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John Fields: Forty Years Ago Today

John Fields –
Forty Years Ago Today – selected vintage
Don Gifford's place at Charlotte St, Auckland, 1974


Press info:

Photospace Gallery - New Exhibition

John Fields – Forty Years Ago Today – selected vintage photographs

12th November-2nd December 2008
Opening: Tuesday 11th November, 5.30-7.30PM

In association with David Langman of Gallerie Langman, Photospace gallery presents a collection of 38 vintage prints by John Fields. John is travelling from Queensland to attend the preview of this exhibition.

The works are hand-printed black & white silver-gelatin photographs from the period 1969-1975. By capturing images on large format film, the full range of tone and detail has been recorded. But, far from being a mechanical, technical process, Fields’ photographs show an intensity of vision and an artist’s recognition of moments and situations that resonate beyond the time they existed in.

“Miner’s Gear, Thames, 1975” is an Edward Weston-like image of an array of interesting objects, a formal piece that, by composition and play of light, celebrates the beauty of functional articles; but it also speaks of a working life from a different era.

“John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland, 1974” shows a seascape with a large cloud centred over the distant volcano. John Allen swims in the centre foreground, his face standing out against the dark water. The effect is surrealistic because of the symmetry and light quality: it looks like it could be Photoshopped together from three separate images, or, one may suspect, composited in the darkroom a la Jerry Uelsmann. But it isn’t, it’s a straight photograph.

Works such as “Log, Amodeo Beach, Coromandel, 1970” and “Storm over Whitianga, 1971, have an Ansel Adams kind of quality, whereas “Don Gifford’s Place at Charlotte St, Auckland, 1974” demonstrates an aesthetic more in line with European Modernism, with the distorted shadow theatrically imposing itself on a mundane scene, a verandah with a drying towel and a sleeping cat.

Having made these comparisons to other photographers, though, John Fields work really is unique as a body of work showing a consistent and personal vision, coming from a time when Modernist photography was just taking hold in New Zealand. His work is pioneering, like Gary Baigent’s, but whereas Baigent was more influenced by the grunge poetry of Robert Frank’s “The Americans”, Fields shows a thorough commitment to the fine print, even when grabbing a shot documentary-style.

Artist Information:

John Fields’ (1938- ) photographs have been exhibited in shows around the Eastern U.S.A (including the prestigious Carl Siembab Gallery in Boston). He was active in the creative photographic group PhotoForum, and is a former president of the group.

Fields was among the first the New Zealand recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council grant for photography, in 1975, of the goldfield town of Thames, New Zealand. He is co-author of the book Victorian Auckland (1973) with noted historian and architect, John Stacpoole. Fields also directed Victorian Auckland (1973) a film screened on TV. He produced the publication, A Visual Dialect (1971), illustrating the work of ten New Zealand photographers. In 1971 a NZ record for photography was set when $100 was paid for one of his photographs. Aside from regular exhibitions in Auckland with PhotoForum, his work was exhibited in the most important exhibition of NZ photography at the time, The Active Eye: Contemporary New Zealand Photography, (Manawatu Art Gallery) which toured to 12 venues throughout NZ from 1975 to 1976. Galerie Langman showed his work in 1998; many works entering into Te Papa’s collection at that time, as well as Sarjeant Gallery Wanganui. Te Papa further bolstered its holdings of his work with the acquisition of 12 additional photographs in 2006.

Fields was both highly regarded and influential during the time his work flourished in New Zealand between 1966-1976. His photographs are used by the University of Auckland Elam School of Fine Arts to instruct students in photography. These vintage photographs, although made between 33-40 years ago are very fresh due to the exceptionally high standards that Fields employed. In most cases the number of photographs made from each negative is in the single figures and less than half a dozen. This makes them beautiful, affordable but valuable. His Bed, Union Street will be illustrated in a forthcoming collection publication by Te Papa Press (2007).

His work is held in private collections throughout New Zealand, Australia and USA; the principal holdings are in the Auckland Art Gallery (the plates from Victorian Auckland, 140 works) and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (around 25 works) and Sarjeant Gallery, Wanganui.

Athol McCredie, Curator of Photographs, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, notes: … For example, over the last two or three years we’ve strengthened our holdings of Gary Baigent, Richard Collins and John Fields, seminal photographers of the late 60s-early 70s. (Interview, May 2007.)

Contact: James Gilberd, Mobile: 027 444 3899, Tel/Fax: (04) 382 9502, Email:
Photospace gallery, 1/37 Courtenay Place, Wellington, New Zealand.
Gallery Hours: 10-4:30 Mon-Fri, 11-3 Sat, closed Sun., hols. (after-hours viewing by appointment)


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