Art matters: Capturing a country left behind in time

By Nick Atkinson

Emma Badeia's George and Mildred's Tolaga Bay.
Emma Badeia's George and Mildred's Tolaga Bay.

Emma Badeia's exhibition opens today at the Small Dog Gallery within Devonport's always vibrant Depot Artspace.

The photographs were taken early last winter from the roads that wind around East Cape, while the name of the show, On Saturdays We Play Rugby, was born from a protracted search for lunch.

"Nowhere was open," she says.

"I ended up poking my head out the window and I asked this lady where we could find a feed.

"She said everybody would be at the rugby.

"We had to wait until after the game for the shops to open before we could grab some food."

The traveller learns that patience is easily fatigued by exercise, but Badeia's approach, shooting film on a medium format camera, is all about letting it take a little longer. "It slows me down. It's quite contemplative and I still don't think that quality can be replicated."

The economy and deliberate methods honed while shooting on film has informed her commercial work as well.

She will take more time to shoot fewer digital frames, which then saves minutes during post-production.

This emerging young photographer is harnessed to the restless soul of a traveller, or, potentially, an explorer. "The way I shoot, I'm quite observational.

"I take the perspective of an outsider.

"Throughout my studies I followed Derek Henderson's work," she says of a key homegrown influence, before introducing me to the pictures of a brave Minnesota native, Alec Soth, who has recorded life on the banks of the Mississippi with often intimate, sometimes confronting photographs of dwellings, animals and people.

"Through their work they're pointing at some big international and local concerns."

Badeia is drawn to Soth's observational documentary style, although her photographs are less brazen at this early stage in her career.

"I watch people stand in front of my more picturesque images for a while. Those images draw people into the other, more contemplative images, although none of them are purely picturesque."

Her detailed pictures of Tokamaru Bay, Te Karaka and Te Keha capture a country left behind. "It's like stepping back in time. I think it's one of the few places left in New Zealand like that.

"It's a very humbling, beautiful place.

"I often think we can very easily forget where we came from. I think we're quite heavily influenced by the international market, yet we're a country rich in history with such a unique identity."

The show also features material found on Badeia's blog, Dust & Pinecones, a romantic travelogue peppered with images and video of a southern dirt-road odyssey that will provide the stills for her next exhibition.

For now you can meet this intrepid young photographer from 2pm today at the gallery; On Saturdays We Play Rugby is on show for another four weeks.

- NZ Herald

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