Thursday, August 04, 2016

Looking up at looking down

‘I started working on a painting initially called Paddocks for sheep. This was to be a large work based on some wonderful aerial photographs of North Canterbury where the plain is slowly devoured by the hills and where the paddocks with their safety give way to wilder hill country.’ That was Colin McCahon writing about his 1951 painting North Canterbury Landscape. The photographs he was talking about were almost certainly taken by Whites Aviation.

Artists have always been attracted by the high view but, of course, until the invention of hot-air balloons they had to make do with climbing hills and mountains. Then came the invention of aircraft and with it aerial photography and suddenly we all got to see the vast scale of our world. Once we had our first view of the earth from space in 1972, it was hard to imagine how evocative those early aerial photographs were. They changed the perspective of not just artists like McCahon but of everyone who wondered about the geography of their own back yards and the vast landscapes we are part of.

Now Whites Aviation’s amazing archive of aerial photographs has been presented in a book, and a book that does it justice. Over 408 pages in the large format you’d expect for a project that set out to photograph most of New Zealand from the air. And it’s not just a black and white view of the country either. Many of the images were patiently and delicately colour tinted by hand inspiring this book’s title, Hand-coloured New Zealand. Little wonder that Whites Aviation’s photographs are so highly sought after by collectors.

This is one of a number of elegant and substantial books produced by Peter Alsop. He has already delivered books on the artist Marcus King (with Warren Feeney), images of NZ’s early tourism (with Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford), and the art of early NZ advertising (with Gary Stewart) all published by Potton & Burton. You can get more information about
Hand-coloured New Zealand here and order an advance copy here with a 20 percent discount (use WHITES). And wait, there's more! A short doco on the book will be available here tomorrow.

Images: top Whites Aviation image collection National Library and McCahon's North Canterbury Landscape collection Auckland Art Gallery