Thursday, March 31, 2011

City Scene - 18

Loved this wall of posters on the side wall on a Grey Lynn Deli in Auckland.
In 50 years time, posters like these will probably be collectible - small windows into the social fabric and fashions of earlier times. Sirely I can't be the only person who feels compelled to record them?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Scenes from a Demolition

By the time you read this, Christchurch's St Elmo Courts, on the corner of Montreal and Hereford Streets, will be much diminished.
It's being demolished after sustaining damage in both the September 4, 2010 and the February 22, 2011 earthquakes.
Designed in 1929 by B.J. Ager and built in 1930 on the site of the former St Elmo exclusive boarding house, it originally featured smart apartments. More lately an office complexit had a Category II Historic Places Trust listing. I took the following photos six days ago. A big crowd had gathered to watch and Police were out in force ensuring everyone stayed behind the barriers, although it has to be said, most of them were either drinking coffee, leaning casually on vehicles or taking their own photographs.
(I found the handcuffs distracting).
You can see many more Christchurch earthquake photographs by clicking on Christchurch Earthquake in the index line below.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Filling in the Gaps

I came upon this outdoor exhibition of photographs a few days ago, when I was out biking in Christchurch inner city - or at least in the parts that are currently accessible in the wake of February's 6.3 earthquake. It's another of the terrific undertakings by Gap Filler.
Established after the 2010 September 4 earthquake, Gap Filler has been going about the city bringing 'an alternative use' to the empty lots once occupied by recently demolished shops and offices.
These photographs were taken by Stefan Koppelkamm - some while he was travelling in East Germany in 1990, "after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before reunification" and others (the same buildings and same perspectives), when he returned to the city 10-12 years later. The exhibition is located at 63 Worcester Boulevard in the emply lot beside Christchurch Art Gallery. I suspect it was installed prior to the February 22 earthquake (judging by photographs on Gap Fillers website). Since then, some have been torn down, others 'grafitti-ed' over - all part of inner city evolution of course. I didn't linger here too long. The carpark has been cordoned off and I felt a little too nervous in the presence of towering high rise and old brick walls to want to stay and inspect every image. It did however set me to thinking how Christchurch might look 10-12 years from now. It's a very timely and poignant exhibition in that sense.
Gap Filler meanwhile, are going about their business as usual.
Their next planned 'happening' is the Gap Filler Fun Fair.
To be held at St Mary's Church Square in Addington from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, April 9th. All funds raised from their projects goes to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal and back to Gap Filler, to help them fund further projects.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Loss of Important Architectural Heritage

My worst fears have been realised - the magnificent Stone Chamber at the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in Christchurch has been destroyed by the February 22nd, 2011 eathquake. Already badly wounded after the September 4, 2010 quake, it had been braced to protect it from further damage. When I cycled past it a few days ago, this is what I saw - a tortured tangled of stone and steel. I've written about the Provincial Council Buildings several times before - (click on Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings in index line below)- and anyone who has stepped inside this large, unique complex will appreciate what a sad loss the Stone Chamber's demise represents. This is what it looked like - a stunning, intricately-crafted architectural masterpiece. I just wish I had taken more close-up photographs of the tile and timber detailing last time I visited before all this terrible earthquake business began. I'm not sure what the final fate of the complex will be. It's not all as obviously damaged as the Stone Chamber, but the rear of the buildings, in the inner courtyard, were badly shattered in the September quake, so it seems unlikely much - if anything - will be saved.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sightseeing in Australia - 6

When I arrived in Adelaide for the first time 2007, I never expected to see pink spring blossoms and a bounty of lush green grass - South Australia after all, is one of the driest places in Australia. But up in the Adelaide Hills, things are a little different - cooler for a start - and just twenty minutes from Adelaide City, you'll find plenty of vineyards, wineries, farmlands and artist studios. not to mention cute little villages with names like Birdwood, Stirling, Hahndorf and Lobethal. I took this photograph in one of the small towns we passed through. This commanding tower belongs to one of the buildings of the University of Ballarat, in the city of Ballarat, Victoria. Founded in 1870, it's the third oldest centre of higher learning in Australia. Over 25,000 students attend courses in a number of different campuses. This building is right in the heart of the city and I was so busy walking backwards so I could fit the whole tower in my camera lens, that I tripped on a doorstep behind me and just about concussed myself on the massive stone wall of another old architectural beauty - of which Ballarat has a bounty. It was while I was driving to Ballarat in 2010, that I passed through the cute little town of Creswick, 18km north of Ballarat and 129km northwest of Melbourne. I HAD to stop. There were so many divine old limestone buildings begging to be photographed - many of them a legacy of the town's early wealth. Named after the three Creswick brothers, who started a large sheep station in the area in 1842, it was at its peak during the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s. It had a population of 25,000 back then.
I visit Daylesford often - every time I visit Victoria in fact, because it's not too far from Woodend (an hour north of Melbourne) where I usually stay with family. Daylesford is to Melbourne what Akaroa is to Christchurch, and Waiheke is to Auckland - the perfect weekend getaway, close enough to be convenient and far enough away to be 'of a different world.' Every weekend it's packed with incoming BMWs, Porches, Mercedes and the like and the many classy boutique accommdations and designer stores do a roaring trade. Today it's known as Victoria's Spa Town - which probably originated from the fact that nearby Hepburn Springs (a small village to the north), has long been renowned for its natural spring mineral spas. If you're visiting Melbourne, it's well worth making an overnighter to Daylesford as they also have great markets, cafes and restaurants. The photograph above is of one of their terrific old Aussie pubs.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

