old quarantine stations (on Ripapa Island and at Camp Bay), historic whaling settlements - even an old prisoner of war camp on Ripapa Island, when it 1918, our most famous prisoner of war, Count Von Luckner was in residence. All up, it's two hours very well spent and there's nothing like that freeing feeling of being out on the water with the sun beating down and the wind in your hair.

City Scene - 12

Christchurch's Hagley Park is one of the loveliest city parks in all of New Zealand. Its 186 hectares sit smack in the middle of the city, providing a giant playground for the locals. I spend an enormous amount of time in there with my camera - in all seasons - photographing everything from trees and flowers to the people and the activities that go on there. It's a wonderful photographic resource to have 'on your back doorstep.'

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

At The Mall - A Modern Phenomenon

What I love about carting a camera with me everywhere I go, is that it forces me to look at the everyday world around me in ways I may not otherwise consider. I also have this theory that, wherever there are people and wherever people have been, there is always a photograph waiting to happen. And so to shopping malls........ those readily replicated retail ramblings that we all love to hate. I spend a lot of time in malls but always prioritising people-watching over shopping. I'm intrigued by the role shopping malls now play in everyday New Zealand life; how they've become a meeting place as much as they have a retail cluster; how they've become a chosen hang-out for kids after school and in weekends. I especially love the mania that descends on shopping malls in the lead-up to Christmas. There's no telling what will happen then as patience wanes and tempers flare, as kids grizzle and throw tantrums, as parents try their best to deal with the situation.
When you consider that Al-Hamidiyah Souk in Damascus, Syria dates back to the 7th century and Isfahan's Grand Bazaar in Iran was operating in the 10th century, it's plain the mall is nothing new. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul was built in the 15th century and with 58 streets and 4,000 shops, it's one of the largest covered markets in the world. And a mall, after all, is really a modern market. In its current guise, it has its origins in the 1920s and became especially popular in post-war America with the expansion of suburbia and the rise of the automobile.
The downside of that of course, has been the demise of inner city preccincts the world over and if you live in Christchurch, New Zealand, you can see that in action on any given day. I doubt there is another city in New Zealand that has become so dependent on its ever-growing number of suburban malls - complexes that get bigger and bigger and blander and blander. Meanwhile, recent earthquakes aside, the inner city languishes. I travel all over the country regularly and I'm always disappointed when I come back to inner city Christchurch and see so few people about. Much-smaller Dunedin has a far more stimulating and energetic inner city life than Christchurch; even small provincial centres like New Plymouth can give it a run for its money.
Mall developers meanwhile, continue to get town planning permission to expand, and to erect new concrete monstrosities on the city's outskirts. I'm not a big shopper - it's certainly not a leisure activity for me as it is for many - but I'm sure I'd spend more money in malls if they weren't all the same, if the same boring chain stores didn't keep popping up all over town. The retailers and mall owners certainly go to extreme lengths to help potential customers part with their hard-earned dollars. They filter pleasing aromas into the perfectly-warm/cool air, they play soft music and have you noticed how malls are increasing becoming like a public living room, complete with leather sofas, tables, potted plants and colourful floor rugs - you very own lounge right in the middle of the mall, close to temptations of every sort, with a steady flow of mall food and drink to hold your interest a bit longer.
And while all that's going on, there's me, sidling around shop fronts snapping mannequins, lurking on the sofas, photographing people's feet as they hurry by and always looking for a happy marriage of colour, texture and graphics. On a recent visit to Riccarton Mall here in Christchurch, I was accosted by one of the mall managers, who asked me to stop photographing shop windows. I played innocent and told him I was just testing the parameters of a new camera (which wasn't altogether a fib). When I asked why I had to desist, he spun some yarn about shop owners not wanting the store windows photographed because of copyright issues. 'Well hello Mr Man,' I wanted to say, 'Why on earth do you think I'd want to copy any of this?'
And here's a new phenomenon to consider - dead malls!
The unsuccessful, the abandoned malls of America all neatly catalogued in one handy website

