Photographer Glenn Jowitt passes away

It is with sadness and regret that we learned that photographer Glenn Jowitt died suddenly on 22nd July. Glenn is best known for his photography of Pacific people and their cultures, both in New Zealand and in the Pacific Islands.

Lincoln St., Ponsonby, Auckland 1981. From the series: Polynesia Here and There. Cibachrome print. Purchased 1983 with Lindsay Buick Bequest funds. Te Papa.

Glenn was born in 1955 in Upper Hutt. He studied art and design at the Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch in the late 1970s, where he was inspired by photography lecturer Larence Shustak. For his honours project he undertook a photographic series on the horse racing industry. With characteristic entrepreneurship, and at a time when the number of monographs by NZ photographers could be counted on the fingers of one hand, Glenn succeeded in having his student work published by Collins as Race Day just a few years later.

O.002636; Ashburton, Jockey Club; 1978; Jowitt, Glenn

Ashburton, Jockey Club, 1978. Gelatin silver print. Purchased 1979. Te Papa.

His next major documentary project was on the Black Power gang in Christchurch. He already knew some key members from childhood, so a level of trust existed from the start. However, he still practised the classic documentary technique of spending weeks hanging out with them until he was accepted enough to bring his camera along. These photographs were published in PhotoForum 46, 1980.

Baldie collecting gang fees, Canterbury Plains. From the series: Black Power, Christchurch. 1979. Gelatin silver print. Purchased 1994 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa.

It was a study trip to the USA in 1980 that set him on a course that was to become his life’s work: photographing other cultures, particularly the peoples of the Pacific. At the International Centre for Photography in New York, former Life magazine editor Ruth Lester pointed out the number of Pacific Islanders who appeared in his black and white shots of Auckland’s Karangahape Rd and Queen St, suggesting that they would change the face of this city in the same way that Latinos had changed New York. In the US he was also surprised to discover that colour photography was often used by leading documentary photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, even though their images might be known only through black and white magazine reproductions.

Karangahape Rd, Auckland. From the series: Karangahape Rd and Queen St, 1980. Gelatin silver print. Gift of the artist, 1983. Te Papa.

Back in Auckland Glenn began to photograph Pacific people in his neighbourhoods of Ponsonby and Grey Lynn. This, he says, was “like an adventure where you popped your head through a door and there were new friends, new food, new ways of behaving”. You can hear Glenn talking about his experience photographing the hat image that appears at the beginning of this blog here:

 

New friends and acquaintances led to invitations to visit their islands. Glenn spent six months in 1981 photographing in colour in Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Tokelau, and the Cook Islands. The work culminated in a touring exhibition Polynesia Here and There (1983) that combined his Auckland and Pacific work, and later appeared in a book, Pacific Images (1987). The experience began a career of photography and publishing that was often hand-to-mouth but which, he said, once discovered he couldn’t get enough of. The number of book titles mounted to a total of at least 70, many of them educational booklets for children. The more substantial include Pacific Island Style (1999), Feasts and Festivals (2002) and Pacific Pattern (2005).

Sataua, Savai’i, Western Samoa, 1982. From the series: Polynesia here and there. Cibachrome print. Purchased 1983 with Lindsay Buick Bequest funds. Te Papa.

I first met Glenn in Auckland in 1981 or ’82. We walked around Ponsonby and K Road, and he seemed very street savvy (courtesy the Black Power experience I guess), and to know just about everyone. And as he would always do, when we looked at his photographs he pointed out the underlying stories. Viewing his images of factory workers, for instance, I remember him claiming that the basis of the New Zealand economy wasn’t farming so much as the Pacific Islanders working in the factories of Auckland on low wages. And how sad it was that people who had lived by fishing in beautiful environments might now find themselves working in a smelly, wet and cold fish factory in Auckland.

Jaybel Fisheries, Auckland 1981. From the series: Polynesia Here and There. Cibachrome print. Purchased 1983 with Lindsay Buick Bequest funds. Te Papa.

Glenn rarely focused much on the negatives of life though. Instead, he never seemed to tire of attending Polynesian festivals, ceremonies and events in search of new images.

