Earlier this year I visited Christchurch at the end of a trip around New Zealand’s South Island. Although I was only in the city for a few hours, the small part of it I managed to see carried the weight of the recent tragedy that befall the city, but also a sense of optimism amongst the rebuilding of the downtown area most effected.
In September 2010 Christchurch was hit with a 7.1 Richter Scale earthquake, devastating much of the city’s east and surrounding area and causing mass power outages. This was followed by several aftershocks, the most damaging being in February 2011 which measured 6.3 and resulted in the deaths of 185 people. Christchurch’s CBD had 80% of its area demolished in total.
Today, walking around the effected area, the devastation is still apparent, but so is the rebuild. It is often hard to see which buildings are coming down and which are going up. City blocks of nothing but rubble sit across seemingly untroubled green spaces. If the saying that adversity breeds character is true, then then the character of Christchurch and her people is one of resilience and ingenuity. Tragic as they have been, these events have given the people the opportunity to create a new way of living by the repurposing of old materials and use of green, renewable energy sources.
Perhaps the best example of this resourcefulness is the Re:START mall. A mall constructed of disused shipping containers in an effort to encourage retailers and customers back to the city centre as soon as possible. Since beginning with 27 businesses, the mall now houses over 50 permanent businesses as well as food stalls and buskers.
The Cardboard Cathedral was built after the destruction of the original cathedral and is one of a kind, being made substantially from cardboard and shipping containers. Described as a transitional cathedral, the building will eventually be replaced by a more permanent structure, but in the meantime serves as a reminder of Christchurch’s bright future.
185 empty chairs is both art installation and memorial to those lost. Amongst blocks of grey rubble and a few crumbling office buildings, sit 185 white painted chairs of all shapes and sizes. Dining table chairs, wheelchairs and children’s chairs amongst others represent the people from all walks of life who lost their lives to the earthquake. It is a somber but beautiful sight, and an insight to how a community has come together to both remember and move towards the future.
Arriving pre-dawn at London Bridge, I can hear the ocean rumble from the carpark. It sounds both distant and very near in the way of a building storm. Nature in surround sound. The still black sky seems to amplify the effect.
It is hard to imagine the magnitude of the cliffs below me, even though I have been here many times before. The giant sandstone cliffs of Victoria’s coastline have always seemed unreal to me, seen from the viewing platforms. Like looking at a miniature model. Only when down on the sand beneath do I appreciate their true size.
The land and sea around me are ancient, and feel all of their years. Leaving the Great Ocean Road and pleasant seaside villages that dot it, it is easy to feel like time has somehow missed this place. Like nothing has touched this terrain for thousand’s of years. Ancient rainforests of fern tree, redwood and myrtle beech grow in the Otways hinterland. This land strips away all pretence of significance, and reminds me that our lives here on earth are but fleeting. These forests and coastline were here thousands of years before us, and will be here for thousands of years after.
Slowly the black curtain lifts and the source of the rumbling becomes visible. The Southern Ocean seems angry today, bashing away at the sandstone as it has done for all time, wearing it down little by little and causing great chunks to break off and fall into the sea. To feel the glass smoothness of these rocks is to understand the power of the ocean.
The rock that is unveiled by the dawn is called London Bridge for the arch that has been worn into its belly. This outcrop was once connected to the mainland until part of it fell victim to the ocean’s rage, just as many of the original 12 Apostles have done at various intervals.
The gathering light seems to diminish the power of the ocean, though I know this isn’t the case. The sunny morning belies the danger in the swells and reefs just offshore, which have famously claimed many ships caught in their swirling power.
Heading back away from the clifftop, the roar once again fades into the distance and I am again back amongst the scrub and bushes that cover the area. The contrast between this peace and what is happening only a few short metres away is hard to ignore, and is perhaps the perfect example of this area of Australian coastline; where both nature’s power and finesse are on display.
This photo took me two years to make. Let me explain.
“Is it left or right”
“Um, not sure,” said Amy.
“What do you mean, not sure?”
“Well, the map says go left, but the sign says go right.”
“The map isn’t that clear. Lets follow the sign.”
This, as it turned out, was the wrong option.
We were in search of Wreck Beach, a stretch of coastline at Moonlight Head along the Great Ocean Road, infamous for being the final resting place of the Marie Gabrielle (1870) and Fiji (1890), two cargo ships bringing tea from China and supplies from Germany, and most of their crews. It is one of the Great Ocean Road’s most sought locations, yet one of the most difficult to find.
As we drove along in the late afternoon, the road became narrower and sandier and littered with deep potholes. By the time we realised our mistake there was no room to turn around so we had to keep going to find somewhere we could manoeuvre the car into what became a somewhat awkward, bumper scratching 9 point exercise in patience. This done, and despite the now fading light and increasing chill, I noticed that we were on a ridge above rolling green hills and a beautiful vista and the dusk had started to pick up a pale pink colour. I decided to set up my camera.
