10 Questions with Louise Callan and Jake Morrison


Q1: So many people have Robin Morrison stories to tell. What’s your connection to Robin?

LC: Robin was a colleague I worked with for a wide range of Aotearoa New Zealand magazines — Eve, Thursday, Te Māori, Metro, More and New Zealand Geographic — a Ponsonby neighbour and, with his family, a great and generous friend from the early 1970s, when he and his wife Dinah returned from the UK, up until his death.

Q2: The book has an incredible back story, doesn’t it? Drama! Mystery! And what else?

LC: Despite great demand only one modest-sized print run, which was soon exhausted. Repeated unsuccessful attempts to reprint. Missing photographs. The unaccountable loss from peoples bookshelves of their treasured copy of the book. Years searching for replacements in good condition in second-hand book shops and on-line. A book apparently disappearing into the past along with the places and people it recorded and celebrated.

Q3: There’s no doubt that it made a huge impact when it landed in bookshops in 1981. How did the people you spoke to sum that up?

LC: Without exception fellow photographers as well as artists, writers and publishers recalled a book that was exceptional and ground-breaking in the New Zealand book landscape: an amazingly beautiful production, a totally new format in terms of the books dimensions, printing of exceptional quality, a layout which put images before text, and then in the subjects, a particular way of looking at provincial South Island. It created a style that would influence a following generation of professional and amateur photographers.

Q4: And what do you think its ongoing legacy is?

LC: It captured a very New Zealand way of living in and on the land that was once typical and so familiar to be unremarkable and so almost invisible. When Robin photographed it, that built landscape was already beginning to disappear. It’s a pictorial record of the provincial South at a defined time in our history.

Q5: There’s quite a story to the creation of this new edition. Can you tell us about the work of the Auckland Museum curator Shaun Higgins?

JM: Shaun has been a photographic curator at the museum since 2001. He has all of the technical skills and knowledge you’d expect of an expert, but a true, deep passion for the medium. Over the years, he’s developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of Dad’s work, and without his participation, this project may well have been impossible to achieve.

Q6: Can you tell us about the legendary Pebbles the sheep image?

LC: The image of Norm and Pebbles was one that really caught peoples attention. People remembered it with affection long after they closed the book. It was an image we couldn’t imagine not having in this new edition, but it was among the 14 or so originals missing, lost somewhere between the original printer in Japan and the decades that followed. In the end, after weeks of searching, we found another image we could use — one of a sequence of four or five shots where Norm and Pebbles are facing the camera and not lost in shadow.

Q7: Jake, you’ve been closely involved with this project. It must be bittersweet for you?

JM: Not at all! I’ve felt only positives during the process of bringing this book back to life: pride at Dad’s artistic achievement and his long-lasting impact on our visual vernacular, and huge gratitude for the team of talented creators who helped assemble it.

Q8: What’s one new thing you learned about Robin from working on this book?

LC: I was living in London when Robin and his family undertook this project. I returned to see the finished book. I had no idea of the extent of time and work that had gone into it. Six months on the road, looking, finding and then later choosing the images for the story you want to tell is a massive task. It required exceptional commitment and concentration.

Q9: Favourite photo?

LC: Just one? Impossible. I’m taking five, a mix of landscapes and people: Plates 44: ‘Wires at Seventeen Mile Bluff’; 67: ‘Lublow Tailors’; 71: ‘Burning rubbish at Birdlings Flat’; 86: ‘Tim Jamieson, Aramoana’; 122: ‘Mrs Ferguson and her father’. So glad to welcome them back in this new edition.

JM: There can be only one: ‘Ben and Balthazar’, the dyed-orange-haired boys at the Fox River commune. Of course because it’s such a striking portrait, but also because the two boys were so close in age to me and my brother, who were present when the photo was taken. Best of all, the project has reunited us, and the boys will be attending the book/exhibition launch — Ben coming all the way from Australia.

Q10: What do you hope that readers will take from the book?

LC: That if they haven’t visited the South Island yet, driven the roads less travelled, paused in small towns and tiny rural communities, they should. Soon. Maybe with a copy of the book by their side.

JM: That progress has a cost. Many of the buildings and landscapes found in the book no longer exist, or have been forever changed by industry and climate change. I hope readers who are old enough to remember that time do so fondly, and that younger eyes will gain a new appreciation of this land.