Robin Morrison’s work through contemporary eyes

As part of our exhibition A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes, we collaborated with Manukau Institute of Technology, Fresh Gallery Otara, the public and invited experts to explore people, places and themes represented by photographs within the exhibition.

Robin Morrison (1944-1993) was one of New Zealand’s most celebrated photojournalists. His striking, unpretentious images allowed us to see ourselves, and our way of life, as if for the first time. They are revealing and unexpected, and still provoke us today. We were curious to find out more about some of the photographs we selected for the exhibition; to gather local stories of the people, places and social history that Morrison captured for the New Zealand Listener all those years ago.

Otara Markets by Robin Morrison.

Morrison, Robin (1981). Otara Markets. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-NP2

Opening worlds – taking the exhibition beyond our walls

In collaboration with Fresh Gallery Otara and Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), we took elements of the exhibition to other venues in Auckland. We installed image reproductions in Otara Town Centre and at MIT; including a few of the photos Morrison took of the early Otara markets, local community spaces and local people.

MIT window boxes

Reproductions of Robin Morrison’s images were installed at MIT asking the question ‘Do these spark a memory?'

To share some of these wider contextual stories with the communities they came from, on the 12th March 2014 Fresh Gallery hosted the first of two evenings. Our speakers, Janneen Love (Auckland Museum), Ron Brownson (Auckland Art Gallery) and Vinesh Kumaran (contemporary portrait photographer), conducted an interactive session.

What’s love got to do with it?

Janneen was the exhibition developer for A Decade of Days and our first speaker. She gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition with her unique insight into Morrison’s work. She titled her presentation “What’s love got to do with it?” and in six minutes (the time limit we gave her) she was able to define love (a strong feeling of affection) and how it was woven into not only Morrison’s photos, but also into the work the museum’s collections and exhibitions teams do when caring for the images and developing the exhibition.

Portrait of Dame Whina Cooper by Robin Morrison

Morrison, Robin (1975). Dame Whina Cooper. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-n7p1

Love illustrated the process of culling the large number of Morrison’s black and white prints that he had compiled into a folder he titled ‘Decade of Days.’ In this way, Morrison had already begun to curate the exhibition. Through further discussion the team was able to identify strong thematic narratives that were evident in his collection, which then informed the final exhibition design. She offered a discerning and compassionate representation of Robin Morrison, and reiterated the importance of sharing these stories to wider audiences – breaking down the perceived institutional walls and reaching out into the community.

The exhibition team select images.

The exhibition team select images from one of Robin Morrison’s image folders which he labelled ‘Decade of Days.’

Morrison non-intrusively captured intimate moments

Ron Brownson – Senior curator of New Zealand and Pacific Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki – opened his presentation by listing the extensive number of publications that Morrison was involved with, a testament to the photographer’s prodigious creative output.

Brownson guided us through many of Morrison’s photographs, discussing his legacy as “one of the key photojournalists of our time” who had the ability to “make connections with his subjects.” He evidenced a series of Morrison’s images from Takaparawha/Bastion Point, where “Robin was one of the very few people Ngati Whātua allowed to photograph at the Marae – there was no sense of him being an alien to that environment.” He also drew comparisons with current photographers’ who are able to non-intrusively record intimate moments in the manner of Morrison.

'Target Māori men first' by Robin Morrison.

Morrison, Robin (1978). Target Māori men first. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira. PH-TR650-M881-N10p3

Documenting people and a sense of place

Contemporary portrait photographer Vinesh Kumaran gave us a fascinating insight into his own work, and how he, like Morrison, seeks to establish connections with his subjects. He spoke about his work and how photography can open worlds for its audience, as illustrated by his series of Auckland dairy owners—a theme which Morrison also explored in his images of Ponsonby shop owners. Both Kumaran and Morrison seek to convey the hard work and dedication of these business owners, hence Kumaran’s series title Open all Hours. As he said of one of his subjects: “he wants us to see his pride, that this is his shop”.

'Open all hours' by Vinesh Kumaran.

