A new direction for the museum, Urbanlife is a project that aims to support Auckland youth by providing inspiration for artistic expression in a range of different media.
We shared our pictorial collections with six different youth groups from around Auckland city. We asked them to explore six major issues facing our communities – Education, Employment, Environment, Housing, Economic Wellbeing and Culture.
Join Shaun Higgins, Auckland Museum’s pictorial librarian, as he talks about the process of introducing these youth groups to our collections.
After a morning at Orakei marae, a group of Ngati Whatua youth came to see the collections with their tutor Darryl Thomson. Their brief was to create a mural response to the local environment, particularly through the eyes of Tangata Whenua. I started the research visit with a personal favourite, a photograph taken by Una Garlick looking out to Rangitoto from the then open Orakei hillside with two tī (or cabbage trees).
We then moved on to the Banks Florilegium, a beautiful series of botanical prints taken from plates produced by Banks and Solander during Cook’s 18th century voyage in the Pacific. The group was interested in finding examples of specimens relating to familiar plants.
Another concept which we explored was the treatment of Maori as part of the environment. Early photography such the work of Arthur Isles presents a number of unidentified Maori sitters in styles which can be contrasted against typical Victorian portraiture.
In size and name, this group was MASSIVE. Guided by Massive Company’s Sam Scott, the group took up the challenge of examining our economic wellbeing and converting these concepts into theatrical themes and characters.
They visited the collections in two waves, taking notes and looking into several photographer’s work and stories in search of roles. The first photographer that attracted their attention was Margaret Matilda White. Her late 19th century work focuses on subjects such as the Avondale Asylum, looking at the nurses and orderlies that worked there in a playful style, casting them and the grounds of the hospital in a completely different light. We discussed how a woman trying to become a photographer would have struggled in a male dominated society. White found freedom in areas that others avoided and showed us glimpses into everyday life. Another series by White looks at the miners in Karangahake Gorge (sadly only briefly as she died not long after from tetanus).
The other photographer we looked at was Una Garlick, who documented the famous ‘last pioneer’ of Remuera in the 1930s. Garlick was part of the pictorialist movement, using soft focus and a range of finishes to show her view of the world.
Working with photographer Te Rawhitiroa Bosch and participants from the Te Korowai programme a small group of young Maori men set out to cover the topic of Education and the opportunities and barriers it presents for them in a documentary style of photography. Image research focused on schools and gangs.
The late documentary photographer Robin Morrison covered the latter in black and white with images of the ‘Stormtroopers’ and ‘Highway 61’. The style of photography seen in this collection is just as important as the subject, as it offers insights into the practice of documentary through the still image.
The group were also inspired by the Wildlife exhibition currently on show at the museum, with a first-hand look at how photographers compose their images and think about the environment around them. They discovered how some leave the subject to chance, while others deliberately go hunting, looking for just the right moment with just the right light.CULTURE
The last research visit was a group of Polynesian youth called Navigating Spaces and led by Grace Taylor of the South Auckland Poets Collective. The theme that this group will express through Spoken Word Poetry is culture, and identity, and their research visit paid special attention to migration in the Pacific.
Before opening up the collections I paused to admire the closed tapa album covers. Inside we explored photographs from Samoa during the 19th century. Another album looked at the early 20th century in contrast and finally the group was drawn to the work of Noelle Sandwith, who painted in Tonga during the 1950s. Two of her paintings had particularly strong reactions; one of life on board a ship full of people travelling, perhaps eventually to New Zealand, and a scene of a group of women inside a fale, titled The “bongibongi”. This one had a silence to it, as if the viewer felt compelled to listen to them.
Many of the works reminded us of the traditions and lifestyles that are still very much part of who we are.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what sound does it make? ‘I am GI youth’ were invited to view images of housing from the collection as inspiration for the creation of a soundscape guided by Hip Hop producer Anonymouz.
I chose to immerse the group in our negative collection using a loupe (magnifier) to view the images on a lightbox. I call this the spacewalk experience as you really feel like you are there in the picture.
The New Zealand Herald and Sparrow Industrial Photography collections provide examples of early 50s and 60s state housing in Auckland. The aerial shots from The New Zealand Herald show large sprawling areas of housing following two or three regularly repeated patterns. On the ground again, Sparrow offers street scenes of the newly opened areas. The group joked that it looked like a tv commercial, which is probably not far from the truth.
To contrast the black-and-white-world presented from the outside, we looked at Mark Adam’s striking photograph of Samoan tattooist Tufuga Ta Tatau at work in a Glenn Innes state house.
Following hot on the heels of our Identi-Tee exhibition, we introduced the Youthline Central Advisory Group to the world of screen printing under the guidance of Siliga David Setoga.
We examined posters and photograph collections as inspiration for slogans, words and imagery to address youth employment, that can be translated onto media such as t-shirts. Newspaper images from the Weekly News covering decades of workers helped provide a feel for issues of the 1920s-1950s, while some of Robin Morrison’s photography such as the Ponsonby Road series gave a glimpse at the more recent past and the diverse range of occupations people had adopted. This 1917 example from our poster collection shows a clever mixed message.