Marti Friedlander has had a long career as a photographer. Her subjects have been diverse; portraiture, rural, urban and suburban scenes and encounters, both in New Zealand and other places in which she has lived or visited, such as Israel, Fiji, Tokelau and England, from where she immigrated in 1958. Her photographs of elderly Maori women with moko, artists and writers, vineyards and vintners, and children are particularly well-known, often through the books on which she has worked Moko: the art of Maori tattooing (with Michael King, 1972), Larks in Paradise: New Zealand Portraits (with James McNeish, 1974), Contemporary New Zealand Painters: Volume 1 A – M (with Jim&Mary Barr, 1980), and Pioneers of New Zealand Wine (wih Dick Scott, 2002), for instance.
Her work has been exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in London, the Waikato Art Museum, and in a large and celebrated retrospective at the Auckland Art Gallery in 2001, which then toured the country. Shirley Horrocks’ film, Marti: the Passionate Eye, attracted a lot of attention both at the International Film Festivals in New Zealand in 2004 and on local television. Recognition of her work came with the award of the CNZM in 1998. Most recently (June 2005) she has had a joint exhibition, She said, with Deborah Smith at Auckland’s John Leech Gallery.
Exhibition at The Gus fisher Gallery Shortland St November 2009, Auckland-Looking Closely. Curated by Professor Leonard Bell.
Moko Suite gifted to TE PAPA exhibited FHE Gallery March 2010.
arrived in New Zealand in 1958 and was young enough to still wish to be where the action was. London was where I grew up, and I had no desire to leave it permanently. It seemed to me to be the hub of the world and I enjoyed the accessibility it afforded to the arts and to Europe. But I had married Gerrard in the year previous to my arrival, and was excited at the prospect of discovering the country he had grown up in. Staying for a year would be an adventure, and I looked forward to that.
It was love at first sight for me when I met Gerrard. He arrived on my doorstep on Friday 13 April, 1956. He was on his big OE and a mutual friend had asked him to call. That same friend had shown me photographs a few months previously of himself and others climbing in the Southern Alps; I had pointed to Gerrard, and asked, not very seriously, if he would be coming to London.
What impressed me most about Gerrard was his insatiable curiosity and openness, his idealism and his total disregard for convention. We had a lot in common. We both loved to travel, and for that reason after living together for several months we decided to get married. We loaded a large haversack and a tent on the back of Gerrard’s Lambretta scooter and set off on a nine-month extended honeymoon. It was an amazing journey. We traveled behind the Iron Curtain as far as Warsaw, and through Yugoslavia to Greece, where we loaded the scooter on to the Theodore Hertzl to travel to Israel.
Gerrard would often comment during our travels that however beautiful the scenery we encountered, New Zealand was even more so. During his years studying in Dunedin he had developed a lasting love for the South Island, and had explored most of it during the time he was there. It was obvious to me that there was some ambivalence in his regard for New Zealand as a place to settle, but I couldn’t then define the reason for it.
When I met Gerrard I was working in Kensington in the studio of Gordon Crocker, the leading fashion photographer of the day, where I had been for ten years. I started the job when expatriate New Zealander Douglas Glass employed me to do his printing. I was in my element working as assistant to both of them. Douglas Glass was the first New Zealander I had met, although at the time that had little significance for me. In hindsight I realize he was a typical expatriate. He once remarked that he had been a sheep shearer; I had no idea what he meant, but he certainly was an unusual person and I put this down to the fact that he was an artist. It was a busy studio, with lots of people coming and going, and I felt I was in the centre of the world. I had no ambition to take photos myself since my life was full enough.
If I had not come to New Zealand, I might never have become a freelance photographer. I used my camera when I first arrived here to record the unfamiliar and make it coherent. Emotionally I was reasonably self-contained and had a strong sense of my Jewish identity. But I had grown up and lived in London, and the fears that I had to overcome were more about isolation from a world in which I found conversation, friendship, and access to the arts so effortless. I needed to find people with whom I could share my interests and concerns.
