In the COMMENT link I have been asked about my first serious photograph. This is a portrait of a lady next door to us in Seatoun, about 1965 when I was 15 (or 16). Her name was Mrs Richmond. I was able to use my uncles darkroom and camera. I was hooked on photography after making this picture and have never stopped.
A Submission to Sleep
Four youthful figures, students perhaps, lie prone, at rest across beanbag chairs at the staged footing of an event unknown. There’s a humour in the casual pose of the figures who, in full public view, seem to have just dumped themselves there without a care in the world. In the upper right corner, just within the periphery of one’s outer vision another lesser activity, not at first glance clear, is taking place.
Large format photographers, while viewing the ground glass under their dark cloths, are well trained to always consider carefully the edges and corners of their photographs as they compose, as often these areas hold or give substance to the image proper. The slightest shift of camera direction can change drastically the final result.
With 35mm cameras, as used here, minus the customary set up time afforded large format, the keenly observant photographer does the same thing; he scans the edges prior to pressing the shutter, albeit instinctively.
The eye, momentarily captured at once by the central figures of this image, senses a form sitting in the upper right corner. It could be a broad backed forestry worker in an industrial style chequered workshirt. On closer inspection it is revealed how the mind plays tricks and one sees small legs protruding from under the shirt, realising that this is in fact a small child standing on the surrounding platform, reaching for the back of someone’s head, as if about to jump them.
This hilarious error of judgement is further added to by the heavily anchored strops set into the ground behind them, like some bungy awaiting release to hurl both into the strata beyond.
The confident submission of the centrally framed youth, collapsed into the body moulding comfort of the beanbags is immediately striking. Older persons in a public arena might be less prone to such wilful abandonment of consciousness.
We notice the figure on the far left has even kicked off his branded sneakers and loosened his belt a little-- he is apparently there for the long haul. The girl next to him lies face to the sky, vulnerable, confidently comatose, while the next figure appears grateful the bean bags were there to capture his helpless toe-tipped stumble into blissful oblivion. The last remaining figure looks like he may be subconsciously calculating the results of his recent maths exam for errors, but the overall impression of the students’ total submission to sleep, stretching out in such random, abandoned comfort in a public place is something I find very encouraging.
Given today’s political currency, we in New Zealand have little need, at least by overseas comparison, to take up arms in protest for our liberty. We assume our safe political situation, taking it almost as a given. We can safely lie around on bean bags. In countries struggling for their democratic voice, thousands of youthful students lie dead on bloodied pavements and blood soaked desert sands, a far cry from our present comfort.
I consider this photograph to be a very successful image, as it reaches me on various levels of awareness. Many of Julian Ward’s photos take a gentle, enquiring approach, other images of his, I find perfectly poetic, some even grate like an old bus that can’t find the correct gear to change down to; that’s not in any way to be seen as a fault of the photographers, rather, it tells me that I need to look harder, for longer, to reflect with a mind that has stepped away from the mundane and gain the deeper centres of possible meanings his richly printed photographs offer us.
Fragments from the cosmic womb
This photograph captured my attention immediately. At first, I, possibly like you, recognised a baby fur seal apparently at rest in a rock cavity anchored within a breakwater of other, more rugged rocks; all held in place by a small manmade wall. That on one level is what the photograph shows us.
A number of seasoned photographers will remind us that great photographs are likely to transcend the mundane and offer us alternative possibilities.
It was the beautifully formed rock holding the seal which first took my attention; it being so very, very smooth, like a finely sculptured piece thrown amongst much rougher specimens, the rock stood out alone as remarkable. A perfectly formed chair-like profile appears to have been blasted out of this rock and the seal has folded itself into a blissful advantage of rest from the support it now offers. The quiet presence of the photographer is not noticed.
The rock, in particular, carries a diagonal scar to the right of its swollen surface, a caesarean-like mark; perhaps into the cosmic womb of creation, revealing like some museum collection of specimens, the benign creature of its making, carried to earth to begin its sojourn somewhere along the copious waterfront of Wellington.
The uppermost rocks resemble a darker, planetary avalanche and the sparkling stellar details of the pebbles pressed within the wall below work to contain the greater galactic nature of this photograph. Finally, the protection afforded the seal settled into the rock suggests to the observer of the ever present need all animals require of us – to love and above all, to protect.
Recent horrors of animal cruelty bought to our attention through the media form a constant reminder of the duty of protection we as humans must provide all animals, at all times. Man’s inhumanity to man is one thing, ever outrageous, but with many of us, man’s inhumanity to animals strikes a far deeper chord and cannot under any circumstance be tolerated.
Julian has printed this photograph with just the right amount of darkness and mystery, a technique he has well mastered, further cementing the birth/death overtones of this image, casting it high into the realm of yet another classic.