Glenn Jowitt

Tongan dancers raise money by performing at the launch of the Tongan Free Wesleyan Church, Vaine Mo’onia, Grey Lynn, Auckland, 1994. Inkjet print. Te Papa.

Glenn was a talker, an enthusiast, a networker before the term became commonplace, and an entrepreneur, always looking for sponsorships, contras, grants and ways to get his work published so he could just go on taking photographs. In another life he might have been a salesman. Like many documentary photographers the medium offered him a licence to engage with people. He wrote to me once: “The camera has been a key into many worlds. It has been my friend through many travels and somehow it has kept me alive all my working life.” And in his last letter to me he said: “I feel fortunate to have been the person who was allowed to share the great love the cultures of the Pacific so easily share. Not a day passes without some contact arising – mainly just conversation out of the blue.”

I think in the PhotoForum issue mentioned above he summed himself up perfectly:

I think of people as being on journeys. Some people are into spiritual journeys, some people are into money journeys. I’m into a people journey, and my photography is an expression of that.

Te Papa has a strong collection of 89 Glenn Jowitt photographs. You can see 60 of these here. (Work from a more recent acquisition has yet to be copyright cleared for our website.)

Auckland Art Gallery has a substantial collection of the Race Day photographs.

And you can see many Pacific images on Glenn’s own website. This is fronted with one of his favourite images, a man with a fish in his pocket (which he explained to me as simply the logical place for it if you aren’t carrying a bag or bucket). Glenn always delighted in incongruity.

Farewell Glenn. You were taken too soon.

– Athol McCredie, Curator of Photography

16 Responses

  1. Michael Bretherton

    What a talent he was — those photographs are just stunning. I’m so drawn into the story that each one tells. I enjoyed Glenn’s guidance for a few photography classes at ATI in the 1980s. Thank you Athol – this is a wonderful read about his life.

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  2. Michele Davoes

    Dear sweet man,
    Never just a financial transaction with you. Loved that you were right there choosing a frame with me. Always an emotional transaction. Remember when I spotted the surf and cloud on your mantelpiece one evening and Bob’s your Uncle it was ready in a week. Huge it was and you were so excited. I was blown away when I saw you last Saturday and you had a replica of the surf right behind you but with a better frame. Naturally!
    Love you Glenn
    Michele.xxxx
    Rest in peace

    Reply
  3. Louise van Rooyen

    It was my privilege to have traveled and worked with Glenn Jowitt as field researcher for the original Pacific Images collection in 1981/2. We traveled for six months documenting festivals, ceremonies and daily life in Western Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Cook Island and Niue. Our work was exhibited at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1981/2 and also published by Paradise Productions in 1987.

    From the outset Glenn’s mission was to “promote a greater understanding of Polynesian life in Auckland and in the homelands”. Having visited the stunning Pacific Images exhibition again today, some 33 years later, at Wallace Arts Trust (Pah Homestead) there is no doubt that Glenn Jowitt exceeded this goal.

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  4. Jason dufty

    Love you Glenn – keep snapping mate!

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  5. Jason dufty

    Glenn taught me photography at AUT during ’90-92 and I’ll take his love of life and framing skills with me forever. He taught me to get close and tell a story. His home was always open and his gift for interaction was genuine and forthright – I owe him more than than the photography skills he taught me. His body of work is immense and incredibly important and I hope we see a retrospective soon.

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  6. liz mortensen

    Thank you Athol, that was a wonderful tribute to Glenn. I shared a flat with Glenn and his girlfriend when they came up to Auckland in the late seventies, we remained friends, and although I have lived overseas for twenty years, I would often pop in and see him when I was back, we would drink cups of tea and chat, I always loved to look at his wonderful collection of pacific Island hats displayed in his living room, every one had a story,he spoke with such pride about each hat, they were beautiful works of art, he gave me the ‘hats on the bed’ photo for a wedding present, so it was wonderful to hear him talk about how that photo came about.
    We will be having our own farewell to Glenn in Bangkok this week, with some of his old friends who just happen to be here this week.
    Farewell Glenn you brought colour , joy and friendship into many lives, you will be sorely missed .
    Liz Mortensen x

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  7. Meg Liptrot

    So sorry to hear about this loss. What a shock.

