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The 11th edition of the Auckland Festival of Photography features ten exhibitions concerned with the theme of memory in its Signature Series. Encompassing works by local and international photographers, the Series allows audiences to contemplate the meaning of memory and how time, circumstance and recollection can impact our understanding of ‘what has been’; that unique juxtaposition between the present and the past as described by French philosopher Roland Barthes in his seminal work Camera Lucida.

One of the most profound exhibitions in this year’s Festival is British photographer Rob Gilhooly’s “Suicide Forest”.  This is a beautifully composed photo essay of what may be one of the loneliest places on earth for this forest is where an inordinate number of Japanese people have chosen to end their lives. In the densely populated bush amidst the solitude of nature, men and women who have lost hope make their final communion. This is one of the most powerful and moving exhibitions I’ve seen and points to an unspoken plague of modern life. The suicide rate in Japan is the highest in the world, more than double other developed nations including the US and UK. The numbers are incomprehensible; for 14 years to 2011 more than 30,000 people have taken their own lives every year.

Gilhooly says, “For over half a century, thousands of life-weary Japanese have made one-way trips to this sprawling, 30-sq.-km tract of woodland on the northwest flank of Mount Fuji, at 3,776-meters the nation’s highest peak. It’s a dark place of stark beauty, long associated with demons in Japanese mythology — and one that has earned itself the unfortunate appellation of ‘Suicide Forest.’ Evidence of such pilgrimages is strewn amid the dense undergrowth. Four pairs of moss-covered shoes are lined up on the gnarled roots of a tree — two adult-size pairs and two children’s pairs. Many, who take their lives here…first remove their shoes before making their last bed – a macabre take on a life-long custom that prevents the dirtiness of the outside world from spoiling the cleanliness inside the home”.  

Suicide Forest
Rob Gilhooly
4-17 June 2014
Hum Salon
123 Grafton Road
New Zealand

In another work that is created through loss of life is Ayala Gazit’s “Was It A Dream“. In this deeply personal work Gazit creates a portrait of a brother she never knew. Born in Israel to an American mother and Israeli father, at the age of 12 Gazit learned she had an older brother, James, living in Australia. But before she could meet him he committed suicide in 1996 ending her dream of knowing her sibling. She says this series of photographs in “Was it a Dream” is her “attempt to create a portrait of my brother whom I will never meet by photographing the ‘un-photographable,’ and following the traces and echoes of one’s existence after his passing”.

Was It a Dream
Ayala Gazit
29 May – 17 June 2014
Silo 6, Wynyard Qtr
New Zealand

Melbourne-based photographer Bronek Kozka’s “Auschwitz Revisited” is a contemporary portrait of a landscape that will be remembered in the annals of history as the site of one of the darkest moments of humankind. “Standing in the bitter cold looking to a foggy horizon and seeing what looked like columns, but they were chimneystacks for as far as I could see. One chimney, one hut…the magnitude of the horror dawned on me at this moment. I didn’t want to take any photographs at first…however at some point I decided to shoot. It was here that the most frightening and daunting revelation occurred to me. How close my family was to Auschwitz…how all could have ended here.” This is how Kozka describes his experience visiting Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland where he found himself on a personal exploration into his Polish heritage. His black and white images capture the somberness of the landscape and its wounds that are still weeping.  

Auschwitz Revisited
Bronek Kozka
4-21 June, 2014
Elam George Fraser Gallery
University of Auckland
25a Princes Street
New Zealand

Ans Westra has spent much of her life documenting New Zealand’s indigenous people. As a migrant from Europe Westra was fascinated with her new homeland and since the late 1950s she has amassed a collection of images that capture a world few have witnessed from the outside. While her pursuit has not been without controversy she says “No true appraisal of Maori from an outside perspective was happening at the time and their culture seemed to be on the verge of extinction. Arriving here…with a curiosity for humanity gave me a unique place. Though in later years Maori themselves questioned my authority and understanding as an outsider at the same time they gave me a view on their changing world…Now being more involved with the documenting and preservation of this beautiful landscape I come to that with the love Maori have for their land, their Turangiwaewae.” In “Our Future” Westra showcases colour works from her book of the same name, along with a range of vintage black and white photographs.  

Our Future
Ans Westra
Norman King Square
Ernie Mays Street
Northcote Shopping Centre
New Zealand

In “Unruly Memoirs: Nature Fights Back” Christchurch-based artist Jane Zusters examines the aftermath of that city’s recent devastating earthquakes in a series of “geopolitical montages”. In this collection of digital images Zusters combines images of external and internal spaces to pose unlikely realms where the ceiling of a library was blue sky and clouds, or the wall of a bedroom open to the street. These images while somewhat surreal are also situated in reality, reminders of the impermanence of structures and their perceived safety especially when faced by the power of Mother Nature.

Unruly Memoirs: Nature Fights Back
Jane Zusters
12-28 June
Sanderson Contemporary Art
122 Jervois Road
Herne Bay
New Zealand

In “Memories Enclosed…Handle with Care” New Zealand photographer Chloe Riddell examines what she sees as the “inadequacies of conventional family photography to describe the reality of family life”. Exploring societal ideals and conventions around notions of family life that are perpetuated by the media and popular culture, Riddell juxtaposes the idea of “domestic truth…and family reality” in an attempt to “reclaim my own personal memories” and to frame them in what she labels “family truth”.

Memories Enclosed…Handle with Care
Chloe Riddell
28 May – 7 June
Elam Projectspace Gallery
University of Auckland
20 Whitaker Place
New Zealand

Also featured this year in the “Memory” themed exhibitions are New Zealand photographer Emil McAvoy‘s “Reflections on Lily Pond,” Chinese photographer Yang Jianchuan’s “Melody of Kungqu Opera,” and Japanese performance artist and photographer Tatsumi Orimoto. There is also a group show, Photoforum: History in The Taking; 40 years.

The Auckland Festival of Photography
May 29 to June 20, 2014
2A – 93 The Strand, Parnell
New Zealand

Full 2014 programme at

See more

New Zealand: 2015 Auckland Festival of Photography
PJ Paterson - Commissioned Artist

New Zealand artist PJ Paterson’s images comprise multiple layers where sweeping landscapes are juxtaposed with the trappings of a consumerist society to create surreal environments. His melding of fact and fantasy taps in beautifully to this year’s Auckland Festival o...

New Zealand: 2015 Auckland Festival of Photography
Interview of Julia Durkin, Director

In a year when the legitimacy of the photograph as proof is under question once again, the concept of truth and fiction in photography seems an appropriate theme to explore in the 12th annual Auckland Festival of Photography, which runs until the end of June. Festival director Ju...

New Zealand: 2015 Auckland Festival of Photography
Selected Exhibitions

The 12th edition of the Auckland Festival of Photography focuses on the theme – Truth and Fiction. In the Signature Series Exhibitions a number of local artists showcase their work along with selected international guests. Here’s a snapshot of what’s on offer.