‘It was twenty years ago today, that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play’……. Time has a funny way of sneaking up on us, and I felt this recently when I was invited by The Auckland Maritime Museum to talk about the series of photos I took 10 years ago, Kupe Sites, for Te Papas ‘Voyagers’ Exhibition (Now on at the Maritime Museum).
After spending time working out what I was going to say at the presentation it occurred to me that the messages I personally got from the sites and the subsequent photos where just as relevant today as they were when I first took the photos.
Kupe Sites was originally part of the larger show ‘Voyagers’ an exhibition primarily about the first travellers to Aotearoa and also later travellers who were influenced or inspired by these legendary trips. Kupe a name synonymous with this country was of course the first or at least one of the first Polynesian navigators to make it here to Aotearoa. No mean feat when you consider that it is around 7000km to Rapanui and or Hawaii.
His name is associated with numerous sites around the country and stories of his adventures are interwoven into the landscape.
The trip itself comprised myself, Michael Hall, video and photographs, Karl Johnston, Interpretation and Te Ikanui Kapa, Kaumatua .
Four key areas where chosen to focus on, The Far North including Hokianga, Wairarapa, Wellington and the Upper South Island (Wairau and French Pass).
As the trip unfolded it became apparent that the significance of these sites was as much about the sites being landmarks that helped a culture reliant on oral histories to pass on information useful for navigation.
So in the case of French Pass or Te Kawau a Toru what better way to describe a place that looks like tentacles reaching out into the ocean than by likening it to a giant wheke (octopus).
Kupe killed the Giant Wheke at the entrance to Tory channel after chasing it from the Islands where it had been stealing food.
The sites also helped me to realise another important thing, that in the case of Aotearoa the absence of really old historic sites means the whenua or land is the only visible imprint of what’s been before, I would go a step further and say that the land is our most direct link with our ancestors and that from a photographic perspective can be approached the same way a good portrait photographer approaches his or her subject, sympathetic lighting and then wait for the subject to reveal their true self.
Ultimately people like Kupe are a touchstone, they remind us of where we come from and what we are connected too, in our case we are connected both physically and spiritually to the Land and to the Pacific.
The Kermadec trench and its series of volcanoes, both above and below the water, stretches all the way from Tonga, through White Island finally coming to rest on the volcanic plateau near Taupo giving us a very direct physical connection to the islands of the pacific.
Spiritually the Pacific is where the souls of those who leave Aotearoa via Cape Reinga come to rest.
‘You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?’
‘They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory’.
Tim Robbins in the ‘Shawshank Redemption’