“Um, don’t you think we should be getting back?” Amy was getting nervous.
“Yes. Just give me a few minutes first.” Clearly we weren’t going to make it to Wreck Beach today, but I was a photographer dammit, I wasn’t going to leave without making a photo. Amy just rolled her eyes.
It was dark by the time we started back again, and cold. It was the kind of winter day where the morning dew never really lifts. The abundant potholes were still filled with water from earlier rains, which was good since it made them easier to see and avoid. Becoming increasingly paranoid about these craters, we slowed to a crawl, steering one way then the other to creep around them and at the same time stay out of the brushes. Then it happened. Thunk, scrape. Metal on gravel.
We both stared at each other for a moment, neither able to find the words. Then we did. The car exploded in a series of expletives and fists pounded on dashboard. The accelerator was tried, and tried again knowing it wasn’t going to work. Pushing didn’t help either. We were stuck. Stuck on a potholed country track in now pitch blackness. There was no mobile phone signal here either. The only thing to be done was to start back to the main road, which we did first by torchlight and then, when the battery failed, using the light from a mobile phone. We walked mostly in silence. I didn’t dare say a word for fear of having my eye socket rearranged by the end of a torch.
After what seemed like hours, we finally came to a house and amid barking dogs, knocked on the door and asked the owner, Tom, to borrow a phone to call roadside assistance.
“Shouldna taken the right fork,” he offered after hearing our story. I bit my lip to stop from mentioning we were well aware of that now. The guy was trying to help us after all. He shook his head to himself as if to say “Another one”. Tom was typical rural Australia, complete with flannel shirt and the kind of accent that blends all of the words in a sentence into one long vowel.
Roadside assistance turned out to be 3 hours away. Seeing our faces as we processed this, Tom shrugged and started to reach for his keys, “Guess we’d better shift ‘er ourselves then. I’ll just get me truck”, and with that shuffled off to his shed. After much clanging about, there was a cough and splutter of a car engine and Tom reappeared in an ancient Toyota Landcruiser with torn vinyl seats and a cracked windscreen.
“Sorry took s’long. Hadda find a tow chain. In ya get.”
Seconds later we were tearing back down the same gravel roads we’d just trodden along so carefully, the springs in the Landcruiser creaking with each bump. Tom didn’t seem at all bothered by the dips, bumps, squeaks and creaks. Picking up speed even as the road deteriorated. This, I decided, must be how the windscreen cracked.
Eventually, after much cursing and tyre spinning the car was hauled from its ditch and we followed Tom back towards the house and civilisation, only getting stuck once more on the way.
After a warming cup of milo and a quick chat we headed back to our rented cabin, grateful and looking forward to a hot shower. The car fine apart from being covered in mud.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I made my way back to Wreck Beach. This time in early morning in the middle of summer and making sure to take the left fork. I walked the beach for the hour or so that the tide allowed and made the above image. Driving down the beach road and back I passed Tom’s house and thought about stopping. I doubted he would remember me though, if he still lived there. For him it was probably just another Saturday night rescuing some idiot tourist who’d taken the wrong turn.
“Do the penguins know we’re here?” asks the little girl.
“Yes, they do,” replies Dan, our tour guide and penguin expert. “But because we’re looking at them through such a small hole in the wall, the penguins can only see very little of us and so they think that we’re smaller than them and not a threat”.
Our group start to laugh at this little nugget of penguin logic before remembering we have to keep quiet so as not to scare the incredibly shy bird that has waddled up the beach and is now standing and preening only a couple of metres away.
I’m sitting in a camouflaged wooden hutch on a private beach at The Penguin Place on New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula. The temperature is dropping fast as dusk creeps up, but no one seems to mind. We’re here to see the Yellow Eyed Penguin, the rarest and most elusive of all penguin species, and the first has just waddled up out of the ocean and begun to climb the slope and head inland. These penguins nest on land and they will spend the night here before heading back out into the ocean at dawn to fish and eat. It is April and Dan explained earlier that this is their fledgling period, where last season’s chicks have begun to go out to sea, and adult penguins need to eat and put back on weight they lost before being confined to land while they moult their coats and grow new ones in preparation for a new years courting season.
They have only a few weeks to do this and it is a dangerous time for the penguins as energy levels are low and they are exposed to starvation and attacks by predators, which include foxes and ferrets on land, and sea lions, fur seals and sharks in the water. It seems like everyone is out to get them, and indeed only 20% survive to adulthood.
