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Photography Exhibition A First For 93 Year Old

Time And Life: Photography Exhibition A First For 93 Year Old Engineer

93 year old engineer and Te Horo resident Geoffrey Wood appears to have had as good an eye for photography as his firm did for the engineering requirements of the Sydney Opera House. Stunning evidence of this can been seen in his first ever photography exhibition ‘Travels with my Leica’ showing at Mahara Gallery in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast, from 24 April to 6 June.

The exhibition collects 60 images, shot in West Africa, Madagascar, South America and Uzbekistan between 1953 and 1972. The photos capture the time and life with evocative sensitivity, and fit within the finest photo-journalist traditions. A founding partner of one of the world’s largest consulting civil engineering firms, Ove Arup and Partners, Wood was responsible for establishing and overseeing the company’s overseas offices after WWII. During his career he worked in numerous countries on engineering projects including The Barbican in London and The University of Ibadan in Nigeria. The exhibition’s photographs were selected from thousands of Kodachrome slides taken during his time working abroad.

‘I think this is a terrific body of work’ says Mahara Gallery Director, Gerald Barnett, ‘and the gallery feels privileged to bring it before the public for the first time. We are delighted that Geoffrey is sharing his collection with his local community through the gallery. I think some people who perhaps do not associate civil engineers with art, will be most pleasantly surprised!’

Passionate about travel, photography and history, Wood spent his spare time walking around local bazaars and villages with his camera, a Leica, catching people as they went about their daily lives. Because his spare time was either before or after work, many of his photographs share a distinctive quality of light. The constraint of a conventional working day has worked in Wood’s favour, the diffused light only enhancing the detail of people’s faces, the vibrancy of their clothes and textured nature of their environments. Wood’s instinct for composition, his sensitivity towards his anonymous subjects and the spontaneity of his approach, is obvious in every image.

‘I’d just point and then click really’ Wood says. ‘As soon as someone saw me photographing them, it was over – I’d walk away. The beauty of using a Leica was its silent shutter. People didn’t notice I was there.’

Photographs in the exhibition range from National Geographic-style portraits of children in Madagascar and Mexico to an almost biblical scene at a cattle market in Nigeria. While the overriding theme of the exhibition is ‘people’, other signs of life feature too, including a portrait of a lone llama in Peru, advertising billboards in Sierra Leone and water melons en masse in Uzbekistan.

Wood feels enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to live and work in countries which today are far more wary of camera-toting foreigners. ‘I think it would be difficult for a passer-by to get these kind of shots today.’

Wood’s granddaughter Lucy Kebbell who has co-curated the show with Sarah Connor, points out that her grandfather’s ‘hands-on involvement in the exhibition is a typical example of his endless enthusiasm for photography and life.’

‘I grew up with tales of Grandad’s travels…and the photographs in the exhibition give the stories a vivid reality I haven’t really appreciated until now: blowing the dust off each slide we caught glimpses of other times and lives.’

Born in Canterbury (England) in 1911, and brought up in a village in Kent, Wood has been interested in photography since the age of 12 when he used his father’s Box Brownie camera which took glass plates. Because the plates were expensive Wood couldn’t afford to waste them, so he spent time studying the contrast of dark and light on old buildings in the city – he then knew when it was best to get a shot. Wood puts a good photo down to practice and patience, but judging from the images in the exhibition, he has a natural eye for light and expression, and crucially, for the moment to click the shutter.

In 1937 Wood met and married his New Zealand wife Frances in Rangoon (Burma) where they were both working. During his leave from Rangoon Port Commissioners in early 1941, he served for 2 months with the NZ Artillery at Fort Dorset in Wellington. In 1981,Wood moved with his wife to Te Horo on the Kapiti Coast where he is a vibrant member of his local community.

‘Travels with my Leica’ is showing at Mahara Gallery (Mahara Place, Waikanae), from 24 April to 6 June. The gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10am - 4pm. Sunday 1pm – 4pm. Admission is free.

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