I am attracted to this photograph perhaps because photographs built around reflections have been amongst my personal favourites since the 1970’s when I purchased and still have, a copy of Lee Friedlander’s “Self Portraits” [Haywire Press].
Photographs capture so much within reflections and have broad appeal as they usually depict very much a one-off, never to be seen again moment. Reflections are seldom the same even seconds later, hence an urgency exists to capture the image then and there; one frame seized from the movie we call life, be it raucous, peaceful, thought- provoking or tragic-- we are compelled to preserve it.
This particular gem from Julian depicts three lovely ‘gals’ in a coffee shop enjoying their refreshments at a bench affording a good overview of Wellington street life and fashion, perhaps, as it passes by.
Remarkably, the two outside figures possess inwardly turned expressions which highlight the euphoric expression of the central figure, lost in her personal vision which we are made to feel is wonderful – utter contentment, the mild pleasure of a happy observer in her moment, while the remaining two figures appear left out, separate, grim, even questioning ‘what’s she so blissed out about’?
On first seeing this photo I noticed the three ovoid shapes hovering above the well- groomed heads, like three outsized, old-fashioned hair drying machines freshly lifted from their coiffeured settings. A street telephone booth, seemingly inside the coffee shop, is apparently stuck to the side of one lady’ head. Other ovoid shapes appear within the image: smaller tables, chairs, manhole covers, bowls and the brilliant white cups and table knick-knacks all help create an even larger ovoid around the collective portrait.
This is a photograph of great depth, printed in the crisp Julian Ward method. It is surely another timeless image which should form part of our greater national photography collection.
Tom Elliott, Karekare, Waitakere.
Some photographers have highly developed senses of heart and see less through their eyes thankfully and more through that side of their nature which is true to who they are in their everyday life. After all, in this dreadful Yuga of Kali, who should, in all honesty, be expected to believe their own eyes? Photography appeals to some of us because it touches on the above and teases the viewer to see more with their feelings and forget for just a moment what the eyes alone might see.
Ansel Adams, in addition to his acclaimed photographic history, was an accomplished pianist and many of his photos were described as having their basis in music. Personally, I prefer jazz and couldn’t see jazz in his work—but from a classical perspective, yes, I could see the structured and melodic influences of music there, especially in the manner of his finely interconnected tonal backgrounds which tied it all together through his Zone System into an orchestral whole. Ansel’s photographs are prized by collectors and galleries the world over.
Michael A. Smith, another wonderfully dedicated large format photographer, noted for his ability to transform a part of the phenomenal world into a photograph—an aesthetic object—into truths beyond illustration or subject matter, was also an accomplished musician – (playing) the hammer dulcimer as I recall. Michael saw a direct connection between ‘bird song’ printouts (sonograms) and what he saw in the spread of his 8x10 inch format as laid out before him. Many of his prints as well as those of his wife Paula Chamlee are held in the highest regard by keen collectors and name galleries throughout the US. (see Michael A. Smith: A Visual Journey—Lodima Press).
Julian Ward, as I have only recently discovered, also has a love of music and I believe we can see it demonstrated in The Tui Folk Festival and Willis Street photographs. The first is more obvious, as the background banner tells us it is taken at a folk festival and the girl playing a violin stands inside a swirling hula hoop as she plays. How musical is that? Also the support pole just behind her to her left connects with that same hoop forming a giant musical note. The background chaos of props can also be read as a melody of music emanating from the violin; a veritable spreadsheet of vertical and horizontal bars and lines--- there are to be found every conceiveable symbol of music, microphones, crotchets and quavers within the mesh of steel, all captured by a photographer, I suggest, who may not have seen at the time but who photographed instead with a heart that felt, or a heart that sensed.
The second photo (Willis Street) shows a figure seemingly hurriedly walking by, largely in shadow forming a strong base note; solid, bold, mysterious; topped with a striking ‘gong of light’ on his forehead, which appears electric to me, not unlike the “zap” moment when electricity strikes and look at that splatter of shimmering silver birch leaves, vibrating in the Wellington wind. That’s music. Notice also the panelling in the building behind. Correct me if I’m wrong, but is that not the same or similar to the lineal pattern upon which music is written and the figures on both extremes left and right of the central figure like keys touched by the outstretched fingers of a pianist, all work to hold the image in perfect note.
I’m not suggesting Julian saw all this through his camera as he pressed the shutter; the point is that we instinctively reflect what is within, without--- as is the microcosm, so is the macrocosm. Perhaps it’s vice-versa, and, if the magic that is music is swirling around us and through us as we meander through life, it is often reflected , albeit unconsciously in everything we make contact with, such as personal relationships and photographs we may take.
The photographer Walker Evans remarked that photography is done instinctively, not consciously. Unless Evans felt that the object photographed was a ‘transcendence’ of the object, of the moment of reality, he would throw it away. He also commented that there are millions of photographs made all the time which do not transcend anything, and they are not anything. In this sense, he said, photography is a very difficult art and probably depends on a gift, an unconscious gift; and sometimes, an extreme talent.
