Reminders of Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa

When we thought of the theme, Aiga Famili, for the latest ManaRewa show that's currently showing at Nathan Homestead from the 24 Feb to the 2 April we knew it would draw out different interpretations from our artists but we didn't realise how varied those would be.  It's pretty amazing to see.

For my own submission I mulled over the theme and weighed up how best to take a piece of me and convey the connection/history I have to Manurewa.  The love I have for my family tied to our past and at the same time release the reality of where we are as a family now all in one go.  It wasn't easy.

I looked at the possible options of portraiture and dismissed it as those I would want to be part of it weren't here.  Landscapes could work but where?  There were so many options but only one really came to mind, Weymouth Beach on the banks of Manukau Harbour, Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa.  Great, I have a location but a landscape?  Not really fitting my earlier stated narrative so I had to review what I was wanting to say and find a way to take this piece of my memory and expand it's meaning as an anchor for my aiga/famili/whanau/family.

I should explain, Weymouth holds a special place in my heart as it was the first beach I can claim as our family beach - it's not exactly Piha or Bethells but for me that's part of it's charm.  In the 80s our father would have us all jump in our different family cars for a trip to the "beach", a muddy oyster bed with the best rock pools and a lot of noisy birds.  His instructions as he dropped us off were "don't drown and watch out for each other" and then he was off for the day with pickup arranged for a few hours later.  My brothers and I spent so many Summers and the odd Winter running around there - it was the best place to be.  On a side note, if someone says it's all good to jump in the channel and let the current take you - they're lying.  Walking back barefoot along oyster beds is as much fun as dancing on broken glass.

So, some thirty years later I found myself sitting on it's broken shell and sand beach after helping with a beach clean up program last month and as I watch a flock of variable oyster catchers it all comes flooding back.  Then I had it - the birds, they would be my key and they would be my heart.

I spent a couple of days getting shots of these amazing black and white birds and from these I constructed the landscape and the portrait of my interpretation of aiga.  The base would be the family evolving as each member seeks to find their individuality, the center the movement that comes that search for individuality and the irony that many find themselves part of the larger mass and moving collective.  The peak, the moment you take all that you were and all you are to find peace in the currents that take you into an unknown future.  None of it possible without that foundation of family that is the first and most important of who you are.

Too choice.

 Digital representation of "Reminders of Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa"

Digital representation of "Reminders of Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa"

 As exhibited at Nathan Homestead as a part of Aiga Famili.  

As exhibited at Nathan Homestead as a part of Aiga Famili.  

Memory Artists

Last week I happened to be talking with a good friend who also happens to be someone I admire as an artist and mentor and we got on to the subject of my practice and the best way to describe what I do.  Not something I normally consider as my work is an ever evolving tapestry of what I experience, see and love.

He suggested a term for what I am as a creative as being a "memory artist" or something to that effect (ironic that I can't remember the exact term hahah).  The discussion stuck with me and the more I thought about it the more it scratched at my brain and understanding of my work as an artist.  With photography, by it's very nature you play with light and capture moments, with a bit more planning you can twist and turn the light to create moments but in essence the final work is still that moment the shutter opened and closed.  

I realise that I have moved in and out of different parts of peoples lives and I have the archives to prove it  My camera has been there when I have laughed with friends, it's been there when I have cried with family.  It has also been there when I have sought inspiration, clarification and resolution.  All of it kept as a record, a memory that's always going to be there - well it's as permanent as I can make it.

The work can be thought of as objective by some but I know it's subjective - it came from me determining what I want to shoot when I capture it.  If it's studio work, documentary, personal or commissioned it all has my influence one way or another.  Every now and then something comes up that let's me give these moments back, in this case a shot I took while enjoying a sunny morning watching people training their dogs.  A week after, one of these amazing people  without any warning, would pass away.  I found this out a few days after and a little while after that I would be given the chance to give back that moment on that sunny morning.

I have an archive of moments that mean a lot to me and I have realised that I have also managed to acquire moments in other peoples lives - memories that are my art.

