Master of camera puts us in focus

By Peter de Graaf

New Zealanders in Focus
By Peter Quinn and Vaughan Yarwood
Kowhai Publishing/New Zealand Geographic
One of the joys of reading New Zealand Geographic - especially in these days of cost-cutting and outsourcing - is the quality of the photography.
Another is the care taken in the magazine's production.
Both are true of the publisher's latest offering, New Zealanders in Focus, which brings together more than two decades of Peter Quinn's photography.
Quinn has been a social documentary photographer - he shies away from the title photojournalist - for New Zealand Geographic since 1989, and many of the photos in New Zealanders in Focus were taken on assignment for the magazine. His photos also fill the book Highway 35: Travels around East Cape.
In New Zealanders in Focus, Quinn captures the whole range of New Zealand society - from gang members to politicians, neo-Nazis to nuns - but perhaps the most poignant images are those from a photo-essay about mining.
You'd think the "Subterranean Fields" chapter and the choice of Greymouth miners practising a rescue drill as the cover image had been influenced by the Pike River Mine disaster, but that tragedy occurred after the book was printed.
Quinn's empathy with his subjects is almost palpable, shaped perhaps by his own descent from West Coast miners.
Quinn also examines beach culture, home-birthing and New Zealand peacekeepers in Bougainville, while a photo essay examining a single road in our biggest city explodes the myth of the typical latte-drinking Aucklander.
For me, Quinn's images are most powerful when he is delving into the lives of people on the fringes of society, such as patched Mongrel Mob members, the remnants of once flourishing communes on the Coromandel and the Rastafarian farmers of the East Cape.

New Zealanders in Focus is also a journey in time, charting how New Zealand has changed in the past 20 years.
Some of his subjects are now almost as endangered as the kakapo.
In recent years, Kiwis have been blessed with high-quality books of New Zealand landscape photography.
When it comes to social documentary photography, however, the pickings have been much slimmer.
That makes this beautifully produced book, and the magazine from which it sprang, especially welcome.
Long may New Zealand Geographic provide an outlet for, and showcase the work of, our finest photographers.

- Northern Advocate

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