It is for these reasons I for one am grateful to Julian for his incredible photography and the satisfaction it brings me. I hope every collector, curator sits up and takes notice of this talent of longstanding amongst us and works to provide a sanctuary for his work for all New Zealanders to appreciate in the future. We do not need to look overseas to purchase the Winogrands and Meyerowitz’s of this world, as totally inspirational their works might be, in Julian Ward can be found at least the equal, perhaps better, certainly local, right under our noses.
Is there not any way we in NZ can move to have Julian’s outstanding photographs made available through our prime galleries as part of our permanent collections?
Tom Elliott, KareKare, Waitakere
Julian Ward. The Eye of Wellington.
."Did you bring your camera?" he asked when we met.
"No, I thought I would leave the photography to you," I replied.
"Let's go back to the apartment for a cup of tea."
The next couple of hours fly by as we discuss photographs, books and cameras.
Eventually we end up in his computer darkroom to view the latest street photography. Soon it is time to go downtown to meet with friends for lunch.
As we head down Cuba Street, I am aware that we are following Julian's daily beat. One minute he is by my side, next he is focusing on a lady sitting at a cafe pavement table with a dog. While he is framing the pooch portrait, I realise that the owner is main subject. Her hair highlights create an interesting composition. Julian is weaving, darting, diving with the practiced moves of a boxer or ballet dancer. It is not just people that he has in focus, he is also paying attention to the background lighting, long shadows and street markings which serve to frame the shot. The shoot is on. I am in the midst of a masterclass in street photography.
Down Cuba, along Manners Street, then we swing right down Willis street heading toward Lambton Quay.
Much depends on peripheral vision and quick decisions, his composition is instantaneous and intuitive. Julian can use detail with stunning effect. For example, a bulging fleshy elbow blends in seamlessly with street sculpture. It takes years of experience to pull this off. This reminds me of the film, " Bill Cunningham, New York," albeit without the bicycle.
With webbing bag slung over his shoulder Julian takes a series of hip shots, rat tat tat. He pauses to ask a punk girl for permission to photograph her on Kirkaldies corner. Happy with the attention, she readily agrees. Her jagged holed black net stockings make a sharp fashion statement. "Not my usual stuff," mutters Julian. He presents her with his card giving details of his blog and website if she wishes to order her photo.
Next he signs for permission to photograph a window cleaner behind a shop window. The cleaner happily obliges by putting in extra effort with his squeegee. Seems to me as if Julian has taken more than fifty photos, where I would have been hard pressed to find a couple of worthwhile shots. I get sneak previews of the LED screen as we walk, with one or two zooms to show the quality of his Leica lens. "Mystery, mystery,mystery, that what it is all about." When the mood takes him, Julian is overwhelmed by photographic possibilities.
Not only am I privileged to witness this documentation of street life, I am also able to see how his works are created; how he treats people with respect. Happy to accept their right not to be photographed in public, if they so choose. This is definitely not an "in your face" approach to the street. Julian is fascinated by people and their diverse appearance.
This experience leads me to recall an essay written by Henry Miller in the Thirties, "Brassai. The Eye of Paris." Miller used this sobriquet to describe how Brassai went about photographing the streets and people of Paris. Seems to me that here is a case to be made for Julian Ward to receive a similar accolade of, "The Eye of Wellington."
In his essay, Miller anticipated the digital age, "We are suffering from a plethora of art. We are art ridden. Which is to say that instead of a truly personal, truly creative vision of things, we merely have an aesthetic view." So we have context. Add to this a viewpoint.
"The photograph seems to carry with it the same degree of personality as as any other form of expression of art."
Finally, common ground between what Henry Miller saw in Brassai, and what I see in Julian Ward.
"All I know is that when I look at these photographs which seem to be taken at random by a man loath to assert any values except what are inherent in the phenomena, I am impressed by their authority."
For me, both "Eyes" have it.
This is not to disregard or ignore Wellington's excellent photographic community. Nor does it ignore Julian's landscape and portrait work. Rather, it is to suggest that it is time for Julian Ward's photography to be given a major retrospective exhibition, in recognition of his consistent and varied body of work over many years.
In just over half an hour I have been swept up in a maelstrom of decisive moments. I would love to share this feeling with other people.
Julian is looking forward to his next exhibition of street photography at Puke Te Ariki in New Plymouth.
On the bus going home, an Indian Poppa and grand daughter were sitting reading together , "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." Initially I regretted not carrying my camera, for this could have been my shot of the day. Instead, I marveled at how this cultural contrast enriched my experience of living in Wellington.
Julian Ward's photography has the power to heighten our appreciation of city life and how it may be seen as living art.
Brassai. The Monograph. Edited by Alain Sayag and Annick Lionel-Marie. Little Brown and Company. 2000