City Scene - 17

Reflections, shadows, lighting, shop windows, graphics, colour - they all come together here to provide a small inner city snapshot of life in the capital city - Wellington. I was standing outside one of the city's popular bars, Hummingbird, on Courtenay Place, watching the people and traffic just as the night lights were coming on - that lovely 'in-between time' when you often get photographic surprises.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Making it Real

I thought I was over photographing Christchurch earthquake ruins.
I had made a point of stopping in an attempt to regain some sort of normality in my life.
But as I drive about the accessible parts of central and eastern side of Christchurch, I find myself struggling to comprehend the rapidly changing face of this place I now call home.
It's confronting to see what was a busy pharmacy (on the corner of Bealey Ave & Colombo Street - the top of these two images above), now a pile of unrecognisable rubble topped with a wrecked car. It's even more confronting to see the torn and broken mass of something (above) that you no longer even remember in its pre-earthquake state. So I have started photographing again - if only to help myself mentally process some of the horrors unfolding around me. I find that somehow, the act of photographing helps make it real.
In addition to journalistic pursuits, I also write travel guides for the bestselling American company, Frommers Travel Guides Last year, I spent seven gruelling months writing a new 1st edition - Frommers New Zealand Day by Day, which is due for publication early in 2012. Just two weeks out from deadline, the September 4th 7.1 earthquake struck Christchurch and threw me into a mad panic. I got the guide done thankfully and it was such a HUGE relief that I thought I might sleep for a month at the end of it.
So imagine my horror when the February 22 6.3 struck and devastated much of inner city Christchurch - including many of the key heritage buildings that play such an important role in any travel guide. Now I have to rewrite the Christchurch chapter and I have no idea (yet) what I will put in it- what will be left to put in it. Suffice to say it will be short. In addition, I'm now researching and writing the 7th edition of Frommer's New Zealand and the Christchurch chapter there too, will also be much abbreviated because, among other things, many accommodation providers have simply gone.
Take Hambledon House on Bealey Avenue for instance.
This is what's left of it - above and below.
Once a huge, three-storey mansion with an elegant apartment in the old stables building, it has been reduced to a forlorn pile of rubble and twisted iron.
And nothing says sadness to me more than this twisted, broken dolly caught among the Hambledon ruins like some horrible metaphor for all those who lost their lives on February 22.
This (above) is all that's left of another big, old, 2 storied B&B, Turret House on Durham Street; and I know of several other B&Bs - not to mention the inner city hotels - that have all sustained significant damage, which is going to put them out of business for many months to come. The Christchurch-Canterbury chapter in Frommers New Zealand 6th edition covers 48 pages. When you consider that probably 90% of the shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and other accommodation providers may have to be deleted in the 7th edition, you begin to realise what a significant impact the earthquakes are going to have on tourism broadly.
I feel sad in a way I can't even quantify.
And you know it's all very real when you army tanks and soldiers guarding the cordons currently blocking of the inner red zone of the central business district.
I also feel an incredible sadness at the loss of so many of Christchurch's beautiful historic churches. Anyone who has visited this blog regularly over the past three years will know I have a passion for church architecture, so seeing so many of them crumpled and ruined is difficult indeed. (The Rose Historical Chapel on Manchester Street top two images and Knox Presbyterian Church on the corner of Bealey Ave & Victoria Street above). I'm only pleased that my obsession with photographing churches means I have an extensive record of many of those now damaged beyond recognition.
As I write the caption for this last set of three images - a once-2-storied set of flats now sitting at ground level on Bealey Avenue after the bottom level collapsed on February 22, I realise this whole blog entry is all over the place - without focus - much like me and my work habits at the moment. I keep telling myself everything is fine - because frankly, after what has happened in Japan, to say otherwise just seems like self-indulgent whimpering. But it's all relative and you don't have to go far in Christchurch, you don't have to talk with many people, to realise that Christchurch as a city is seriously shattered and its people are stressed. I'm not going to include the standard addendum today: the 'we will rise again, Christchurch will be just dandy again soon' because frankly, I'm having one of those days when all that seems forever away. In the meantime, I have travel guides to abbreviate.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Roads Less Travelled

I find myself a wee bit obsessed with the state of Christchurch East roads.
One glimpse at these photos and it's easy to see why I think.
The good news is, that I've never seen so many orange-coated road works looking so genuinely busy and the main traffic thoroughfares are being quickly repaired - or at least made passable.
Beyond those key streets it's another story altogether.
Manholes have popped up in the middle of roads.
Giant puddles of liquefaction swirl around roadsides.
Mini craters punctuate the asphalt.
And bumps and hollows make most journeys on this side of town a cross country event.
It's part of our new post-earthquake landscape
And It's all a wee bit exciting.

