I’m currently exploring rabbit holes of documentaries, and naturally I gravitate towards those about photographers (and true crime . . . but that’s not relevant here).
New Zealand has a MEGA FEAST of talented and interesting photographers. But in classic Kiwi fashion, they work under the radar, have *that* sense of humour, and are very humble. Read below for a list of some of my favourite documentaries about New Zealand photographers (it’s just the tip of the iceberg).
My own take on the styles of Brake, Westra, Morrison, and Ward.
A Master of Light - The Life and Work of Brian Brake Photographer
1987 (TV). Director, Producer: David Coates.
In this Inspiration documentary — made shortly before his 1988 death — Brake reviews his lifelong quest for “mastery over light”, from an Arthur’s Pass childhood to a fascination with Asia. He recalls time at the National Film Unit and is seen capturing waka huia, Egyptian tombs, and Castlepoint’s beach races - NZ on Screen.
Favourite quote: “Patience, skill, perseverance and pure gall”.
Learn about: impact of positive role models in our formative years, the role of discipline and technique, being on the look-out for photo ops.
Special mentions: James K Baxter, Richard Farrell, Doreen Blumhardt, Arthurs Pass, 1980s stubbies and jandals.
Ans Westra - Private Journeys / Public Signposts
2006. 71min (TV). Directed by Luit Bierenga. Produced by: Jan Bieringa
This film explores her remarkable life and work, and includes commentary from family, friends, photographers, and those she photographed. There is also discussion of the controversy over her 1964 book Washday at the Pā - NZ on Screen.
It is constructed around a long interview with Westra and a conversation with poet Hone Tuwhare, and follows Westra as she photographs around New Zealand. Locations include Ratana Pā and the memorial service for former PM David Lange - Mary-Jane Duffy, 2013.
Favourite quote: “There’s a certain ability to being in the right place at the right time”.
Learn about: the power of standing on the sidelines, 38,000 books guillotined – Washday at the Pa controversy, legacy of photographs in society.
Special mentions: Hone Tuwhare in his house, tomato sauce bottles, David Lange’s memorial service.
Sense of Place: Robin Morrison
1993 (TV). Directed, produced by: John Bates.
Director John Bates' 1993 documentary examines the life and work of photographer Robin Morrison, who captured iconic images of everyday New Zealand life and landscape. Part biography, part travelogue, the film goes on the road with Morrison to revisit some of his best-loved locations - NZ on Screen.
Stuart Dryburgh’s gorgeous cinematography evokes the saturated colours and wide screen vistas of Morrison’s prints, without falling into the trap of ‘quoting’ his imagery. Rather, the tactic is to place Morrison’s pictures at the forefront, but surround them with characters, comments, and location photography that puts them into context - Costa Botes, 2014.
Favourite quote: “Sometimes I was behind police lines and sometimes in front of them.”
Learn about: importance of interacting with subjects, Cromwell before the dam, the value of photographs documenting place and time.
Special mentions: Scones and tea, early 90s music soundtrack, nostalgia, Ted Duggan’s store.
Gifts from the Gods
2023, 19 mins. Directed by: Hans Weston.
Gifts from the Gods is a short documentary film about New Zealand photographer, Julian Ward and directed by Hans Weston. Shot during just one of the 3000+ weeks Julian has been practicing black and white photography, the film shows Julian working in two contrasting environments, the street and the bush. Gifts from Gods refers to the moments and compositions that continually present themselves to him - PhotoForum.
Favourite quote: “Trying to find those gaps between people, and pressing the button when the gaps are all balancing.”
Learn about: composition, rainy day photography, the responsibility of photographing our world for the future, finding accessible opportunities in your own community.
Special mentions: Wellington's Wilton's Bush, fab black and white street photos, Mākara, L.S Lowry.
2019, 6.39 mins. Directed by Morgan Albrecht, Produced by: Morgan Leigh Stewart, Juliette Veber.
(ADHD New Zealand) ambassador Petra Leary features in a short documentary on how she takes her hidden superpower to the sky, focusing her lens on becoming the world’s top aerial photographer.
Bird's Eye shows how Petra sees the world from above, seeking startling heights to create stunning art, all while trying to make sense of the complex and challenging world around her - ADHD New Zealand
Favourite quote: “The most boring things that you can walk past are sometimes the most interesting things when you see them from the top down".
Learn about: how family can support young photographers, photographing what you love, the strong fit of ADHD and photography.
Special mentions: Lego, Drake, a super cute dog.
Which camera documentaries will i see next?
Jos. The Forgotten Photographer Who Saved a Town
2023, 46 min. By filmmakers Dave Kwant and Robyn Janes.
Documentary Jos unearths the life and work of Czech-born New Zealand photographer Joseph Divis. Born in 1885, Divis was a pioneer of street-style photography in an era of colonial studio portraits. His photography captures the everyday lives of the residents of gold-mining town Waiuta, and its eventual decline into a ghost town - NZ on Screen.
Watch the trailer.
Grant Sheehan: Light, Ghosts & Dreams
2023, 119 min (feature film). By filmmaker Robin Greenberg.
For more than four decades, Wellington-based photographer Grant Sheehan has made his way in the world through images. Where many photographers find longevity in laser-focused speciality, he is one of the few that has managed to thrive by expanding his style ever wider. Spinning yarns as though to an acquaintance on the neighbouring barstool, Sheehan recounts his own exceptional career in this charming documentary - NZIFF.
Watch the trailer.
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