Let me share this memory from last week, a moment of peace, gratitude and aroha.  I am so lucky to be able to do what I do and to love doing this while encompassed in an appreciation for those around me and a respect for time.

Shot Andy.

Too choice.

 kaiHaka in prayer after the powhiri for Mya at Auckland Airport.

kaiHaka in prayer after the powhiri for Mya at Auckland Airport.

You keep knocking us down, we keep getting back up.

I have lived in Manurewa for the better part of thirty five years and sixteen of those have been in my own home in the mighty west coast sub-suburb of Clendon, 2103.  

I wandered around the area in my youth when the land was more toetoe and livestock than subdivided sections and prefab properties.  There was a sense that the place was going to be something different from the other areas in Manurewa as the developments looked pretty cool to a kid with no idea of how the world worked.

I am guessing that to go with the new sense of destiny in the area Clendon Town Center was built as a hub to service the needs of the new suburb.  My first ever trip there was to buy my new Manurewa High School 1st XV dress uniform from Warnocks and if not for that I would never have considered the place as somewhere I would actually want to go.  Later on I would work as a relief teller for the Postbank branch and still never felt like I wanted to hang around the place.

Fast forward to now and after buying my own home here sixteen years ago and getting to know the area and the diverse lot of people that live in and around it I am proud to say I live here.  From the crazy walkway that runs from the back of the old Nissan factory to the club rooms at the Weymouth Rugby Club, to the solar powered street signs along Finalyson and then over to the craziness that is the now opened up Clendon Town Center I love living here.  

This isn't to say that Clendon doesn't have it's problems; it does and they can be serious but the difference between what happens here and what happens in other parts of Auckland is more about disposable assets and a disposable population that suit the need for waypoints on the map of poverty that is often exploited by media and their reality TV crews or mobile shopping trucks with overpriced stock and underhanded payment plans.  Things can change and so can situations and I hold out hope that the leadership offered by Manurewa Marae when homes were needed for the homeless is also acknowledged by those that would be quick to point out crime rate.

A few years ago our neighbourhood was rocked by the murder of the son of our local dairy, I can remember the reports and the hand wringing about the things that were going wrong with this part of Auckland.  I can also remember the locals that apprehended the person responsible and the huge amount of love our streets threw around the family of the victim.  I saw the good that is at the heart of our community and I know that good is still there and always ready when it's needed.

Call me a blind fool that can't see the thorns for the roses but I'm happy to tolerate a few pricks if it means I get to view the beauty that is at the heart of my town.

Kids cracking whips and parents moving quick - Clendon Rulz OK.

Too Choice.

Personal and in effect.

As this year rounds out I have had a lot to think about and plenty to consider especially with the direction I have taken with my personal photographic work.  I have always anchored my work around the people and places I have grown up and this has always played itself out in the work I have exhibited. 

With my next body of work I have moved away from the stories of those around me to focus on the stories I have to tell about those around me and the way my environment has impacted on my growth and development.  A lot more personal and in many ways a chance for me to share the experiences I have had growing up in two cultures in Aotearoa during the seventies, eighties and nineties.

"The Only Time" is the first image from this new body of work, a statement on cultural awareness, naivety and heartbreak.  It reflects the few times I have worn traditional formal Samoan attire and the contradictions of both occasions on a personal level.  The white of White Sunday reflected by the black of a Funeral.  With one I would be in never ending conflict with my role as a good son and with the other I find peace in the role of the eldest son.  

The theme of contradiction plays out with White Sunday my parents role in encouraging participation would build a resentment of a role I never played well in a religious spectacle I would never feel any connection to.  With the black I am dressed to bury my mother, with it I come to terms with my mothers generation and their love of their culture, aiga and the roles offered and given during the process of saying goodbye to her and my cutting the biological link to their Samoa.  The loss of that part of my link does not mean I lose what it is to be Samoan, I have the love and spirit that bound me to my parents but I am developing as a new type of Samoan - a onetime generation that bridges what was with what will become.

I love what I am seeing in the new work I am creating and as more of it comes to life I will share.

Too choice.