Kumaran, Vinesh (2012). Khandy K. Patel, part of a series from 'Open all hours'.

Morrison, Robin. Washing Machine Man. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Morrison, Robin. Washing Machine Man. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Kumaran showed us his work in South Auckland, particularly his portraits at Polyfest and of people inside their homes, in which he seeks to “put a positive spin on South Auckland”. This is another connection he has with Morrison, who was one of the first photographers to explore and document the people of South Auckland. Morrison’s photos of the early days of Polyfest provide us with a wonderful juxtaposition to Kumaran’s contemporary images, and together show the evolution of the festival and document the experience and community that has been built around this major Auckland cultural event.

Morrison, Robin. Polyfest. Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tamaki Paenga Hira.

Kumaran, Vinesh (2012). Agene Filoa, Polyfest hair project.

Challenges in the digital realm

The evening ended with a Q&A that raised a number of topical points such as the correct identification of people featured in photos, and the ownership of an image in our digital world. Many of the people captured in Robin Morrison’s photos have not been identified. Is it the responsibility of the photographer or the institution displaying the work to ensure the subject is correctly identified? And if we don’t have correct identification, then should the images be left out of public view? Or do we share them with wider audiences in the hope of unlocking some of the background stories?

Ainslie Dewe, an advisor in our digital team, notes that “social media and the web provide the opportunity for co-creation of knowledge, not just from traditional experts but also drawing on the knowledge of the public in ways that have not previously been possible. The images may have already been publicly available but were hard to find. The web makes them more visible and social media provides the ability for anyone to contribute new knowledge about them.”

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments box below.

About the writers

Bethany Edmunds is Youth Outreach Programmer and Olivia Willock is Social History Programmer, in the Learning and Engagement team at Auckland Museum.

Image: From left Janneen Love, Vinesh Kumaran, Ron Brownson and Olivia Willock.

The Robin Morrison collection at Auckland Museum

In 1993 Robin Morrison bequeathed his entire collection to the Auckland Museum. Our current estimates on the collection size is it contains 50,000 colour, and 50,000 black and white images. It is one of the largest photography collections we have by a single photographer.

The exhibition A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes features a selection of Morrison’s black and white photographs of his city, Auckland, from 1971 to 1985.

Online reading

A Decade of Days – Auckland through Robin Morrison’s eyes

Our exhibition features a selection of Robin’s black and white photographs of his city, Auckland, from 1971 to 1985. Most were found in a folder labelled ‘Decade of Days’ amid the vast collection of images given to the museum before he died.

Robin Morrison

A brief biography of Robin Morrison and a selection of his images.

Robin Morrison online collections Auckland Museum

Browse Auckland Museum’s online catalogue for publications and images relating to Robin Morrison.

Robin Morrison biography on Art New Zealand

Read Rhondda Bosworth’s essay on Robin Morrison life and work.

Sense of Place: Robin Morrison, Photographer

Watch this full length Robin Morrison documentary on New Zealand On Screen.

Vinesh Kumaran

Visit the photographer’s website.

Factory of Ideas and Experiments

V&A’s Selling Dreams exhibition chronicles 100 years of fashion photography—and with it all the glamour, mystery and drama. Auckland Museum talks to WORLD founder Denise L’Estrange-Corbet about the label’s own Eureka moment in the 90s, selling their dream and channelling a vortex of creativity onto the runway.

AM: Irving Penn said of his role with Vogue: “I always thought we were selling dreams, not clothes.” How would you describe what you do?

Denise L’Estrange-Corbet : WORLD’s by-line since our inception in 1989 is ‘Factory of Ideas and Experiments…’ which is how we see ourselves. Our studio is a constant hive of activity in the product and development stages of garment construction, with fabrics and the other mediums we have worked in. We are always pushing boundaries and collaborating with different techniques and artisans in an effort to extend ourselves. All designers today have to produce wearable ranges if we are to continue funding what we really love—which is completely losing oneself in an idea. The true genius of a fashion designer is to create pieces which are outstanding, which gives the audience a glimpse of how their creative minds work. A catwalk with everyday boring clothes is a show I do not want to be at. I want to be inspired, regenerated, enthralled, mystified, drawn in, elated, flummoxed, all at the same time, which is how people feel when they attend a WORLD show. They want to see more, they want to know how you did what you did, and complain the show was too quick. At a WORLD show they see things never seen before in fashion. I want them to walk away thinking “How did they do that?”, as opposed to “Why did they do that?”

