Marti Friedlander, Self Portrait; Exposing the photographer
Self Portrait by Marti Friedlander with Hugo Manson
Auckland University Press
Marti Friedlander’s photographs, along with those of Robin Morrison, Laurence Aberhart and Ans Westra, have over the years come to define the look of New Zeeland and New Zealanders. Many of her images have even attained the status of being iconic. Her image of sheep bunched on a misty road (Eglinton Valley) along with her photos of kuia in Michael King’s book Moko are part of the landscape of our history.
Her often simply composed works, often more like snapshots, have managed to capture the essence of landscapes, individuals and events in a way that makes them both timeless and very much of their time.
A new book written by the photographer (along with Hugo Manson) helps bring another dimension to her work with her own reflections on her personal history as well as the history she has created and captured on film.
The book provides something of a chronology of the artists life but this is packaged around various themes - Childhood, Being Jewish, Parihaka, Moko, Politics and, Personalities, Artists and Writers and Protest.
Within each of the chapters she tells of her connections with people and events and the book tells their stories as much as her own.
The artists and writers she has photographed include Pat and Gil Hanly. Don Binney, Toss Woollaston and Rita Angus, Dan Davin and Maurice Gee and she elaborate on her friendship with many of them. She also writes about her relationship with Clairmont, Maddox and Fomison, the last, who came in for a telling-off by Marti when she had to photograph him. She thought he carried on too much like an artist and “I told him to stop acting.”
She has also photographed many politicians from Sir Walter Nash through to current Prime Minister John Key.
She also provides some blunt assessments of other major figures or their photographs: Hamish Keith – “a very good looking man who thinks highly of himself”. Karl Stead “cooperates fully and he’s vain enough to want a good photograph”. Keith Sinclair was "a very self-absorbed and complicated person. He could be immodest.”
While the book is entitled Self Portrait, there are only half a dozen portraits taken by her along with several taken by other people. They range from images of her from the 1940’s through to one photograph of herself taken only a few years ago
What makes the book come alive is her distinctive voice which has all the qualities of her photographs – simple, assured and focused on an idea as much as the subject. As Leonard Bell noted in his book on the photographer, “Some of her most pleasant photographs ask hard questions”. She is perceptive about the nature of photographs, particularly of people noting that “Very often though, people don’t like their photograph … they also see another aspect of themselves that they perhaps haven’t looked at closely or even noticed”
The book is written as though in conversation (and it was largely taken from her interview with Hugo Manson) giving it an immediacy. She is at timers self effacing and at others takes great pride in what she has achieved.