manipula – photography by David Sanderson | Wellington, New Zealand » Blog

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Bare with me – I’m trying to get back into blogging…

I’m going to get wordy and ranty and get something off my chest I’ve carried with me for a while, but you’re kinda here for photos right. So first, a picture:

Enola Gay 001 - ©

So the story goes back a while, to November 2013 when I took my first trip to Washington DC as part of a conference I was speaking at on behalf of my old employer. The trip was pretty whistle-stop (as it should be right? You’re working not on holiday…) but I did get a small window of about 2-3 hours loose on my own on Washington’s National Mall during ‘museum open hours’ and faced with an endless choice of the world’s best museums to go in, being a proper boy I went for the Air and Space museum.

And it blew my mind. I mean I touched a rock from the moon for crying out loud. I saw the Wright Brother’s plane and some badass rockets.

But I left feeling underwhelmed, as whilst there I learned the *really cool* stuff like the Space Shuttle and Concorde etc. were out at the other Air and Space museum an hour out of DC by Dulles airport (because when you’re The Smithsonian one space museum isn’t enough you know?) So a hat tip there for all the really geeky plane types who haven’t researched it themselves, go to the one out of town.

So fast forward to June 2015 and I was in DC again as part of another trip with the current day job and I managed to ensure that I got a day out at the Udvar-Hazy centre (that’s the Dulles airport one). It lived up to the wait and I even got to go behind the scenes but that’s another blog post for another day. In between I’ve been to Japan and as regular readers will know, I went to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima One - ©

For those that haven’t guessed the connection, that shiny plane up top (that actual one – it’s the real thing) dropped the atom bomb that flattened Hiroshima. I felt very moved and affected by the visit to Hiroshima – as you should. I strongly disagree with the heavily biased, political slant that you’re exposed to when you visit the Peace Museum there, but you know, when you learn about what happened you’ll let anything go.

Hiroshima Thirteen 1000x1500px - ©

At the time I wrote about my visit (click here) I tried to reconcile how both sides of an event like that must feel – especially having grown up with a family largely anti-Japanese due to their own experiences with WWII. But the visit to the US was the first time I’ve been confronted with a significant moment in history from both sides.

A lovely, lovely guide took me round the Udvar-Hazy centre. A retired USAF helicopter pilot with a gentle tone and warm personality spoke from the heart and with genuine excitement to my fellow tour-goers and I. I’ve huge respect for front of house museum staff, in many cases they’re volunteers who do their work for the pure love of culture and heritage – they really are the jewels in a museum’s crown. Yet I felt offended to listen to the description and tale of the Enola Gay – glorifying the ‘unique role the plane played in solving WWII’ and bringing an end to the conflict. Like that shiny object was the savior of the world. The description and reverence was so one-sided and lacking in respect and understanding for the other side of that plane’s past it was vulgar. When you visit Hiroshima, the US aren’t the devil, they’re one-half of a two-sided story.

Unfortunately, not so in Washington DC. And that hurt…

Maybe growing into being a culture and heritage professional through working at an archive has biased me somewhat – there your purpose is to provide evidence and let others draw their own conclusions. I believe museums, archives, galleries, libraries have a right to tell a curated story but it should always be fair and provide all sides to reflect upon. It’s part of why they exist; to educate and provide a space to learn and reflect on what has gone before.

So there I stood looking through the window at the sight instruments used to guide that bomb – at one point someone looked through that sight and sealed the fate of Hiroshima and history. And I don’t care who was killing who – everyone played a part, everyone lost people somewhere.

I looked with a lump in my throat, choking on ill-formed words and ideas and a tear in my eye looking at a machine.

Enola Gay 003 - © Gay 002 - ©

I feel privileged to be lucky enough to have experienced both curated views of that day – it’s an honour many will never have. And the Air and Space museum worked – it encouraged discourse inside me – I just can’t reconcile how other people walked away from that tour and what they took with them as their reading on history.

I love engineering, I’m a complete geek for machines and how things work – to be in a place holding the pinnacle of so much of mankind’s engineering achievements is awe-inspiring. But some feats of engineering should never have been used, some things are more important. There’s nothing awe-inspiring about that plane beyond the fact it ever achieved fame – and at what cost? I wish I could have taken that tour guide to Hiroshima and then followed his tour again… Life is about balance.