WORLD has done all of the above to the public since our first show and worked in mediums never used in clothing before. We do this for the public as much as for ourselves, as we want to challenge our creative genius, so our brains don’t shrivel up, wither and die. I still want to wake up in the middle of the night thinking “I’ve got it” when thinking of how to create something. I want my ideas to keep me awake at night working out how it is going to come together. Our last catwalk show featured LED lighting, and was so intricate, nobody could possibly imagine. I want the left side of my brain to collapse from exhaustion as opposed to boredom. I want WORLD to leave its mark in the history books of New Zealand fashion, as the most experimental and boundary-pushing brand of its time—it has limitless possibilities. That is where WORLD is. That is how WE are. That is the genius of WORLD.

AM: Are there stand out moments where you observed New Zealand’s own story of selling dreams start to take shape?

Denise L’Estrange-Corbet: I guess it was in 1999 when we were the first brand out on the catwalk at London Fashion Week. We had been forewarned by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, that it is unheard of for London buyers to place an order for an unknown brand—especially a little one from New Zealand, that arrived without fanfare or masses of promotional material. It was explained that even small buyers preferred to wait three seasons to ensure the brand they are looking at was reliable, as there are so many things at play here. Rack space is one, as another label has to be dropped to accommodate a new one in the stores—and that is just the start, there are a whole myriad of issues at play here. We showed our collection, did a few interviews, and expected nothing more. That evening a cocktail party was held on the roof at New Zealand House in Haymarket for all the NZ brands involved. No sooner had we walked in, we were approached by a lady called Debbie Taylor, the Head Buyer of Women’s Designer Fashion brands at Selfridges. We had no idea who she was, and she said “Hi, are you WORLD? I want to buy your entire collection for Selfridges, has anyone else bought it yet?” At first we thought she was joking! She was relieved she was the first department store to nab us, and we were gobsmacked.  The next day Liberty approached us with the same offer.  We were the first NZ brand to achieve this sort of recognition after one showing; we knew then that selling our dreams was taking shape. We realised our vision was being recognised and understood by the fashion elite—that is incredible ideas, and what fashion is about. To do something different, to claim your own fashion signature, and to run with it, and that was all we needed to know we were really good at what we do.

Auckland Museum thanks Denise L’Estrange-Corbet MNZN, and WORLD for their support of V&A’s Selling Dreams exhibition.

November 13, 2012

Posted by:

Kirsten MacFarlane

All, Events


Right royal protocol relaxed

It’s not every day you meet royalty in a private location, and for the group of 20 Museum staff chosen to farewell the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall, a quick lesson in royal protocol was in order.  Visitor services manager Vincent Lipanovich can quote the rule book verbatim, and lesson one is punctuality.   The royals are on a strict timetable for the Armistice Day Commemorations, and we are to assemble inside the Museum at 1215 hours sharp.

Vincent Lipanovich keeps proceedings on track

Royal etiquette has rules about who can speak first, where to look, what to call them, how you should stand and when you should sit.  It is a mysterious business to the uninitiated. Some dissenters argue it’s not necessary to follow tradition in an age where a young woman with ancestors who worked in the coal mines could become a princess.  At our royal briefing, Vincent informs us that royal protocol is a “lot more relaxed these days. The decision to curtsey or bow is totally up to you.” You are perfectly within your rights to follow the example of Australian Prime Minister and Wales-born Julia Gillard, who opted for a polite bow when meeting the Queen last year. 

