From The Pleasure Garden
These photographs are part of my exhibition project "The Pleasure Garden" and in continuation of this theme I am also looking at the abstractions and extreme colours of Rotorua's thermal activity.
In the garden I was captivated by the play of light and shade on something so colourful, and how controlled focus and movement have created their own patterns in a purely photographic way.
These photographs are about colour and are a celebration of the natural beauty in the world around us.
- Ans Westra , April 2005
Ans Westra is best known for her black & white documentary photographs of New Zealand society, and was recently honoured by the travelling exhibition and award-winning monograph, Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs (2004), which particularly emphasise her work from the late 1950s to early 1990s. During that period she occasionally worked in colour, when publications demanded it, and for her personal work, when for example the Polaroid SX-70 process became available. Few of her early colour photographs have been published, but for the past decade colour photography has increasingly become her main focus, especially for exhibitions, and she is passionate about it.
Working on "The Pleasure Garden," among other new themes, has allowed her free reign to explore colour as both form and content, without the kind of restrictions expected of documentary work, in which clarity of recognition for the audience must take precedent over considerations of abstract form. (Or, to be more accurate, one should say semi-abstract form, because, as the late U.S. art historian, Van Deren Coke would insist, photography is not capable of producing images of pure abstraction, for the good reason that the camera- and even cameraless photograms- are always an image of something actual and tangible, no matter how distorted or abstracted in appearance they might become. Pure abstraction he left to painting.)
Given the visual and emotional complexity of Ans Westra's colour work, and the unique qualities of her commanding large-scale exhibition prints, one might be struck by the notion that this is the work of a completely different photographer from the one we thought we knew. But on reflection, one can perceive that the clarity of recognition is totally the photographer's. That rather than accept the need demanded of documentary work-to underplay her imagination and personal point of view-the primacy of intention has shifted entirely back to what she sees and what she feels about it. The direct link to external reality is still there (she observes more acutely than most of us), but it doesn't matter so much what the audience expects, as long as we are open to being delighted and surprised by her discoveries.
It is a privilege to be able to present this digital portfolio of new work by this outstanding New Zealand photographer who has had a long association with PhotoForum and was for several years the President of PhotoForum/Wellington.
Ans Westra was born in Leiden, Holland in 1936 and moved to New Zealand in 1957. She has worked as a freelance documentary photographer since 1960. Her major publications include 'Washday at the Pa' (1964); 'Maori' (1967): 'Notes on the Country I live In' (1972); 'Wellington, City Alive' (1976); 'Whaiora' (1985). She was featured together with John Pascoe and Les Cleveland in 'Witness to Change' (1985) and has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows including 'Rotorua Visits 1963-2000', at the Rotorua Museum; 'Inheriting the Netherlands', 'Behind the Curtain', and her major retrospective and monograph 'Handboek: Ans Westra Photographs'. Her work is represented in major public collections throughout New Zealand and she is represented by Christopher Moore Gallery in Wellington, and FhE Galleries in Auckland, New Zealand. Two of her classic documentary works can be seen on the 2000 survey of contemporary New Zealand photography at: Up:date//The Active Eye: http://www.photoforum-nz.org/update/setpics.asp?moveType=ID&photogID=97
- John B. Turner, April 2006
John B. Turner is a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the Elam School of Fine Arts, The University of Auckland. He is currently the Director of PhotoForum Inc.