The New Dowse Gallery, Lower Hutt, is presenting Christchurch photographer Bridgit Anderson's photographic essay Caring for the Dead, which opens on August 7th.
Bridgit Anderson has a personal motivation for going behind the scenes of a funeral home and documenting the world of the undertaker. Anderson’s mother died when she was seven and, excluded from the funeral process, she has always wanted to know what her journey would have been and to say goodbye herself.
“It was 1970. The adults took charge and we weren't included in the funeral. It's an experience I've carried with me into adulthood”, she says.
Over the course of a year (2005/06), Anderson worked closely with a Christchurch firm of funeral directors and with families who had recently lost loved ones. The exhibition seeks to demystify a world that is often left to the imagination. Anderson’s series of black and white photographs focus on the journey of the body from the time of death to burial or cremation.
“I became both a witness and an observer to a profoundly important moment in our lives,” says Anderson, “Death is a natural part of everyday life, yet ordinary, everyday death generally remains hidden from view.”
Images were taken in the clinical environs of the mortuary, at the graveside, in the chapel and at the family home. Anderson says her aim was not to be sensational or gratuitous; photography has played a central role in memorialising the dead since its invention.
“I own a collection of 19th century glass plate negatives from an East London portrait studio and while cataloguing these I came across a lot of death portraits. These were local, ordinary people, who looked as though they were asleep. I was struck by their simplicity, humanity and beauty”.
Born and educated in Christchurch, Bridgit Anderson moved to the UK in 1985 where she held tertiary teaching positions at Croydon College, London and London College of the Arts, Camberwell and Chelsea. She returned to New Zealand in 2004 to take up a temporary lecturing post in the photography department at the University Of Canterbury School Of Fine Arts, of which she is a graduate. As a documentary and portrait photographer her career has spanned a variety of areas and interests, both analogue and digital. Anderson is currently the manager for A Place in Time Documentary Project at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts.
Caring For the Dead: A Photographic Essay of the Funeral Profession
The New Dowse, Laings Road, Lower Hutt
7 August – 24 October 2010
Winter is a great time to explore seaside communities, the hoards of beach-goers replaced by a few walkers taking their daily constitutional along the beach.
Like many seaside communities, Westshore Beach, Napier, is a curious mixture of modern monuments to hedonism, cheek-by-jowl with little cottages, surrounded by much-loved gardens.
I was struck by the extraordinary contrast of two adjoining homes - one in strident, in-your-face, primary colours - the other a little cottage that reflects a simpler lifestyle, with washing drying on the verandah, and jam-packed with potted plants.
The little cottage speaks of a modest, simple life, the other a need to demonstrate importance and affluence.
Guess which one I prefer?
A walk round Virginia Lake, Wanganui, provided welcome shade on a hot summer's day.
The lake is a favourite spot for children to feed the ducks and the lake is home to many different waterfowl.
Black swan and her cygnets
Designed by Alfred Buxton, Greytown Memorial Park is one of the loveliest parks in the Wairarapa.
Here the roadway meanders through the bush - one of the few remaining fragments of lowland forest in the Wairarapa - to a beautiful, sheltered camping ground amongst the trees. Small, but perfectly formed.
Ancient sign outside the swimming baths
Extensive plantings of native trees and shrubs by an enthusiastic and dedicated band of Greytown residents over the years has helped make this area a welcome and interesting retreat in the height of a Wairarapa summer.
One hundred and seventeen lime trees border the cricket ground at the western end of the park. These were planted in 1922 to commemorate the 117 local men who died in the First World War.
A warm, still, sunny spring day in the Wairarapa - and the temperature in the 20s - was perfect for thinning out the canopies of some trees which were creating too much shade.
The beautiful blossom of the nashi pear demanded a photo.
With the warm temperatures of the last few weeks the cavolo nero has flowered. This wonderful vegetable - technically a kale, I think - looks like silver beet crossed with cabbage. It positively thrives in cold, frosty winter conditions and grows tall over winter, with palm-like leaves which you can harvest as required.
We finished the day with hamburgers quickly cooked on the barbeque, before the sun disappeared at 6 pm. The first barbeque of the year and very early in the season.
Between appointments I enjoyed a few minutes' spring sunshine and took a few photos from Midland Park, Wellington.
Midland Park is a little green oasis in the middle of Lambton Quay and is the site of the former Midland Hotel, demolished, as I recall, in the 1980s.
Located in the middle of a concrete jungle of tall office building, in winter it gets very little sun.The Wellington City Council have done much to improve the urban landscape with generous tree plantings, but little places to enjoy some sunshine are rare in the CBD.
Beads on a Melia Azedarach tree against a brilliant blue Wairarapa sky on a still, clear spring afternoon.
Also known as Persian Lilac, Chinaberry or Bead Tree, the fruit hang on the tree all winter, gradually becoming white. These "beads" were apparently used in the past as rosary beads.
A huge swarm of bees, creating a great black cloud, arrived in the garden this afternoon and settled in a flowering camellia tree.
Local beekeepers Neil and Diane Braithwaite donned beekeeping clothes and used loppers to remove surrounding foliage so they could get at the swarm clustered around several different branches. The swarm was so large it was dragging the branches down.
Underneath the tree they positioned their swarm box - like a large tea chest with a removable lid - ready for them to drop the swarm into it as they cut the branches.
Here you can see one of the cut branches completely covered with bees just before it was dropped into the swarm box.
While taking photographs I'd got a little closer to the action than was probably wise and ended up with an enraged bee caught in my hair. Fortunately my neighbour was able to brush the bee away before I got stung.
The swarm box has holes in the side and once the queen was in the box we sat down with the beekeeper and his wife for a cup of coffee and waited for the airborne contingent of the swarm to fly into the box to join the queen bee.
After half an hour there were only a few stragglers still in the garden. The swarm box was loaded up and driven off to populate another Wairarapa hive.
A most interesting and educational afternoon and the first swarm of the season for the beekeepers.