Thankfully, if we get it wrong, the paparazzi won’t be there to capture any breaches of protocol. Not so for heads of state.  Compare the reaction to two famous incidents of breaches of protocol.  Michelle Obama raised eyebrows when she put her arm around the Queen during a 2009 UK visit.  The Queen reciprocated by slipping her arm around the first lady. Some 20 years earlier, Paul Keating was branded the “Lizard of OZ” for the supposedly heinous crime of putting his hand on the Queen’s back during an official tour of Australia.  We may have a private encounter, but embracing the Duchess would be straining credibility.

We wait in two rows, as you do, for the royals to appear.  Vincent gives us a final pep talk: “When speaking to a male member of the Royal Family, refer to him as ‘Your Royal Highness’ on first reference and ‘sir’ on all following references.  For the Duchess, it’s ‘Your Royal Highness’ and  ’Ma’am’.” The TRHs are doing the rounds in the Members Lounge; meeting veterans, and examining a display containing the personal diary of Sir Edmund Hillary, and the Highgrove Florilegium (one of only 175 published for the Prince’s Trust).  All at once, the security men descend, followed by the much-anticipated couple.  Sensibly, they split ranks with the Duchess swiftly making her way down one side and Prince Charles descending on our row. A quick curtsey, a sincere exchange about my role, a lament from the Prince about “never having time to linger in museums”, and my royal encounter is over.  

Karen Tribbe stands proud with her service medals

Graphic designer Karen Tribbe, a former captain in the New Zealand Army, falls into military mode with her perfectly executed curtsey. Decked out in her service medals, pearls and blue blazer, she chats with ease about her eight-year service record.  Meanwhile, exhibition developer Janneen Love is presenting the Duchess with, yikes, a pair of jandals.  “It’s in celebration of our Urbanlife project,” says Janneen.

The Duchess is delighted, and the pair talk Philip Treacy hats for a full 43 seconds.  Then it’s all over. Security guards bustle the royal pair out a side door to their waiting car.

Janneen Love presents Duchess with jandals

In medieval times, monarchs were divinely appointed to rule by Gods – and they demanded to be treated as gods. It was bow or be beheaded. How times have changed. During this tour Prince of Charles has so far been hugged by a sweaty athlete and shaken hands with dripping wet, near-naked folk. There’s no way Janneen Love will be banished from the colony for giving royalty a pair of jandals.

To bow, or not to bow is your choice


Armistice Day: Peace and death

From the front page of the New Zealand Herald November 9, 1918

Two days before peace fell on the battlefields of World War I the New Zealand papers were full of the imminent end of four years of stalemate and slaughter.

Germany was in revolution, the services were mutinying and the Allies were advancing everywhere. The good news flowing from the western front tempered some of the terrible news of the influenza epidemic, whose victims were filling up the mortuaries at home.

Two articles on the front page of the NZ Herald, 9 November 1918

But even as the Armistice brought quiet to the war-ravaged landscape, death did not instantly abate. Soldiers suffering from injuries sustained before the peace were still dying from their wounds in the weeks and days that followed.

Terlincthun British Cemetery, Wimille, Pas-de-Calais, France

Second Lieutenant James Sloss was serving in the Royal Air Force when he was wounded in the final days of the war. He died as the Germans signed the terms of armistice. The 21-year-old’s body was interred at the Terlincthun British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.

Soldiers were also dying of influenza. Private Ernest Baker had left his job as a tram inspector to serve in the medical corps in June 1918. He was serving in Wellington when he contracted the virus and died on 11 November 1918 leaving behind a wife and two children, aged 10 and two.

Such was the rate of death from influenza that the New Zealand Herald reported in November 13, 1918 that families were finding it difficult to make arrangements for burial “owing to the unprecedented pressure placed upon undertakers”.

Inglewood War Memorial

In order to facilitate the work of disposing of the bodies now lying  unburied two special trains are to be run today to Waikumete [cemetery], and this will have the effect of releasing hearses for funerals to cemeteries nearer the city.”

For those who had lost loved ones in the war there was rarely even a body to bury or headstone to visit. In response, communities raised funds to build memorials to the war dead, and these began to spring up in towns and suburbs across the country.

This Sunday marks the 94th anniversary of the end of hostilities in World War I.

Auckland Museum’s Armistice Day service begins at 11am on the Court of Honour to celebrate the peace and remember the dead.

