22 September 2013

Dark cloud / white light

Yesterday I paid a visit to the Porirua gallery, Pataka, to take in the timelapse photography exhibition of Joseph Michael, a young man with two first names. In 'Dark cloud / white light' the young photographer has created an impressive collection through painstaking engineering and no little effort in reaching some obscure locations around the wilds of New Zealand. In each location he establishes a photo rig and shoots high definition timelapse photography for 24 hours, capturing an entire day from a single vantage point. This requires impressive dedication, keeping the camera rig firmly immobile for a whole day and night, and ensuring no obstructions impede any of the approximately 10,000 photos being taken (else they'll have to be laboriously edited out in post-production - flies landing on the lens, for example). The ever-present threat of rain can often ruin a shot, or maybe the light is just wrong on the particular day he and his crew visited.

There are 10 timelapse 'days' in the exhibition, many of which were shot in the Otago wilderness that Michael is closest to, but also extending into remote areas of the North Island. My favourite timelapse was a beautifully composed shot taken as Spirits Bay just east of Cape Reinga in the Far North, facing west along the curving bay while the wind races a sea of clouds towards the camera and the shadows play on a solid rocky outcrop in the foreground. This is one of two presented in 3D, which was apparently much harder to produce. One 2D image taken at the head of Lake Marian in the Darrans in Fiordland depicts the shimmering lake surface reflecting encircling mountains, while wispy tendrils of clouds undulate up and down the valley sides. Another of the Hawkdun Range in central Otago is framed like a Grahame Sydney photograph with the furrowed hills occupying the bottom sixth of the view, all the better to depict the beautiful colour transitions in the sky as the sun sets and the stars emerge and whirl about the pole. The play of light and colour is also evident in the fine shot of Ngauruhoe, with the larger Ruapehu relegated to a supporting role in the background - as the sun rises the volcanic cone changes tone from black to grey to burning red. (I took some decent aerial photos of the two back in July).

A key part of the presentation is the accompanying soundtracks prepared by local recording artists, and piped through headphones to the viewer. I could take or leave this noodly ambient accompaniment, along with the unashamedly pseudish psycho-babble of the catalogue essay ('Ecopsychology is a branch of philosophy that addresses this interconnectedness through the concept of the ecological self, described as 'a wide, expansive or field-like sense of self, which ultimately includes all life forms, ecosystems and the planet itself''). Just give me the imagery, plain and unadorned - because in this work, Michael has captured the powerful beauty of New Zealand vistas that require no embellishment whatsoever.

Behind the Scenes - Shot #5 from Joseph Michael on Vimeo.

The free exhibition runs at Pataka until 13 October.   

See also:
Photography: Ans Westra, Wellington 1976, 30 June 2013
Photography: Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 20 January 2013
Photography: Who Shot Rock & Roll?, 1 January 2013
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