There are only around 3,000 Yellow Eyed Penguins left, and The Penguin Place offers a sanctuary free from predators for these rare and elusive animals who otherwise may be too afraid to venture back to land because of who might be waiting for them. Their numbers have been gradually increasing since 1990 when there were estimated to be only about 300. This is due in no small part to the dedicated team at The Penguin Place, who fund their conservation work entirely from the informative and entertaining tours that have run daily since 1985 when Howard McGrouther gave over his own farmland to care for the penguins and provide them a safe place to raise their young.
Also to be found on the grounds are New Zealand fur seals, blue penguins – “the smallest penguins of all but with the biggest attitude,” offers Dan – and the occasional yellow crested penguin who are more common on the west coast but occasionally take a wrong turn and end up on the Otago Peninsula.
The penguin outside our hutch cranes his neck, stretches his wings outwards and with a wiggle that starts at the neck, gathers momentum as it travels downwards and ends up in his tail, lets out the kind of squawk that could be expected from some giant, prehistoric ancestor. Then, as if he just realised he’s forgotten his house keys, turns around and waddles quickly back down the slope from where he came. His little head dips below the horizon and we can no longer see him, but we can hear more squawks. Everyone looks around at each other, confused, wondering if we’ve scared him away. Then we hear the same squawk from another voice, and the response from our penguin. A moment later two little penguin heads bob above the horizon and our friend returns with what Dan explains is his penguin girlfriend. Still squawking at each other, they sound like a bickering married couple. Which I suppose may not be far from the truth.
Despite the apparent argument, the two penguins seem happy to be in each others company and spend a few moments circling each other before continuing their waddle along the small hilltop and into the brush to find their nest.
No one speaks for a moment, just a lot of silent grins at the rare sight just witnessed and the similarities to humans in the way these little birds interact and communicate with one another. Then a moment later, a whisper: “Look, there’s some more!” and we all turn to look out onto the beach again as more Yellow Eyed Penguins, a whole extended family this time, hurl themselves out of the water, bellies full of fish, onto the sand and begin the long amble back to the safety of home for the night.
The Penguin Place is located outside of Dunedin on New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula and is a privately owned and fully self funded conservation reserve dedicated to the survival of the endangered Yellow Eyed Penguin.
“Damn flies”. I was cursing again after checking my screen to find another fuzzy blob right in the middle of the frame.
They warned me about this. The staff at the lodge said there would be plague proportions of sand flies at Milford Sound. They even offer guests a free bottomless supply of insect repellent, an ominous sign in itself which I took full advantage of, coating every last bit of exposed skin before heading out. What they don’t tell you is that these little bugs are drawn like magnets to camera lenses. Like some innate 6th sense, they know when you’re about to hit the shutter and are able to time their landing to cause maximum nuisance. My only defence was to waive a lens cloth in front of the camera until just before making the frame, make several exposures of the same scene and hope that weight of numbers would mean I came away with at least a few flyless images.
I spent 2 mornings and 2 evenings photographing at Milford Sound, one of New Zealand’s best known landscapes, and was inspired by how the mood of the place changed with the weather. And there was every kind of weather in the short time of my stay. From driving rain and brooding clouds on arrival, to an unworldly dawn that cleared to a bright sunny day, which I am told is a rare occurrence in this part of the world. This is actually on of the wettest places on earth, with around 7 metres of rain annually.
Shooting 4 sessions in all at the foreshore, I managed to capture it in several different moods, but always peaceful and serene. I had intended to photograph some other locations around the area, but there was enough variation just here to keep me going back, so I’ve filed away some ideas for my next visit. Despite my new friends the sand flies and managing to break a tripod by tightening the plate so hard the lever snapped off in my hand, I think I managed to capture a sense of one of the most isolated areas of New Zealand. Some of the images in this gallery had to be made by resting the camera on my bag, composing a bit wider than I intended the final frames to be to allow for cropping and straightening. This caused a whole lot more swearing as I struggled with the slippery rocks, and trying to get down low enough to look at the scene, but what kind of photographer isn’t happy face down in a couple of inches of cold water while shooting an iconic landscape.
Back home from Vietnam and starting on the process of cataloguing, keywording selecting and developing a new batch of images for release into the big wide world. It’s a lengthy process but I think I’ve worked out a workflow to get them out there in good time.
As for Vietnam, this was my first visit and what I found was a beautiful country full of warm, friendly, hardworking and industrious people. We started in chaotic Hanoi dodging motor scooters in the Old Quarter before heading to Hue, an ancient capital full of history. Then on to Hoi An with its beautifully preserved old town before finishing in Ho Chi Minh City (still Saigon to its friends).
The only disappointment was not being able to visit Ha Long Bay due to a cyclone. That one will have to wait until next time.