Forbidden Fruit

It has been said that a person’s reaction to an artwork tells you more about that person than the art work itself. When viewing an object we bring our life experience to the table, and where as someone may see a piece of over ripe fruit dripping sweet nectar, another may see an erotic abstraction oozing a different sort of liquid all together.

Form by Tony Kuepher on display in our Encounters Gallery

Form by Tony Kuepher on display in our Encounters Gallery

Tony Kuepfer, the glass artist who made this work, described it simply as ‘Form’. Many people who look at the work see an apple and a water drop. Did the artist intend it to look like an apple? And why is this languid viscous drip so weirdly inviting?  Perhaps as he was making this piece he was thinking of the apple from The Garden of Eden – the irresistibly tempting fruit of (carnal) knowledge.

The Lambeth Potteries Adam and Eve Plate in our Landmarks Gallery 35561 / K960

The Lambeth Potteries Adam and Eve Plate in our Landmarks Gallery 35561 / K960

Of course the idea that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was an apple is a creative embellishment of the biblical text. In Genesis the Adam and Eve story does not specify the genus of the scandalous (and irresistible) fruit.  It does however make very clear that there was a talking serpent. Biblical theologians have put much effort into debating if ‘the apple’ was an apple, or if it was perhaps a fig or pomegranate; less effort has been invested in discussing the linguistic skills of the snake.

Perhaps a more racy contender for the title of ‘the original forbidden fruit’ is the coco de mer, a fruit that grows on giant palm trees endemic to two of the balmy Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean.

The catkins that grow on these palms are distinctly phallic shaped, and the nuts look extraordinarily like women’s buttocks. The hairy coconut fiber which grows in the groove of the nut….. well, you can imagine.

If there was an award for erotic ecology or pornographic plants, the coco de mer would be a fierce contender. Add to its charms that the nut when green contains a delicately sweet jelly, and when mature is valued as a potent aphrodisiac, the coco de mer is sounding outrageously more forbidden than those Granny Smiths lying dejected in the bottom of my fruit bowl.

Double Coconut, Coco-de-mer Lodoicea Maldivca

Double Coconut, coco-de-mer Lodoicea Maldivca

You can come and see all of these objects at our upcoming LATE at the Museum - The Seven Deadly Sins: Lust – on Thursday 6th September.

Matariki, a tradition handed down through generations

Tena koutou katoa,

Recently a member of the public wrote and asked why the Museum is celebrating Matariki, which they described as “a modern invention”.

I replied that Matariki is not a modern invention, it is a tradition that has been handed down through generations. It has been suppressed for a time, but people now feel more liberated, free to participate and able to choose connectedness and to learn more about a wide range of points of view.

I wrote: “Our month-long programme illuminates cultural and social facets and reflects scientific origins in the way-finding experiences of early peoples. Our literature invites people to explore themes and activities and to consider the ways that people pass on and sustain aspects of their culture and heritage; an opportunity for communities to come together to tell stories, sing, dance and do creative work; spreading understanding about the customs and practices of New Zealand’s first settlers; exploring the consequences of the migration of peoples and ideas…….”

One of the Museum’s jobs is to give people access to collections, to enable interchange and encourage the exploration of themes. Our Matariki programme just does that and has been has been attracting many people.

Wananga Maunga: Hikoi up Maunga Whau (Mt Eden)

Wananga Maunga: Hikoi up Maunga Whau (Mt Eden)

For example, in the first of our series of wananga ‘beyond the walls’, people joined us up Maunga Whau (Mt Eden) to hear perspectives on what our mountains represent, with colourful inputs from archaeologist Louise Furey, tangata whenua  Pita Turei and volcanologist Jan Lindsay.

Last Saturday the focus shifted to Takaparawha (Bastion Point), where we explored native plant regeneration and learned about medicinal properties of native flora and fauna, with inspiration from botanist Ewen Cameron, tangata whenua and horticulturalist Char Wiapo and rongoa specialist Rob McGowan.

