NZIPP RNZ-RSA WWII Veterans Portrait Project (2014)
In late 2013 I was asked by the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers if I would coordinate a project to photograph some of New Zealand's returned services personnel. Two New Zealand photographers, Chris Traill and Tony Stewart originally presented the idea to the NZIPP and at the time their plan was for about 50 photographers to photograph one or two returned service personnel each, with the resulting 100 or so portraits would be gifted to the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RSA). At the time, no one had actually spoken to the RSA or determined just how many New Zealanders qualified as returned servicemen and women. With one phone call to the head office for the RSA I discovered New Zealand had over 15,000 returned services personnel, and suddenly the idea of photographing just 0.6 percent of this cadre seemed rather token.
I then asked how many World War Two veterans were still alive, and raised the idea that we could perhaps focus on photographing the last of these veterans as a project. A questionnaire was sent to every RSA in New Zealand in January of 2014 asking just how many WWII veterans were in each part of the country, and by February we had established there were between 2000 and 3000 veterans still alive in New Zealand. I then proposed to the NZIPP and the RNZ-RSA that we should try and photograph as many of these WWII veterans as we could. The NZIPP naitonal board agreed with the idea, and on ANZAC day 2014, over 100 professional photographers from the NZIPP converged on RSAs and ANZAC services all over New Zealand to photograph WWII veterans.
The project has continued for over a year, and as more families around New Zealand hear about the project, more veterans have come forward to be part of the project. To date the NZIPP has photographed over 2000 of New Zealand's last WWII veterans and more are being photographed every month. The portraits are being gifted to the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association and New Zealand's National Archives and the work will hopefully be exhibited about New Zealand in the not too distant future. A copy of each portrait was also printed and sent to every veteran; copies of the portraits can also be ordered via the NZIPP website. Following the success of the New Zealand project, the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers (AIPP) set up a similar project in conjunction with the Australia's RSLs.
The following video was put together to showcase just some of the portraits made during the project. The music was composed for this video by New Zealand composer Isaac Shatford.
In 2012 I was asked by a local community group to help protest against the Regional Rail Link and their plan to increase the number of diesel trains using a flyover in our neighbourhood from about six diesel trains a day, to over 200 diesel trains a day. These trains would be operating within 12-metres of homes, and the effects of the diesel emissions was of even more of a concern to local residents than the noise. When the EPA sided with the Regional Rail Link, it became apparent that the case was going to be difficult to win. That was about the point I was asked to lead the group; I declined the offer. Good train flow in and out of the city is vital, and for 100 residents to protest against these trains, simply because of noise and pollution was not going to gain much support from the State Government or the broader community.
What I did do instead was to look at some of the bigger issues affecting our neighbourhood. West Melbourne and neighbouring Docklands have alway been industrial zones, but in the past decade these two landscapes have changed dramatically; warehouses have been replaced with apartment buildings, old wharfs have evolved into corporate headquarters. Despite all this development though, the west of Melbourne still has some significant problems. Docklands is difficult to access from both the CBD and West Melbourne; city visitors and residents are reluctant to visit Docklands and this is affecting the social and economic wellbeing of both residents in Docklands and many small businesses and restaurants that established themselves in the area on the promise of greater things. Then there is a lack of large parks and good open space, and a lack of parking, particularly when major events are occurring in the area. Adding to these concerns is E-Gate, a 22-hectare parcel of industrial land between West Melbourne and Docklands that will soon be developed into high-rises for another 10,000 residents and 50,000 square metres of commercial and retail space. Capital city open space has included in the E-Gate plan, but this parkland is to built at the western end of the E-Gate site, in effect making it a destination in its own right for West Melbourne and Docklands residents.
Taking the E-Gate development into consideration, a small group of residents joined me to take a proposal to state government. If we were able to have the train overpass moved back towards Southern Cross Train Station it would be possible to create a span directly from Railway Place in West Melbourne across the E-Gate site. This span would connect into parkland that would be made central to the E-Gate site to create a people-centric hub to the entire area. Because parkland on its own is expensive, this parkland would be built on top of a carpark building, like how New York's High Line project is built on top of an old high line. By keeping this parkland elevated, it would be possible for residents in Docklands, E-Gate and West Melbourne to easily walk between the three suburbs without the constant concern of crossing major roadways like Footscray Road. To date we have shared our ideas with Major Projects Victoria and we have met with the planning minister, the Hon. Richard Wynne. For now the project has been paused while it is established what effect the Western Distributor Project will have on E-Gate.
