Book review: I Loved You the Moment I Saw You

By Peter Simpson

A photo from book I Loved You the Moment I Saw You. Photo / Supplied
A photo from book I Loved You the Moment I Saw You. Photo / Supplied

I Loved You the Moment I Saw You
by Peter Black with Ian Wedde

Victoria University Press $60

Peter Black's latest collection of photographs of street life in Wellington - a subject he has made his own through a succession of books and exhibitions over the past three decades - begins with the image of a man seen only from below the shoulders on a city pavement, stooping, hand outstretched, to pick up a portable car-seat holding a sleeping baby.

It ends with the same pair, seconds later; the man (a grandfather?) now holds the car-seat in one hand while the infant, woken by the movement, gazes intently upwards towards the face (invisible to the viewer) of his carer.

These images bookend the sequence of about 80 photographs and also chime with the title, I Loved You the Moment I Saw You.

Other images also connect with the title, though not always in obvious ways. Couples - young and stylish or old and lumpy - hold hands as they walk in the street, or embrace in greeting or farewell.

But this is no Family of Man-like collection of heart-warming moments. Just as many of the images convey the loneliness and desolation of street people, the homeless, alcoholics (there are lots of bottles in brown paper bags), or "lonely men in shirt sleeves leaning out of windows" (as T.S. Eliot put it) are made all the more poignant by the vivid colour in which they are presented.

Often people, whether solitary or in pairs or groups, are juxtaposed with the bright clutter of signage or shop-window displays, exploiting the lateral spread of the landscape-format prints.

Peter Black has used colour before, but his most familiar images - from earlier series such as Moving Pictures (1990) or Real Fiction (2003) - are black-and-white as in the great tradition of Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Robert Frank and others who established the street photography genre.

But, as Ian Wedde remarks in a thoughtful and subtle essay, "though Black's black-and-white analogue photographs were often complex in respect of their wry detail, they don't approach the complexity of his most recent digital colour work". This is a brilliant, moving, and expertly designed and produced book.

* Peter Simpson is an Auckland reviewer.

- NZ Herald

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