Ans Westra Documentary on Maori TV

Had the joy last night of catching a documentary on Maori TV about Ans Westra, the self taught NZ Photographer of Dutch decent. (the pity is we do not have mysky, so was unable to tape this. So did do some extra research to fill some gaps in the memory.) The documentary was very much about her life and her photography path. It was amazing to learn that Westra, a pakeha (white) woman, travelled many miles along the East Coast on her own in the early 60’s, initially hitch hiking and later sleeping in her car. She would have been in the minority, both as a woman on her own and being pakeha. Upon arriving in NZ (in 1957) she very quickly became interested in Maori, their way of life & their easy way of getting along; “ they were so lively. Maori were wonderful to photograph because they're just spontaneous and natural, just the most colourful and interesting thing in this country at the time.”(  Coming from a Dutch back ground that was very regimented and ordered, she loved the freedom with which Maori interacted with each other. Westra started to simply take photo’s at events, Hui’s, Wedding’s and Tangi’s. Her interest were not so much the dignitaries, but the people who came to these events. The way these people mixed and mingled, the warmth that they showed to each other and the collective sharing of things. Many of her images show this connection people had with each other.   One of her books she created for the Department of Education was Washday at the pa, in 1964. The story and imagery were a reflection of a rural Maori Family and what they did on wash day. The book ended up being removed from the class rooms, as it was seen to be derogatory to Maori (according to the Maori Woman’s Welfare League of the time). Was interesting hearing the possible back ground reasons for this, Maori woman wanted to be seen just to be as sophisticated as European woman. This book they felt showed Maori woman to still be stuck in the traditional role of the home maker. Westra’s style is very much documentary, her aim was not to make pretty pictures (certainly not in her earlier years), but to document what she saw, without prejudices. She said the biggest changes that happened to her photography was in the 70’s, when Maori became more aware and started to question who could photograph them. From here on her ‘subject matter’ became more broad, such as landscapes, other cultures within New Zealand and even botanical imagery. Further more her imagery has started to include colour. I had read a few books on Ans Westra, but watching a documentary with the actual artist in, talking about their practice is better than books. Will endeavor to locate this documentary to be able to watch it again. Some websites I used for research:

Posted by Elle Anderson

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