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reflecting on Melbourne

It's that time again - when my thoughts turn to Melbourne.
Sadly, I have to wait a few months before I can return, but I've been pottering about in my Melbourne photo files again and here's a few of my favourite cafe and restaurant windows.
Windows, graphics, reflections - always a big attraction for me.
Above, Flinders Station reflected in a pub window.
A whispy set of reflections at the classy Spanish restaurant, Movida Coffea at the Queen Victoria Market
Highrise reflected in the Negroni window
Ito in Chinatown
And some of Ballarat's terrific architecture reflected in the Grand Hotel window.
I still shudder when I remember how baking hot it was the day I visited Ballarat. I fell in love with the place - mostly with its architecture - because certainly the heat just about killed did missing my footing and falling over and whacking my head on one of those historic stone walls! The stuff of good travel tales.

Friday, January 21, 2011

City Scene - 11

I photographed this architect's office in Ponsonby in Auckland.
I liked the way they'd beaten the random graffiti artists to the job, covering one side of their building with some eye-catching 'street art' of their own.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Knitted Graffiti - Warm Trees & Other Woolly Features

When a group of artists called Knitta kicked off a burst of 'knitted graffiti' in Houston, Texas in 2005, they probably had no idea that they were spawning a new international movement. Put 'knitted graffiti' or 'yarn-bombing' into Google these days and you'll be treated to a colourful worldwide phenomenon designed to "make street art a little more warm and fuzzy."
In the wake of the September 4, 2010 (7.1) earthquake in Christchurch, yarn bombers have been hitting the city's demolition sites and wire barricades. On the weekend, I photographed this colourful tree in Latimer Square and the below Nativity scene, which was part of a Christmas display on the wire barricades cordoning off the severely damaged Oxford Terrace Baptist Church. I have no idea who is responsible for the work but I love it.
When I mentioned these knitted treats on Twitter recently, someone asked me 'what was the point' and 'wouldn't knitters be serving a better purpose by knitting hats for the needy?' Quite possibly, but my answer to that was simple - if you'd been sitting through the 4,500+ after-shocks that Cantabrians have had to endure these past four months, you too, might be happy to see something as simple, as pleasing and as whimsical as a flock of knitted sheep or a tree 'dressed for winter.'
That sort comment - that knitted graffiti is "aimless, a waste of time, worthless, a joke, nonsense" - is not uncommon. Similar remarks have been recorded worldwide. I see urban knitting differently. I think it's brilliant and what can possibly be wrong with beautifying public spaces in such a harmless way. I like good street art of the painted variety, but if you want "aimless, a waste of time, a joke" you only have to look at the hideous, pointless tagging that beautifies nothing. And sadly, as Christchurch's heart is punctuated with tatty patches of earthquake ruin, that pointless (painted) tagging seems to be on the increase.
So usher in the knitters I say!
Usher in the 'world's most inoffensive graffiti.'
The other great quality of yarn-bombing is that brings people together - young and old - and makes them smile. We need smiles - everywhere - but especially in Christchurch right now. To illustrate that very point, when I was photographing the tree in Latimer Square, I was approached by a French tourist. He was bewitched by the tree and spent as much time as me photographing it. It led to some great conversation about the earthquake, about Christchurch and travelling. An unkempt, possibly hung-over person joined us - initially to ask for money but he too, seemed taken with the tree. I took his comment: "Rad man!" to be something of a compliment. A family also came by - "Look Mummy, the tree is wearing a cardy," said one of their young daughters. The yarn-bombers have been busy. Park benches and city statues have also been embellished. Sadly, the powers-that-be have seen fit to remove the hats and satorial decorations from the city's public sculptures (more's the pity in some cases), but the 'knitted' trees and the earthquake barricades remain. I find something very touching in that. Knitting is one of those old crafts that reeks of 'home,' of comfort, of warmth, of security - all the things that have been torn assunder for many Cantabrians; and for me, the yarn bombing - quite apart from the humour and the brightness of it - has done much to 'humanise' the earthquake ruins.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Barry's Provocative Unpublished Minutes - 120

"Marguerita and Maxwell After Seeing The Fabulous Mr Fox." One of New Zealand's top printmakers sees the world in a series of images. Click on Cleavin in the label line below to see more in this ongoing series.


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