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Jae Frew - A Solo Photography Exhibition Of Aotearoa’s Extinct And Endangered Birds | April 2024

A Solo Photography Exhibition of Aotearoa’s Extinct and Endangered Birds
WHERE: Parnell Gallery | Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland
WHEN: 4th April – 21 April 2024

Jae Frew is a leading contemporary portrait photographer living in Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland.

Frew’s commercial career in the advertising, magazine, and film industries spans over 30 years and the highly respected and sought-after photographer lists prime ministers, heads of state, TV personalities, corporate CEO’s, film and television actors, and prominent sports people among his subjects. Preferring to offer minimal direction during a shoot, Frew’s approach to portraiture is to encourage authenticity in the sitter, allowing space for the subject’s true essence, or what they wish to convey, to be revealed and captured.

With time and space to pursue his own photographic projects during the 2020 / 2021 lockdowns, Frew began exploring and shaping Manu Koingo – Birds of Yearning, a concept that had been on his mind for many years – to create a series of works that speaks to and engages the interests of his youth while raising awareness of our fragile and diminishing forest life.

As a boy Frew kept a large aviary in his parents’ backyard. There, he cared for and observed the inhabiting birds while their characteristics, distinctive movements, and beauty were revealed, leaving an indelible impression on Frew’s curious young mind. The flint of another lasting passion was sparked during his youth as Frew spent time learning the art of creating fine furniture in wood under the tutelage of his cabinetmaker father.

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Through his collection of photographic portraits in Manu Koingo – Birds of Yearning, Frew pays tribute to New Zealand’s extinct and endangered native wildlife, bringing together his in-depth knowledge of portraiture with a lifelong interest in birds, and fervour for creating objects with wood.

The formal, fine-art style of Frew’s large-scale portraits of birds, with their darkened Victorian backgrounds and heavy wooden frames, calls to mind the solemn dignity of 19th century portraiture, a symbol of status that the subject was beloved, important, or revered. By framing his subject in grand, bespoke frames, Frew further elevates the status of each bird to that of our ancestors. While reminiscent of a vanished era, the photographs offer a reminder to treasure and protect what remains in the present. This emphasis on elevation of status speaks to the sense of importance and urgency that Frew feels for the preservation of our native species of birds and forest life.

 Frew was granted access to collections and specimens held within institutions such as Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, spending countless hours observing his subject from every angle, just as he did as a boy with the birds in his aviary. By capturing his still life avian subjects in ways that would have us believe they might suddenly stir and take flight or turn their head to meet our gaze, Frew has resurrected these dormant specimens. An evocative sense of each bird’s personality is revealed, offering an invitation to the viewer – in the tradition of viewing portraiture – to attribute and project character, temperament, memories, and history to each subject, to connect as we would with a portrait of someone known to us, a loved one, family member, or ancestor.

 Frew designs the profile for each frame with careful and sensitive consideration to how a frame belongs and relates to each subject. Creating, shaping, joining, and painting the lengths of moulding by hand from reclaimed and salvaged native timber, he is connected to and honours the skills taught to him by his father, while elevating and bringing new life to cast-away remnants of our endangered timber.

“I’ve long been fascinated with 19th century New Zealand portraits by painters such as Lindauer and particularly Goldie and their compositional understanding of how to draw the viewer into the subject, a subtle turn of the head or the position of the gaze,” says Frew.

My vision of the world is captured through the lens of my camera… firstly capturing people through portraiture, and now our endangered and treasured bird life.

As a boy, two enduring interests were sparked that have been particularly impactful in my present practice.  Growing up, we kept a large aviary and while I cared for the inhabitants I would observe; fascinated by their habits and individual traits.

My father was a cabinetmaker and under his tutelage I would spend time in his workshop learning the art of creating with wood while a fervor for fine timber work was cultivated.

 For portraits of our extinct and endangered birds, I’m drawn to the formal fine art style of 19th century portraiture - it calls to mind a solemn dignity - a sense of high status, and that the subject of the photograph was - or is - beloved, important… revered.

 I create each of the frames in reclaimed native timbers, designing each profile for a particular species, and by framing them in these grand, heavy, bespoke frames, I want to elevate the bird to a higher status, to the status of ‘ancestor’.

 My portraits - our native birds framed in our native timber - pay tribute to New Zealand’s treasured wildlife, and through them I hope to emphasise the plight of our diminishing bird and forest life, that - like the fate of our majestic Huia - are in danger of extinction.

 Frew is represented by Parnell Gallery which will showcase his second photography exhibition

 Manu Kōingo: Birds of Yearning from Thursday 4th April Sunday 21 April 2024.

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