I’ll post more on the experience in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are a couple of things I learnt:
1. In a location where sights, sounds, smells and textures can be overwhelming, often the best thing to do is choose a theme for photography and stick to that for the session. We always talk about broadening our vision, but we can do this in small steps. Try looking for interesting faces in the morning, colours and textures in the afternoon and movement and motion in the evening. I found that this way I was able to capture a broad range of subject without becoming overawed by every detail around me.
2. Vietnamese coffee is one of the best inventions in the history of humans.
3. You can fit anything onto the back of a motor scooter.
Lastly, I’ve made the above image into a new desktop wallpaper to enjoy. Just click on your resolution to download and please hit “Like” below if you do.
Things have been a little quiet around here lately, and they’re about to get even quieter for the next couple of weeks. I’m about to board a plane for Hanoi, Vietnam where I have the chance to visit a place I have wanted to see for a long, long time: Halong Bay.
Following that, I’ll be heading south an planning to stop and photograph at Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City with a detour to the Mekong Delta.
I hope to come back with some new images, stories and lessons learnt to share, unless I get too distracted by the food to pick up a camera. That could happen.
Marrakech, Morocco. This orange juice seller in Djemma el-Fna was more than happy to pose for some photos after I bought several glasses of juice.
When we travel to a destination with the intention of photography, photographers mostly try to capture the destination in its entirity, rather than focus on one particular feature or aspect. Unless we are travelling to a particularly remote place, this will involve photographing local people.
Photographing people is scary. It doesn’t get any easier either the longer you have been doing it. But the satisfaction in creating a genuinely moving portrait of a person often far outweighs any fear or anxiety involved in approaching someone. It is almost always the images that are hardest to create that give us the most joy.
While the nerves are something we all have to overcome, there are some considerations to make your interactions go more smoothly.
Always ask permission where possible before photographing people. If you want to photograph children, always ask permission of their parents. Often you can do this with a simple smile while pointing to your camera if you don’t speak the same language. Don’t be offended if you are refused. This is not a personal affront as more likely the person is simply self conscous about having their photo taken period.
There are some situations where people are more likely to be obliging, such as if you are purchasing something from them, or if you have taken the time tostart a conversation before asking if you can photograph them. If you are photographing at a well known tourist destination, don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay to make your photos. There is an ongoing moral debate on whether it is ethical to do this, but if you do decide you are willing to pay, agree a price upfront and let the person know how many photos you are planning on. Often they will expect you to make just one and then walk away. If you feel that paying for images is not right, don’t under any circumstances then try to sneak a photo. That definately is immoral.
Harajuku girls, Tokyo. Followers of Harajuku fashion culture dress in elabourate costumes and are happy to have their portraits made
It is also useful to be ready to make the image before approaching people. Have your camera set up as you want it with the appropirate lens, depth of field and some idea of where you would like the person to stand. You may want to take a few test shots to make sure you have this right. It is much more difficult to keep the subject’s interest if you make them wait around while you stop and get ready.
Next post, we will look at practical and technical considerations for travel portrait photography.
As this post goes live, I’ll be on a plane bound for New York via Los Angeles. Things will be a little quiet around here for a few weeks as I explore the northeast corner before heading back to Seattle and San Francisco and who knows where else in between. I do have a few posts scheduled though, including a new desktop wallpaper, so check back for those. I’ll also do my best to check in via Facebook, Twitter or Google+ with some images and updates as I go, so drop me a line there if you want to get in touch.
Looking through some recent and not so recent images of Melbourne for a client request, I realised that I don’t get out and shoot my home town nearly enough. Which is a shame because it is a great place to photograph with a lot of varying subjects. The city skyline, while not as imposing as some larger international cities, is full of interesting lines and reflections. Modern architecture contrasts with heritage buildings, places like the Queen Victoria Market and various laneways buzz with activity and street art gives the CBD an edgy feel.
I put together this small gallery of images of the city centre and surrounds, just because. I have also promised myself I will make more time to photograph Melbourne and all its variety.
City circle tram which provides free transport around Melbourne’s CBD
Water fountain and facade of Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens, Melbourne.
Melbourne skyline and Birramung Marr.
Melbourne skyline and Birramung Marr at night.
View of Melbourne CBD at dusk
Melbourne skyline and Yarra River at night
Scooter parked in Hosier Lane, Melbourne.
Food hall at Queen Victoria Market
Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton Gardens, Melbourne
Centre Place, Melbourne, lined with cafes and fashionable boutiques.
Chinese bakery in Chinatown in Melbourne central business district
People gathering at Federation Square, Melbourne at night
Yarra River and Southbank Melbourne at dusk
Shoppers in Block Arcade, Melbourne
Pedestrian passing a shopfront display in Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne’s city centre.