Published by Suite Publishing
Available through their website; www.suite.co.nz
A new book of photographs by Ans Westra is due for release at the end of this month, with 137 photos, accompanied by poems and words from Hone Tuwhare, David Lange, David Eggleton, Brian Turner and Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party.
The book starts with three photos; a farm gate with 'for sale' on it; a beach scene at sunset with the lights of a distant ship; and a dead penguin lying on the sand. These are followed by the poem Papa-tu-a-nuku by Hone Tuwhare.
We are stroking, caressing the spine
of the land.
We are massaging the ricked
back of the land
With our sore but ever-loving feet.
Hell, she loves it!
Squirming, the land wriggles
We love her.
The opening poem gives the impression this is a book about our love for the land, but in reality it is the opposite. The photos taken in isolation show a New Zealand we all see as we drive through the countryside, or in our evening suburban crawl.
But this is not photography as the casual, sympathetic observer, which we could be forgiven for expecting from Ans Westra. This is consciously political.
We are not stroking, caressing the spine of the land, we are breaking its back, cultivating it, slashing and burning, or as Russell Norman writes in his contribution to the book;
Some people carpet their lounge rooms, some people carpet the bedrooms, but we carpeted the whole country. We did it in the name of progress and growth, we did it to make a living in our new world, we did it to feed our kith and kin; but we did do it.
I struggled with this book as a photographic collection at first, as it wasn't at all what I expected. Having recently got a copy of the re-issued Washday at the Pa, my experience with Ans Westra, and passion for her work, relates to her ability to capture in an unaffected and unadulterated form, the cultural and physical environment she encounters.
In Our Future the plates are predominantly landscapes, taken as usual with her medium format Rolleiflex camera, with rolling hills, broken tree trunks, scarred hillsides with sunken crevices and roading cutaways. We have made our mark on the land, and as much as we might advertise otherwise to the world, it isn't all that pretty. Along with these are dead animals, either in fenced paddocks or hung on fences, and in the last section, house for sale signs and building sites on the edge or our cities, in a timely depiction of what we can expect from our urban sprawl.
Overall this book issues a challenge. In her own foreword Westra writes;
What gives us the right to alter the landscape, cut down our hills and exploit our waterways? Do we not realise that the changes we make are not always improvements, and that what we use cannot rapidly be replaced? Our children and our country deserve better. Instead of becoming like the rest of the world, this beautiful place should become a shining example of hope for survival in a newly balanced environment.
Noble and worthy words, that are well supported by the photographs in this book, in the sense that they starkly show the scars we have left on the land. I'm left wondering if we're up to it. Certainly we'd need to change direction pretty dramatically, and soon.
Ans Westra, in her interview with Chris Laidlaw on Radio NZ, says;
We're galloping ahead, selling ourselves off, and I think we need to stop and think ... what kind of plans do we have for the future. We don't seem to have very many.
I'm very happy to have this book in my collection now, and would recommend it to others. It is a statement, but one that I wish more people would make.
Go plant a tree.