Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Here's a contribution from Lumiere Reader reviewer, Andy Palmer

Haruhiko Sameshima - Bold Centuries: a photographic history album
With essays by: Kyla Macfarlane, Ingrid Horrocks, John Wilson, Tim Corbalis, Aaron Lister, Damian Skinner, Fiona Amundsen and Claudia Bell
Published by Rim Books and Photoforum, with assistance from the University of Auckland and CNZ 2009

We’ve all seen the plethora of New Zealand’s scenic landscape books which present a certain skewed depiction of our nation. Even when photographers tackle this theme as a reaction to the stereotype (as shown most recently by Derek Henderson), they often just reproduce this brand, albeit with a different photographic approach.

With Bold Centuries, Haruhiko Sameshima has produced his own skewed depiction of our nation. As the subtitle suggests, this isn’t a straight photographic journal of a roadtrip a lá Derek Henderson’s The Terrible Boredom of Paradise (2005) or Robin Morrison’s The South Island of New Zealand from the Road (1981); this is a photographic history. The photos, largely made by Sameshima, include numerous historical images from various photographers from various decades, and other historical artworks.

What is both fascinating and frustrating is that many of Sameshima’s works are a knowing nod to works by other NZ photographers (Adams, Barrar, Peryer). Sometimes I did question whether I was looking at a homage, or a copy, though its not necessary to know the references to understand the images. The main frustration for me was that the captions (many of which are history lessons in themselves) are in the appendix. However, this does mean that the images are unencumbered by distracting text, allowing us to read the images as a whole.

Auckland-based Sameshima was born in Japan, and moved to New Zealand in 1973 while in his teens. He has been exploring ‘New Zealand’ for many years, looking at the “incongruous set of cultural mores called ‘this country’.” His 1996 work The Shopping mall as a place of contemplation was a series of television images and shopping mall brandings that examined our everyday reality. His more recent series Eco-Tourism, some of which appear in Bold Centuries, isn’t an investigation of ecotourism in the usual sense, but a study of the tourist industry and its relationship with the environment.

Bold Centuries continues Sameshima’s exploration of the concept that is New Zealand. The works flow from the natural environment to the urban environment and seem to be questioning not just how New Zealand has been represented in the past but how we are currently and how we will continue to be. Unsurprisingly there is an emphasis on the impact of foreign influence, historically from the British, but more recently from the US – photos of recent Central Otago developments could almost be Colorado or Montana.

Years ago a local photographer told me that all photographers are collectors – of their own images if nothing else. Sameshima, it seems, is a collector of representations of this country, whether photographed by himself or found objects (other’s photos, cigarette cards, postcards, etc.).

The eight texts discuss specific elements of this collection without explicitly referring to Sameshima’s work. Covering topics such as the archive, photographic practise, Manapouri, Rotorua and the representation of Maori, and shopping. By not obviously referencing the works in the book, this allows space for the reader to interpret as they choose, while giving a context in which to read, not just Bold Centuries, but Sameshima’s work in general.

This is an important book in the canon of New Zealand photographic books. Bold Centuries is not merely an artist survey book, nor just a collection of loosely related images; it is a curated exhibition placing the artist in context with his forebears and his contemporaries. A description Peter Ireland wrote about Robin Morrison can equally be applied to this work by Haruhiko Sameshima; his “work instance, intensifies, and expands our sense of place.”

If you happen to be a paid up member of PhotoForum you will receive this book as issue #77-78. PhotoForum has been around since the 1970s and has helped nurture many contemporary New Zealand photographers. They publish an irregular journal, a member’s only portfolio showcase, and the occasional book. The next one on the cards is a long overdue John Johns retrospective due next year. The membership fee will be worth it for this alone.

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