Picture of a Remarkable Life

Otago Daily Times: Sat, 23 Nov 2013

Marti Friedlander quotes Golda Meir on the front page: ”Don’t be humble, you’re not that great.” Then she tells her story.

Placed in a London orphanage in 1931 when she was 3, with her sister almost 5, by her parents, impoverished Russian Jews she never saw again, Marti Friedlander has a gripping, Dickensian tale to tell.

Born with a deformed duodenum so she could not digest solid food, at 11 years old Friedlander was only 91cm tall and weighed 19kg. But she loved school, and was desperate to learn. In a photograph, she looked like Anne Frank with an expression of such optimism and hope, as she says. She embraces life. And does not waste time looking back.

In her autobiography, in collaboration with oral historian Hugo Manson, her clipped sentences, like translations from a foreign language, and certainly emanating from foreign times, beguiled this reader. I imagine that is how she speaks, with wit and sagacity.

Her story is a snapshot of the times, unsentimental like her photography. She states she is no journalist but her picture of the suburban New Zealand desert she encountered in 1958 is our own story. We have come a long way, and she has, too.

Biography is history.

She talks of a trade scholarship to Bloomsbury Technical School for Women, of meeting in London her New Zealand husband Gerrard, born in Berlin and whose Jewish parents moved to New Zealand via Palestine before World War 2. She recounts a scooter journey with him through postwar Europe, her work with London photographers, the death of the couple’s child, her discovery of Parihaka, the old kuia in the backblocks and her collaboration with Michael King, her encounter with artists, writers and politicians, anti-apartheid demonstrators and women’s rights conferences. She talks candidly of her subjects’ vanity or otherwise, in a matter-of-fact manner, of children, and of getting old, now that she is as old as the kuia.

She talks of the mana of black-and-white images, developing negatives, and changing technology, of being a freelance photographer recording what is now gone. She tackles subjects straight on, while moving around the subject for the best shot.

The cover photo is a beautiful taster of what follows.

Full article on Otago Daily Times

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