The exhibition What We Saw at Photospace Gallery is Sally Griffin's first photography show. The images are from the artist’s personal collection of black and white photos. It features well-known, and not so well-known, artists and political figures such as Phil Clairmont, Tony Fomison, Merata Mita, Tim Shadbolt and many more.
Sally will give a a floor talk of stories about the photos on Saturday 16 May at 2pm. Admission is free.
Orlando and Phil Clairmont on the banks of the Whanganui River 1982. Photo: Sally Griffin
Sally Griffin - artist statement
I got a camera when I was six years old for a Christmas present. My father was into ‘quality’ and was friendly with photographers and so when he presented me with a ‘serious’ camera that produced square format photos, I was not surprised.At the time, I would have been happier with a Kodak camera but it was not to be.
Soon, though, I was hooked. I would bring friends home from school, suggest dress ups and set them up in poses around our house for photos. For the next six years I am a domestic photographer around the house, in the garden, of our many animals or when we went on holidays. I would take the rolls of film over to the chemist shop on the corner to get them processed.
At home, we heard stories of our great-grandfather Surgeon Major-General John Colahan Griffin, born in Galway in 1836, who was a very early photographer. He took photos all his life as he travelled – through India, Malta and Gibraltar, Dublin, Capetown and finally settling in Victoria, Australia.
My father was also a documentary photographer of his architectural work, of countryside, family and friends. He took a Kodak Retina camera with him when he enlisted as a soldier and was in the Flash-spotting Battery, travelling around Australia, mostly on flat rail carriages. He was always interested in photographic images and used a camera all his life.
John and Prue Griffin with friends Bill and Lyn Griffin on the verandah of our Melbourne home. 1963 . Photo: Sally Griffin
Pondering my influences, I cannot neglect my mother's best friend, Lyn Sankey (later married to Bill Griffin). My newly-wed parents moved into an old castle, which had huge flats in Black St, Middle Brighton. There they met Lyn and her first husband, John Sankey. The Sankeys ran a photography studio in post-war Melbourne; John taking the photos and Lyn hand-tinting them. From all accounts, the Black St flats gathered up some of Melbourne's characters and living was friendly enough, sharing bathroom and laundry facilities. Lyn was glamorous, outspoken and capable, and one day she left the studio business (and her husband) to become one of Melbourne's first fashion parade comperes, the parades televising from the Myer's ballroom. Lyn was high-powered and always had artistic flair.
When I arrived in Auckland from Melbourne, and was living in Devonport, a flatmate, Derek Ward, said I could assist him with layout work at the City News, a community newspaper. I was then offered the photographer’s job, something Simone Oettli told me recently she had also done. I was taking photographs, developing and printing them, and doing all the repro artwork.
One day a week I would get a list of photos to take of people and places, get the company Mini car and go through the list with the appointments I had set up. Election year was in 1975 and we were doing a lot of interviews with politicians (well-known ‘radical’ Stephen Chan was the editor). So I would either accompany the journalist or photograph separately. I remember one of my briefs was to get a photo of (Sir) Dove Myer-Robinson (the long-serving Auckland mayor) when he looked like he had ‘nodded off’. There were people who wanted Robbie’s long ‘reign’ to be over, but this did not happen quickly!
Althea Whillans, Graeme Whimp and Tim Shadbolt at an all-night protest outside the Hotel Inter-Continental where the All Blacks were staying before flying out to play an all white Springbok team, 1976. Photo: Sally Griffin
I met my long-time partner, writer David Parkyn, at City News and went to the infamous Kiwi Hotel for our first date. I had brought along my friend Angela Middleton and David came in with Gary Baigent and soon enough we had become two couples and moved into a house in Pompellier Terrace. Angela had set up a dark room in our place in Devonport and had taught me a lot about developing. Now living in Ponsonby with other photographers, it was camera vs. camera and a lot of talking. Gary was instructive and positively critical. Angela was with a group who were editing a women’s book of photography, Fragments of a World with Gillian Chaplin and Simone Oettli and I was invited to join – which I did.
David Parkyn and Tony Fomison at Acacia Bay - carvings by Greg Matahiwi Brightwell and Jono Randell, Lake Taupo, 1981. Photo: Sally Griffin
I got in the habit of taking photos all the time. I was in a street theatre group with people who had left Theatre Corporate and wanted a more political and ‘real’ role in theatre – Derek Ward, David Mahon, Judy Boyle and later Richard von Sturmer, Sarah Pierse, Miles McKane and others that came and went. The Zazou Clowns morphed into Ratz Theatrix and then into The Plague, a theatrical punk band. I was designing posters, backdrops, drawing and painting – as well as working at the newspaper.
Art, theatre and music all moved in and out at different times. We did shows in night clubs, rock festivals, the Maidment Theatre, Vulcan Lane, art galleries and many other venues.
Life in central Auckland continued to be busy. David knew Ponsonby artists and the ‘push’. Tony Fomison was living in Gunson St, Freemans Bay and Phil Clairmont arrived in Auckland in the late 1970s. There were also the Huia commune people: Tim Shadbolt, Jill Keogh and her amazing family of children, David’s brother, John Parkyn, Leo and Lynda Thompson.
I knew Odo Strewe and his family from my Devonport days where Odo used to stay when he was in Auckland. I was friendly with Oliver, his photo journalistson and went up North, camera in hand, with the small team Chris Strewe put together, including Merata Mita, to make a film for German television on the Treaty of Waitangi.
Lots of people were moving around – lots of art, music, and politics – and there was great camaraderie. So many interesting people - and times – and I felt compelled to record these experiences and now, looking back on this record of events and characters, I am very pleased I did. This is a brief summary of the background to the photographs in the exhibition of What We Saw. This is my first solo exhibition of photographs and they are from my personal collection of black and white images from the decade after I arrived in New Zealand in 1974.
Phil Clairmont, David Parkyn, Nigel Brown and Sally Griffin on the banks of the Whanganui River 1982. Photo: Sally Griffin
What We Saw exhibition info
I am showing a series of life-size drawings concurrently with the photography exhibition and it is also called What We Saw.
What We Saw – Photos from a Decade opens at 5pm on 8th May at Photospace Gallery, 1st Floor, 37 Courtenay Place. It runs from 9th May – 6th June.
There is a floor talk on Saturday 16 May at 2pm of stories about the photos. It’s free.
What We Saw – Life-size Drawings opens at 5.30pm on 7th May at Toi Poneke Gallery, 61 Abel Smith St. The show runs from 8th – 30th May. There is a drawing workshop on Saturday 23 May, 2 – 4 pm. Registrations are essential. Toi Poneke on Facebook