Last year, I was offered a wonderful opportunity by Waterfront Auckland, the authority leading the development of Auckland’s waterfront. To show my work in the outdoor space of Queens Wharf, Auckland. This is on the waterfront, right at the heart of this gorgeous city. It’s right next to major transport hubs of rail, bus and ferry. Cruise ships hawser themselves next door for their visits to Auckland. The space I had was along a long fence that separates cruise ship visitors from the city, herding them through Shed 10 for all their visitor formalities. What’s more, I could show poster-sized prints – over 1 metre wide!
In return for this chance, I came up with a rather brilliant idea (even if I say so myself): we’d make two shows: mine would be followed by a collaborative group exhibition produced by a a group of photographers that I would mentor. To add spice to the exercise, this show would have to be shot, edited and produced in just four weeks. I would offer my services in return for the exhibition opportunity.
We learnt a lot from the first year. For one thing, we discovered the hard way that mounting methods that worked for posters – which tolerated crinkles – did not work at all for photographic prints. The results were interesting – giving me ideas for some experimental work – but, as you can see, not exactly the best way to show my work.
After some delay, the work was reprinted on a waterproof vinyl which gave much better results.
The group show was huge fun, and produced some excellent work. All the photographers felt stretched and challenged by the time frame, by having to work to a specific concept – that of ‘connections’ – which introduced all participants to a different way to drive their photography. The result was extremely pleasing, with its mix of full-size and multiple image prints, it brought the city into itself.
Last year’s diptych of exhibitions went down so well, I was asked to repeat the exercise. Last year, I showed my ‘Caterpillar Views’ of New Zealand: ultra wide-angle views from low positions of the ngahere, or native New Zealand bush.
This year, I had to find another subject for my exhibition.
One day, on a whim, I took a walk on Maungawhau, or Mount Eden, an extinct volcanic cone whose summit just under 200m is the highest point in Auckland. As is frequent in Auckland, the day started lovely and sunny, but by the time I’d exposed myself on the climb up the slopes, it was pouring down. I ran for shelter under some trees. That’s when I saw a big sign and map labelled ‘Te Araroa’.
Although I’ve visited New Zealand for ten years before living here, now for four years, I did not know about Te Araroa. It’s an amazing 3000km track that runs from the very top of New Zealand’s North Island – Cape Reinga – all the way to the bottom of South Island, at Bluff. And it runs through Auckland. There, ready made, was the trajectory of my exhibition. It also fits perfectly with the theme of ‘connections’ as it connects north to south while in Auckland, it specifically connects the east coast with the west coast.
I knew, too, exactly how to shoot it. At the time of the commission, I had just become the proud owner of a Canon 11mm-24mm f/4L zoom. This is a monster of a lens, feels like it’s made of solid glass and metal but its optical performance is spectacular. I wish, wish, wish, I’d had it several years ago, when I first started experimenting with ultra wide-angle views from low viewpoints very close to the nearest objects (breaking lots of ‘rules’ on the way).
But I have it now, and was eager to give the lens its first experience of working under fire. To a certain extent, the lens dictated what I photographed and the way I approached the subject. It’s a way I enjoy: all results are recognisable, but some do not look quite familiar or from an expected viewpoint.
Ultra wide-angle views combined with large prints also enable me to work with an interesting illusion. When viewed from far away, the objects at the edge appear distorted so that round objects appear to be egg- shaped. It’s not a distortion but is caused by a mis-match between the viewing distance – usually too far away – and the correct distance for the image perspective. With an ultra wide-angle lens, you need to look at the image very close to. But if you have a large enough print, you can approach it close enough to view it from the correct distance yet still be able to focus on the image. The distortion then disappears because when you’re close to the print, you view the round objects in the image from an angle, and not more straight-on as you do. By viewing from an angle, the ‘distortion’ is corrected.
All clear on what to shoot, and how to shoot. But there was the little matter of having only four weeks between the commission coming through and the date I was scheduled to leave for Europe. Fortunately, Connie Clarkson, the manager of Queens Wharf, was prepared to be flexible about the exhibition dates. If I could capture enough pictures for a show before departing, we’d go with the earlier date. If not, I’d shoot more on my return to deal with what the TV and film world calls ‘pick ups’ – gaps in coverage.
You be the judge, but while it’s always true one can shoot more and more to make it better and better, what I obtained in a month of photography gave a rounded flavour of the Auckland (in Māori Tamaki Makaurau) section of the Te Araroa track. Not all the images are ‘caterpillar views’, but all exploit the exceptional wide-angle capability of the Canon lens.
For the technies out there: I used the Sony A7r body with Metabones adaptor for the Canon 11mm-24mm f/4L lens that was used most often at the 11mm setting, recording mostly in raw giving. 7360 x 4912 pixel images. The main technical problem was keeping the lens spotlessly clean: its depth of field at 11mm focal length is so extensive that anything like a drop of rain on the big glass front will show up as a huge blur spot. I processed the images using DXO Optics 10, with cleaning-up operations in Photoshop CS6. I selected the DXO for its quick effectiveness. If I had had more time, I would have processed the files through Capture One (then Photoshop) as its processing tends to be more conservative and less likely to introduce artefacts.
So, here are the pictures. To get the most from them, come to the exhibition! If you look at them from as close as possible, you get a sense of the space and good simulation of the original perspective. These are in geographical sequence: from Wynyard Quarter on the east shore, to Onehunga Bay on the west coast.