Ewen made the important point that the Museum’s collections and their records connect people and knowledge across generations. In this case, it was the methodical work to create the herbarium by the distinguished past Museum director, Thomas Cheeseman (who was secretary of the Museum Institute and Curator for almost 50 years until his death in 1923). His work now enables people to know what was growing at Orakei in times before urbanisation and in turn to plan a restoration that suits the land, the birds, the plants and the people who make their home there; whakamana, nga taonga tuku iho, hei whakataki i nga ra ki muri … honouring the past, embracing the present, guiding our future.

Grass specimens Thomas Cheesman (pictured) collected at Orakei Point in Oct 1878.

Grass specimens Thomas Cheesman (pictured) collected at Orakei Point in Oct 1878.

This coming Saturday more of our audience will have an opportunity to participate in the Wananga Puoro, led by Curator Maori Chanel Clarke and Taumata member Bernard Makoare around Auckland Zoo and the newly opened Te Wao Nui a Tane native bird sanctuary.

Sighting the elusive transit

Like a scene from an eighties Sci-Fi movie, spectactors wearing special ‘Eclipse shades’ finally get a peak of the transit. After a disappointing morning’s viewing, the clouds parted at around 3.30 to reveal the sun and a tiny black spot tracking across bottom left. Budding astronomers were estatic about capturing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. In a few brief moments it was all over, the sun slipping behind another bank of clouds.

Finally, a sighting of planet Venus tracking across the sun


The author points at the magic spot

transit over skytower

Tracking the Transit of Venus

As the Transit of Venus gets underway at 10.15am, the sun miraculously breaks through the clouds. Here comes the Sun. The crowd gathered on the footsteps of Auckland Museum’s main entrance surge forth excitedly to collect a pair of solar viewing glasses. “I can see it, the black dot just on the edge of the sun,” yells one excited young visitor.  Stardome astronomer Dr Grant Christie looks up from one of the three powerful telescopes set up to capture this historic moment. “You won’t see this again until 2117.” 

Waiting for the sun to appear

Transits of Venus are extremely rare celestial events. They occur in a pattern that repeats every 243 years, with pairs of transits occurring eight years apart and separated by gaps of up to 121 years.  Weather permitting; you can watch this miniscule black dot travelling across the sun till around 4.45pm tonight.   But after a promising start, the sun disappears behind a thick layer of cloud and there are audible groans from the crowd.   

It was here in the Domain, 130 years ago that a crowd gathered in the early hours of December 7th to watch the planet Venus glide across the sun’s face.  At that time, there was no Museum building and the skies were clear. The group were assembled near a fenced-off enclosure occupied by an astronomical team from America who were setting up to record the 1882 transit.  A signal post was erected, and from it fluttered a stars and stripe flag. Inside the compound, the Americans had installed an array of instruments in the hope of determining the sun’s distance from the earth.  Since 1857, when the Astronomer Royal for England launched an investigation into the transits, astronomers worldwide were consumed with solving the mystery. Photographing the transit was cumbersome compared with our digital era. Mr Smith, the chief astronomer gave the orders. “The chief photographer will remove the plates from the box, place them in the holder, call out the number, and after the exposure, will pass them to the assistant photographer for development, or put them in the box.” Only one New Zealander, a Mr J.T Steveson, was permitted inside the enclosure.  The Auckland Star reported on the morning of the grand event: “The very general interest felt in this astronomical phenomenon was manifested throughout the city this morning by the appearance of little knots of people in their backyards or on their verandahs surveying the heavens through contrivances of a more or less crude and simple character, and by the assemblage of some fifty or more persons outside the American Observatory enclosure at the Domain. “

Steveson’s account of the observation was reported the following day in the Auckland Star: “At 4.45am (a few good minutes after sunrise) I obtained a good view of Venus; she was then plainly visible to the naked eye.”  So far, 2012 transit watchers are not so lucky. But whether you watch it outdoors or online, make sure you witness this historic event. Back in 1882, they were reminded that the next transit was in 2004 – “long ere which time every human being now in existence will have made his final exit from the stage of life.”

Crowds gather at the Museum