In her 1977 essay, ‘The Heroism of Vision,’ Susan Sontag, outlines the early theories of what photography was, and how this view crumbled as the use of cameras proliferated. Sontag states, ” The photographer was thought to be an acute but non-interfering observer – a scribe, not a poet. But as people quickly discovered that nobody takes the same picture of the same thing, the supposition that cameras furnish an impersonal, objective image yielded to the fact that photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world.”
I was thinking on this idea, and in particular the idea that I am making an evaluation of the world when I recently made images at Katihiku Marae for a large family gathering. How could my evaluation of this place and time do justice to those gathered and how they feel about the land they are on? I was conscious I was moving amongst people who have been in that place on more occasions than they can remember,as their tupuna had before them. When considering this, who am I to make a visual evaluation of this place, in particular when my own roots are those of one from a colonising power.
The images that came then, were largely of views, things and people which appeared to me to be of significance, although the significance to me were not necessarily grounded in the reality of the place. A view of a tractor, to me, suggested land which was used, and used by people capable of working such machinery. And whilst this is certainly true, the comments to this picture when it was posted were largely based around fun memories of tractor rides with family members in years gone by, a classic case of how we bring our own meanings, based on our own experiences, to any given image.
What I wanted to convey the most though, was the physical space which surrounds Katihiku. It’s a drive to get there. Main roads. Smaller roads. A dirt road. And then when you’re there, views stretch out for miles, with little to hear except the sound of the sea. It feels shut off, and self sufficient too. I wanted to represent this with various tones of darkness, and small areas of light. The light being the marae, the darkness emphasising the distance to nearby villages and towns. Within the light, there needed to be suggestions of life. Games being played, people coming and going. I enjoy the finished images, but will always wonder if they owe more to my own romantic considerations of landscape, or whether those with a deep connection to Katihiku are moved by them also, this evaluation I have made of their treasured space.