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 marvelled 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 pp 173-175.