Four Wellington Portraits by Andrew Ross, at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery
ancient landscapes of England and the United States are among recent projects. But documenting his home territory is at the heart of what he does.
Although Ross is not seen as a portrait photographer, his photographs, however indirectly, are usually about people. For this exhibition we selected four that are more obviously portraits than most. Ross then provided an engaging account of how each photograph
- David Colquhoun, exhibition curator, 2015
Maureen Swenson and family, Mitchelltown, 21/8/2007
Maureen at this time was the last surviving member of her family who had lived in Mitchelltown since the beginning of the 20th century. They moved into 41 Holloway Road shortly before Maureen’s birth in 1919, she was in fact born in the front room. The Swensons had a small grocery store in the downstairs part of the house. Maureen’s entire life was spent in the bosom of her close-knit family and the community of the ‘Gully’. She attended Mitchelltown School until standard 6, then worked in the family shop.
The Swensons became local celebrities due to the extreme longevity of their father ‘Pop’ (William Swenson), who at his death in 1993 at 108, was the oldest living New Zealander. They became good friends with David Lange, and Gaylene Preston made a film about them – ‘The Gullyites’.
Maureen and her brother George carried on at no.41 looking after each other and enjoying the company of their many friends and extended family. I got to know them in the late 90s and was often summoned to help out with various house maintenance tasks.
Of course I’d often ask if I could photograph them as part of my extended Wellington project, but George in particular was not keen on this at all. After George’s death in 2005, Maureen became increasingly dependent on her community of friends, family and helpers. At the same time, despite her grief, she seemed to blossom in her role as the local matriarch, and last survivor of her immediate family.
I saw a lot of her during the last few years of her life, and am very grateful that I was able to take this portrait and make a number of studies in and around her truly amazing family home – she died a year after this photograph was taken.
- Andrew Ross, 2015
Matt Brookes (Mr Scoot), Ohiro Road, Aro Valley, 14/12/2006
For those of us who get about on older Italian motor scooters, Vespas in particular, Matt and his partner Jess Corbett could be considered the prime movers and shakers in the local classic scooter scene. Over the years their relentless energy and enthusiasm has been behind many local and national get-togethers and publications.
Matt’s one man business, ‘Mr Scoot’ has soldiered on through the hardships of finding affordable premises in Wellington and the decline of clients due to the motor cycle registration fee hikes. It’s currently run from his home.
Despite having to work in cramped and difficult conditions, often out on the footpath, there are Vespas all over Wellington and beyond that owe their continued operation to Matt’s mechanical ingenuity.
I’ve known Matt since around 2000, we both got interested in old Vespas in our youth (the early 80s).
It’s the improvised third world quality of the Mr Scoot enterprise that appeals to me; survival on a shoe string, and a can-do attitude that anything can be fixed, in whatever circumstances, with whatever’s on hand.
Community Media Trust quarterly general meeting, Kate Sheppard Place – (Rod Prosser, Andrea Bosshard, Russell Campbell, David Grant, Alister Barry, Shane Loader), 4/4/2006
It’s often an interest in a building that leads me to eventually photograph the people that inhabit or use it. In Kate Sheppard Place, the domain these days of grey soulless high rises, there can still be found an intriguing double-storied concrete structure. In fact it is a former sub-station, the ground floor was for the electrical gear and the upper floor a residential flat. Whether or not the flat was intended for those who maintained the station, I can’t say.
Anyhow, it’s been a while since it served its original electrical function, and I believe since the late 70s or early 80s until a couple of years ago, the Community Media Trust have used it as their base. It was through meeting Russell Campbell that I got access to make interior photos of the building.
The group (also known as Vanguard Films) are known in particular for a series of hard hitting insightful films under the directorship of Alister Barry. They document the decline of NZ since the 1980s into a land of have and have-nots, and the handover of our sovereignty to international capitalism. Titles include ‘In a land of plenty’, ‘Someone else’s country’, etc.
Henry and Crystal, 8 Arthur Street, 6/11/2004
Ever since living in Wellington from the mid-1980s, I had noticed a man walking his dog, or sometimes it seemed the dog was walking the man. He was distinctive for his teddy boy style – ducktail combed hair and studded jean jacket. He looked tough but self-contained and therefore not intimidating, and was in but outside these times. Someone who carried their own world around with them.
In the early 2000s the protests over the proposed inner city bypass gained momentum as the threat to this unique part of the city drew nearer. Upper Cuba Street, Tonks Avenue and Arthur Street would be wiped out. Like many photographers I had been drawn to the area and had been systematically documenting it’s outer, inner and human aspects since 1996.
I’d just discovered Arthur Street soon after coming to Wellington and was blown away by its rows of higgledy-piggledy cottages, it reminded me of 1920s photos of Haining Street. There was some quite militant protest around that time as the City Council were evicting long-term residents like Jim Andrews and bulldozing the houses.
Back in the 2000’s when I was busy with my camera, I was told about the man and his dog at the end of Arthur Street and immediately knew who was being referred to. After being introduced to Henry by another local, I spent the next year pestering him till I got this photo. The picture was pretty much choreographed by Henry himself. I also made a number of interior studies inside his house. It was all very much at the 11th hour, as eviction was imminent.
The house was a world in itself, all its occupant’s interests and memorabilia carefully arranged on display. Henry (I never learned his surname) had lived there for 16 years, and as a young man had been a musterer in the McKenzie country.
Inner city Wellington is no longer a place where outsider types can lead independent self-contained lives, and is the poorer for it.
Andrew Ross - links and info
These are the artist's prints, on loan from Photospace Gallery.
More information on photographer Andrew Ross.
Documentary video on Andrew Ross - The Past in the Present - by Kate Logan, 2012 (16 minutes).
NZ Portrait Gallery exhibition - Capital Characters