The first New Zealand photo I took was in 1960 at Auckland’s Myers Park. It was of a meeting opposing the All Blacks going to South Africa. I attended as a protester with Gerrard and felt strongly enough about it to take photos. At the time I was working in Gerrard’s surgery as his nurse. I used his small X-ray room to develop my negs, and built a darkroom at home to make prints. I also bought a Durst enlarger.
It was not until 1964 after returning from spending a year in Israel and Europe that I began to take photos full time. Dick Scott invited me to take photos for his Wine Review and because of the images published there I was invited to do work for other publications. With Dick I traveled throughout the North Island, recording the fledgling vineyards. En route he would point out places of historic interest. One such place was Parihaka, and I met my first kuia there. I was deeply touched to see the abandoned settlement in which she lived. The grave of Te Whiti was a potent reminder of a once proud past and I recorded it as a silent tribute. Learning about New Zealand’s history gave me new insights and enabled me to feel involved in the country.
As I traveled around both islands on holidays with Gerrard, I compiled an image album of New Zealanders going about their everyday lives. Everything I saw then seemed extraordinary, and I would ask Gerrard to stop the car so that I could take photos. ‘It’s so New Zealand!’ was my catch-cry, and my excitement could not be contained. I also sensed that I was capturing a world that would change over the next decade or so.
The 60s and 70s were heady years within New Zealand society. There was a new awareness of independence from England, and of the need to forge a distinctive identity. The egalitarian myth was at risk, and street protests proclaimed their protagonists’ unity or otherwise with world-wide ideologies. ‘God’s Own Country’ was no longer a certainty. Young people dared to be different. Dealer art galleries emerged, and new writers were being published. Newspaper review columns of the arts appeared. They were exciting times.
Kees and Tina Hos had opened their very successful New Vision Gallery, promoting potters and artists. I was invited to take portraits of their exhibitors in their studios as well as to photograph their work for catalogues. Of my own volition I sought out other artists and writers. I joined the Labour Party, Amnesty International, and together with Tony Haas, formed the first Auckland branch of the Council for Civil Liberties. There were protests each week, sometimes every day. Many New Zealanders took part, whatever their loyalties, and I photographed them all. The street was where people (and politicians too) expressed their views.
Documentary photography has always been my preference, ever since I saw the Family of Man exhibition in London, the images of which were such a moving celebration of our humanity and diversity. I am continually deeply touched by the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity. Growing up in an orphanage with three hundred other children enabled me to observe at first hand the complexity of human nature. As a migrant adjusting to a new life, the difficulties that I encountered in New Zealand were more to do with my resistance to giving away a background which I valued. I missed the rich vein of self-deprecating Jewish humour, the discussion of ideas, and argument. Empty beaches, however beautiful, increased my sense of loneliness, as did the bush and mountains. I wanted to feel a human presence in the vast, and at times seemingly primeval, landscape. In these remote rural places however, I also felt in touch with the essence of New Zealand. The people to whom I met, men and women going about their daily lives, could not understand why I should wish to photograph them, but always generously acceded to my request, even if bemused by it.
My photography has always been about an involvement and extension of a personal view of life, rather than a particular attention to the craft itself. My cameras accompanied me then so that I could record the everyday. As a photographer I see images everywhere. What prompts me to take the photograph at any given moment is an intuitive impulse. The play of light on the subject is the catalyst for the moment I choose to press the shutter.
The cameras I have used over the years have been many and varied. While they have been useful tools for taking the photos, it is the printing of the images that sustains the excitement for me. It never ceases to be a revelation to see the negative, and to make from it a photo that holds the mystery of a vanished moment. For all the people who appear in my photos, known to me or otherwise, I have a special affinity, a feeling of a shared moment captured forever; This book is a tribute to them all.