The Christchurch Earthquake and the National Library
At 4.35am on September 4th, 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked my hometown of Christchurch, New Zealand. Despite the collapse of a few older buildings, no one was killed in the earthquake and soon afterwards the city was open for business again.
Five months later, that all changed. A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, but this time it caught the population during the usual lunch time rush of a weekday. Several major office buildings collapsed killing 185 people and injuring hundreds more. Immediately after this disaster a large fence was erected around 4-square-kilometres of the CBD and New Zealand Army personnel were put on 24-hour duty to keep civilians, journalists and photographers out of the city. Christchurch photographers, even those who had homes and studios in the red zone were banned from the area and the media was given extremely access.
In August of 2011 it was revealed that one photographer was getting regular access to the Red Zone. A photographer working for the National Library was flying down from Wellington once a month to make photos in the Red Zone, but no-one had ever heard of this photographer before, and standard of his photography was questionable. North and South magazine finally lead an investigation that revealed the photographer was actually a retired electrical engineer with no formal training or experience as a professional photographer... and his wife just happened to be the parliamentary librarian for the New Zealand Government.
How this photographer came to be appointed to the job has always been questionable; the individual was asked to fly to Christchurch and make photos of the disaster shortly after the first earthquake at a time when hundreds of Christchurch photographers, both amateur and professional were already making photos of the disaster. At a guess, this was not much more than a junket for the photographer and his wife; as parliamentary librarian at the time she had tweeted that her husband had an assignment to document the Chch Earthquake, and she was going to be the photographer's assistant.
The problem for everyone was the February earthquake. With the creation of the Red Zone about the CBD, the authorities decided to give the National Library photographer sole access based simply on his endorsement from the library. No consideration was given to his lack of prior experience or the quality of his work, or the fact that there were numerous award winning professional photographers in Christchurch who could have created a far stronger visual record of the disaster for about the same costs to the taxpayer. As a result, the visual documentation of the Christchurch Earthquake, post February 2011 is seriously inadequate. Two-thirds of the city's CBD has been demolished, and yet the only photos we have of this are a collection of photos that might well have been taken by a tourist.
In the aftermath of this disaster I proposed to the National Library a review how it captures New Zealand's visual history. Rather than waiting for another disaster to decide who should visual document the aftermath, the Library could instead put in place a process of engaging with photographers so that they know what talent is available in various parts of the country. In addition, this would also provide an opportunity to start commissioning various projects that capture our visual history in a contemporary manner, rather than waiting for collections of work to hopefully be submitted thirty years or more after its capture. This would not only ensure the National Library has a valid contemporary collection of documentary photography, but it would also support this genre of photography that in recent years has been in decline.
Click here to read the North and South story - The Lost City
Click here to watch the TV3 Campbell Live story - Who is documenting the Christchurch rebuild?
The Park and The Dog Book
In 2011, dog owners in the small community of West Melbourne began encountering problems with the city authorities. For as long as anyone could remember, dog owners would meet with their pets in a small park every morning and evening; the dogs would run about with each other, the owners would socialise and then they would get on with their day again. This all came to a rather abrupt end when old residents with a new family decided that park should be for children only, and the park rangers were called in to enforce the on-lead rule.
With no off-lead park in the immediate vicinity, the community decided to petition the Melbourne City Council to have the small park made off-lead from after 5pm at night and before 9am in the mornings. In presenting this argument the community set about creating a book of portraits; 43 dog owners were photographed in our studio and each owner then wrote some a couple of paragraphs explaining why the park was important to them and their family, dogs included. The work was packaged into a book along with a summary of our case and then presented to two Melbourne City councillors and the mayor, Robert Doyle. Members of our community were called on to also present our case in front of two council meetings. In the end the councillors decided that given the small nature of the park and the proximity of a children's playground they council could not agree to our requests for the off-lead times.
What the Melbourne City Council did agree to, was the need for more green spaces in our corner of West Melbourne. With that, the Melbourne City Councilors approved funding to investigate increasing the size of the local park. In 2015 the Melbourne City Council purchased a warehouse adjoining the park for $1.7-million with funds from the Developers Contribution Plan (Amendment C208), and by mid-2016 the park will be expanded to more than double its current size. In addition to this, the Melbourne City Council will also be closing off part of Adderley Street to create a dedicated dog park beneath the Dynon Road flyover.