Gallery stands firm over murder accused's image despite criticism

By Steve Deane

Jono Rotman's work includes a photo of an accused killer - but the gallery won't remove it. Photo / Natalie Slade
Jono Rotman's work includes a photo of an accused killer - but the gallery won't remove it. Photo / Natalie Slade

An Auckland art gallery owner will not back down on plans to display the photo of a Mongrel Mob member accused of murder, despite a strong reaction online.

The Gow Langsford Gallery's display of eight Mongrel Mob members taken by award-winning photographer Jono Rotman - which includes a portrait of accused murderer Shane Harrison - launched last night.

Gallery co-owner Gary Langsford said he felt he had no choice but to include the image despite some abuse posted on the gallery's Facebook page.

"Some people are supportive and some certainly aren't," he said. "But we are not here to censor the work. If I set a precedent it would be like you guys [a newspaper] gagging freedom of speech. I just can't do it.

"We looked at [this] body of work and it was one of those shows that had to be done, for better or worse."

Harrison allegedly shot dead Sio Matalasi during a gang-related confrontation. Mr Matalasi's father has called for the photo to be withdrawn, accusing the gallery of immortalising Harrison.

Mr Langsford said the image of Harrison was taken four years ago - roughly three years before Harrison is accused of murdering Mr Matalasi. The body of work had taken Rotman seven years to compile.

"It is just a bloody unfortunate set of circumstances. In the context of the show it is just another image," Mr Langsford said. "No one would even know who this guy was if you guys [the Herald] hadn't have grabbed hold of it ... We've removed that image from our website and taken it off all publicity. And had we known we would have used another image, of course."

Rotman last year received the prestigious $25,000 Marti Friedlander Photographic Award for his work depicting gang members. The New York-based photographer flew in for the exhibition yesterday.

"He knew there would be some negative response but I don't think he felt it would be as much as we've had," Mr Langsford said. "By the same token, we've had people turn around and say 'good on you, you have to do it whether you like it or not'. We are not here to show pretty pictures. Sometimes art is challenging and does create some controversy."

Last night Rotman said he felt sympathy for Mr Matalasi's family but he would only deal with them directly.

"It is not something I take lightly," he told Seven Sharp. "I really feel for them. It is a terrible occurrence but it is not something I am going to do through the media."

He said the timing of Harrison's court appearances was unfortunate "for a number of reasons but I am not going to censor my work".

- NZ Herald

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