    Through the eye of his camera, Glenn celebrates – and is witness to – the often hidden life in the rich tapestry of life in Auckland and the Pacific.

    He was my favourite tutor at AUT where he taught photography as part of the design degree. Years later I worked with him, putting together the design of his card collection which I will treasure all the more. I still hear his voice pushing me further out of my comfort zone when I take photographs now (and lovely to have a sound bite on Te Papa’s tribute).

    It was a thrill to cross paths on occasion around Grey Lynn where we live – always genuine and kind, a giving person with exciting projects on the go. He was the kind of guy to put others at ease – a perfect quality for a gifted photographer.

    Hugely missed.

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  8. S.Misa

    Thank you for sharing and your encouragement …

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  9. Claudia Jowitt

    Thank you Athol for the beautiful summary of Glenn’s career. I am very grateful to be able to hear his voice telling some of his stories on your website. I have grown up with these tales about the lengths he went to get this image, or what was happening just out of frame in that image, or what happened immediately after the shutter went off. His photos are so alive with both his stories and the stories of the peoples he documented. Not being able to hear these anymore from him with all the gestures, laughs, dramatic pauses and stern looks that he would add makes me ache. Claudia Jowitt (Glenn’s niece).

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  10. Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua

    Brotha Glenn Jowitt was an extended Aiga member of our Purcell family of Malaela Upolu Samoa but especially our Strickson-Pua family. Fa’afetai lava for the beautiful words of Alofa and rich memories. His photography created bridges of good will and understanding. Our Purcell family was appreciative of his series of photos that became Education readers from Matai title to Kilikiti they were our Aiga put on an international arena for all to observe, see and draw conclusions. Over time those photos have become heirlooms since the passing away of beloved Matuas. Now Glenn Jowitt you join our Ancestors to welcome us home. You have been a part of our Aiga life for over thirty years it was never dull. The rich conversations about our shared love of Pasifika and our people our nations. We also shared a belief and practice of Tautua to serve our people. Our children and Mokopunas will miss their Uncle Glenn but we must continue with life mindful that Taonga has touched and enriched our lives. Glenn’s photography celebrated our Pasifikanese our Humanity you will be missed my brotha Rev. Mua Strickson-Pua

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    • Louise van Rooyen

      Thank you for the awesome funeral service – it was a beautiful farewell for Glenn! He would have especially enjoyed the Pasifika dance moves and your Auntie’s speech which brought everything full-circle for me. Your family was so kind to us during our time in Samoa and it was great to reconnect after all these years. Glenn would have appreciated being sent off with a touch of fa’a Samoa – (he was a huge fan). Lots of love – Louise van Rooyen

  11. Mel Phillips

    Such a loss to the photographic community, Glenn’s and his work will be forever etched into the history of photography in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

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  12. Patricia Hendy

    My condolences to his family…You have done your duty here very well and left this way so very young but your memories and work will live on around the world because we are one global village and photography never dies as long as the world keeps on spinning. Rest in peace!

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  13. Sean Mallon

    On behalf of the Pacific Cultures team at Te Papa, I would like to acknowledge Glenn’s passing. In my dealings with him he was always friendly and outgoing, a real people person. He was passionate about his work and the communities it documented. I remember his many visits tot he museum where he would present large scale prints from within a big flat box. It would almost be a performance where one by one he would reveal the photographs to us, looking up occasionally to gauge our impression. I recall on another occasion examining proof sheets of negatives he mailed us, and frame after frame in these strips were just awesomely composed. No second takes, just single amazing shots…
    We are fortunate that Glenn maintained such an engaged and wide ranging practice in our communities over more than 30 years. He has created a rare and most valuable record for present and future generations. Journey on Glenn…

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  14. Kees Sprengers

    I met Glenn in the late ’70s, when he visited me at Waikato Museum to talk about the show there of Race Day, and to show me some of the Bllack Power. Series, which blew me away.
    His later wotk with Polynesian communities has served as a model many years after that for me when I started work on my documentary project on Nothern Laos etnhic minority groups.
    Thank you Glenn, you left us far too young.

    Reply

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