Friday, March 4, 2011

No Ordinary Bike Ride - The Christchurch Earthquake

I decided to go for another bike ride around a few of the suburban streets of Christchurch's much-altered east side yesterday. I live on the east side. It's not as flash as the west side. The property values are lower and you don't see a lot of BMWs or Mercedes over this side of town. It's easily overlooked. But I like it. It has a gritty character and the people are real.
It was not an ordinary bike ride. For a start I was wearing a mask and dark glasses - along with the obligatory helmet and gloves - all of which combined to make me feel like a special kind of idiot. But I was completely unrecognisable (that I didn't mind) and I was protected against the dreadful clouds of pale grey liquefaction dust that now swirl around the streets. As it turned out, the dust was the least of my worries. I came off my bike twice (delighted again, to be unrecognisable) - once when my front wheel came to a sudden stop in a pile of wet liquefaction and again when I was gazing at houses and didn't see a large hole in the road ahead.
Everything is altered in Christchurch after six months of continuing earthquakes. Everyone knows that now and I thought this broken suburban shop (above) a touching metaphor for that. With its roof askew, its sign on a tilt and its front glass panes broken and fallen in, it seemed a pale shadow of its former self - like so much of this shattered city.
After the 7.1 quake in September 2010, the Avonside area was particularly beaten about. Now, after the 6.3 quake on February 22, it's one of the most severely hit areas again. The selection of photos here were all taken in Richmond-Shirley and Avonside and you don't have to go far in any direction to come upon houses both damaged and derelict.
I felt for the homeowners in this street - still flooded 10 days after last Tuesday's quake. This is the sort of thing I came home to when I arrived back in Christchurch on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb 23. I remember the despair of turning the corner and seeing a sea of grey, slimy water settled over the entire street, my driveway impassable, people standing about looking dumbfounded and disbelieving - and that was a day after the earthquake. I shuddered - and still shudder - as I imagine what they must have felt during those hideous seconds of immediate terror. I hadn't felt a thing. I had been in a remote valley on Four Peaks Station, near Fairlie, huddled beside a fire in New Zealand's oldest musterer's hut - The Sutherland Hut (1866).
I cut the rest of my trip short when I heard about the earthquake. People couldn't understand why I was suddenly desperate to get back to Christchurch; and as I passed a steady stream of cars heading south from Christchurch on the Wednesday morning, I felt physically sick and in fear of what I might find at home. My home in fact - the everlasting renovation project - once again defied the odds and stood firm - a few more perky little cracks to the plaster walls and foundations but a roof over my head at least. Unlike so many others on this side of town.
Whole streets in Avonside seem deserted. Abandoned. Eerily quiet.
Glass has been blown out of windows.
Curtains hang lifelessly into the garden.
Roofs are bandaged with plastic and tarpaulins.
Fences and walls are toppled.
Chimneys have cavorted down rooflines and fallen into lawns.
Garages are twisted.
Decks are askew.
Houses - like this old beauty in Linwood -that withstood the force of September's 7.1 quake, have been torn assunder by the 6.3 - beds, kitchens, furnishings, colour choices laid bare for all the world to see (and probably judge).
A fresh batch of people are moving out - either because they've simply had enough, or because their homes have been declared unsafe to reside in. I haven't had to grapple with that. Not yet at least.
Too many more earthquakes and my old ruin may also give up; but in the meantime it's a 'safe haven' against uncertainty. It's a place I can come back to after these bike rides - where I can close the door and try and pretend life is normal. It's a place - an untidy place - that stores twenty-one years of my life in Christchurch... the physical shards of memory that I have stacked in cabinets and corners. It's the tatty place where I can switch on the computer and lose myself in writing, hoping the walls will stay firm long enough for me to meet the current pending travel guide deadline of July 15 - a 550 page guide I have yet to even start.
It's not easy to focus on writing when aftershocks rattle and rumble through the city.
That's why I'm already 2 weeks behind schedule.
And I panic when I see the precarious state of my office window, which now sits 3cm out from the windowsill - pushed casually awry by the force of too many earthquakes.
I hope it holds while I write about New Zealand's luxury lodges and glamorous hotel suites.
Like all of Christchurch's earthquake survivors, I tell myself how lucky I am to be alive.
I felt that before any of these bastard earthquakes hit; but now I feel it with a new intensity. I tell myself I shouldn't be moaning about having to spend five days digging out smelly liquefaction, or about a rotten window that has been unceremoniously hurried toward the end of its life and how I am going to get it fixed before winter when there is a shortage of builders in Christchurch; or about the multitude of cracks that have opened up in the fabric of this weird little place I call home. I tell myself these are minor things and that I must stop prattling on about it when people have lost family members in crushed city buildings.
But the strange truth of ongoing earthquakes is their ability to render us all victims.
We are all suffering in different ways and we shouldn't feel guilty about the small pains and worries. Any assault on our sense of normality, our inherent need for comfort, continuity, calm, control and connectedness is a legitimate cause for concern.


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