A good friend of mine challenged me recently to post seven landscapes in seven days on Facebook. I decided Facebook ought to have some photos on it once in a while, so did the challenge with seven new photos – however, they probably also deserved a wider audience, so here they are.

7 Landscapes 001 – ©

Lake Como, Italy, 2013

7 Landscapes 002 – ©

San Francisco, US, 2013

7 Landscapes 003 – ©

Muri Beach, Rarotonga, Cook Is, 2014

7 Landscapes 004 – ©

Glink’s Gully, NZ, 2015

7 Landscapes 005 – ©

New York, US, 2015

7 Landscapes 006 – ©

Milford Sound, NZ, 2015

7 Landscapes 007 – ©

Miyajima, Japan, 2014

The next to go online in the series of portraits for my book project. This is Maddie and she’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet in your life. Absolute heart of gold and such humility. At the time these photos were taken, the shoot came off the back of a long stint of organisation and Maddie talking herself into shooting with me, purely as a way to push herself out of her comfort zone. By the time I picked up the camera I already felt honoured. And then to be introduced to the family home, her ancestor’s trinkets, to her in a very personal way – it was a very humbling experience for me. I’m very glad to say we’ve gone on to become good friends – we’ve shot again since (don’t ask me how long it will be til those photos get posted) and I’ve even had the honour of having dinner with the family (her dog is delightfully insane and lovable!)

Maddie wormed her way under my skin for no other reason than being a beautiful soul you can’t help but like and admire. If the world were full of Maddies it would be a peaceful and wonderful place.

Maddie 001 – © 002 – © 003 – © 004 – © 005 – © 006 – © 007 – © 008 – © 009 – ©

So I’ve recently moved from Wellington to Auckland for a new day job. Amongst the many implications this brings, one of the most significant for me personally is the move away from working with this guy, James Gilberd. Those of you reading who know anything about the photography scene in Wellington will know (or should) James as the owner of Photospace galleries on Courtenay Place, the owner of Photocourse and part owner of Courtenay Studios. Yet even mentioning those places simply doesn’t do justice to the impact James has had on photography in Wellington and New Zealand over a very long time.

The gallery was for a really long period the only dedicated photographic gallery in NZ and there’s a long list of Kiwi photographic luminaries who’ve been through the place. Along with that goes an enviable position of knowing and supporting photography and photographers as artists in NZ. James is quite literally part of the pulse that keeps the heart of photography beating in the coolest little capital in the world and I’m very sure will one day prove to be known widely for his significant input into photography in New Zealand.

I started working alongside James tutoring with him on his Photocourse classes around 6yrs ago. For someone at the time struggling in photographic retail, being given an outlet to share my passion for photography in my then new home in NZ has proven to be deeply important. For me now as I look back at becoming an honorary Kiwi, James has been a major part of that journey. He’s allowed me through those courses, the studios and the galleries, and most importantly through constant support, to become part of photography in New Zealand, and by virtue of that allowing something that is integral to me to grow – in many ways he’s helped me become the Kiwi that I am. For that I’m going to be forever in debt.

Those who have met James will know on occasion his ‘calling a spade a spade’ attitude can be at times a little blunt, and as a career photographer his tolerance for fools pretending is low. At times I’ve sat back, especially when just starting out with him, and wondered how to take him. Yet as you get to know him, you realise he’s soft as a brush and has a heart of gold. Most importantly he lives and breathes photography and art. His wonderful wife Denise is an artist herself; their home an enviable bastion of art and creativity. To this day James’ man-cave of steroes, cameras and drum kits is something I hold as a life-goal to achieve. Their dedication to art is purer than most will ever experience and I’ve always found it a constant source of nourishment being around them both.

So moving to Auckland and moving away from working alongside James was a much bigger upheaval than I’d liked to have admitted in person. But as I drove away from his doorstep the last time, I had a lump in my throat. A mentor and friend, and now with a new chapter starting, no longer part of my every week. Journeys continue, sometimes in different directions – I’m just hoping James and my own paths continue to cross.

Miss your beardy grumpy face James. 🙂

James Gilberd 001 – © Gilberd 002 – © Gilberd 003 – © Gilberd 004 – ©