Young Country brings together nineteenth-century photography and contemporary poetry to offer a new and often surprising view of New Zealand’s past.
The images are the work of William Williams, a Railways employee who worked and photographed widely through the country. His outstanding photographs reflect the rawness of New Zealand’s changing landscape as well as its beauty, and offer intriguing and unusual portraits of family and friends at work, home and play.
Kerry Hines has researched Williams’s work and context and written poems to accompany a selection of his photographs. The poems are colloquial, vivid and accessible, and include imagined elements as well as drawing on the subjects and contexts of the photographs. Together, poems and photographs combine to create a work that is multi-faceted, immersive, and speculative, inviting reflection on how we envision our history.
Young Country: the book
Auckland University Press – November 2014
Hardback, 214 x 164 mm, 200 pages – RRP $34.99
This is a book of thoughtful, haunting, remarkable poetry and photography. Kerry Hines’s poems respond with subtlety and complexity to evocative images by nineteenth-century photographer William Williams. Encompassing intimate relationships and public personas, street and station, house and ‘home’, burnt bush and burgeoning settlements, the stunning photographs and poems of Young Country offer a meditation on our ability to capture the present and re-present the past.
Reviewer comments include:
* ‘incredibly rich, creative, immediate’ – Mark Amery
* ‘extraordinary’, ‘very funny’, ‘very insightful’ and ‘utterly fascinating’ – Greg O’Brien and Kim Hill
* ‘down to earth and resonant’ – Paula Green
For full online reviews and sample work, see the Links page.
Young Country: the exhibition
Ashburton Art Gallery, 10 September – 5 November 2017
* a selection of photographs by William Williams and poems by Kerry Hines.
* includes an audiovisual presentation of poems and photographs.
* also features albumen prints made for the exhibition by contemporary photographer Wayne Barrar.
Kerry and Wayne will give a talk and poetry reading at the opening – 2pm, Sunday 10 September – all welcome.
Most of Williams’s archive at the Alexander Turnbull Library consists of glass plate negatives and lantern slides, and scans of these would typically be used to make digital prints. However for this exhibition they have been used to create hand-made albumen prints, offering a similar material and visual feel to the prints Williams and his peers would have produced. The albumen process was developed in the nineteenth century and yields beautiful tones and details; it is rarely used today, being extremely complex, painstaking and time-consuming. On a few occasions albumen exhibition prints have been made overseas using ‘historic’ negatives, but it appears that Young Country may be the first time this has been done in New Zealand.
The exhibition was developed with support from Mahara Gallery, Waikanae, and was exhibited there 1 November-14 December 2014. It is currently being toured by Exhibition Services, being shown 2015-2017 at Millennium Gallery (Blenheim), MTG Hawke’s Bay (Napier), Tairawhiti Museum, Waikato Museum, Taupō Museum, Forrester Gallery (Oamaru) and Whangarei Art Museum.
Young Country and co-mediality
Young Country is drawn from my PhD research, which considered how a collection of poems might be written in response to an archive of nineteenth-century New Zealand photographs with the intention of presenting the two elements together. Conceiving of ‘co-mediality’ as a central principle, I developed an approach in which photographs and poems are presented as equals, their integrity and autonomy are maintained, and they work successfully in tandem, offering something more than the constituent parts on their own – testing and applying this approach in investigating William Williams’s photographs.
In addition to the work in Young Country, my thesis (‘After the Fact: Poems, Photographs, and Regenerating Histories,’ Victoria University, 2012) includes chapters relating to:
– the development of co-medial text and image works;
– an overview of William Williams’s photography;
– ‘close readings’ of three subsets of Williams’s images. These consider the potential meanings of the photographs, the contexts in which they were produced, how they have been used, and how they can be positioned in terms of other New Zealand photographic work from the same period;
– reflection on the research.
It also contains a suite of poems and photographs relating to a journey in the Te Anau area in 1892.
The abstract for the thesis can be viewed here.
A brief outline of William Williams’s life and work is included in Young Country. Further information on Williams and some of his early work is available in my essay ‘William Williams and “The Old Shebang”,’ in Early New Zealand Photography: Images and Essays, edited by Angela Wanhalla and Erika Wolf (2011).