New Zealand Geographic traces the making of The South Island of New Zealand — From the Road


Geoff Chapple has written a story in New Zealand Geographic to celebrate the new edition of The South Island of New Zealand — From the Road by Robin Morrison. Geoff traces the making of the landmark book and Morrison’s process as a photographer.

‘Robin Morrison reset New Zealand’s view of itself with his 1981 photography book The South Island of New Zealand — From the Road. The print run of 2000 quickly sold out, and it won the New Zealand Book Awards for non-fiction, but arguments over unpaid bills with the Japanese printer sank any hope of a second edition. Thirty years after Morrison’s death, the book has just been republished by Massey University Press.

Best approach this masterpiece sidelong. Pick it up. Put it down again. It sits heavy on the table — an oblong hub, big enough to prowl around. As with the original book, the From the Road part of the title and Morrison’s name glint silver in the corner of my eye. I know he’d be pleased. The new book has the same production values the original publisher, Alister Taylor, lavished on the 1981 version. They proclaim a landmark book, but its actual success, then and now, rests entirely on Morrison’s ability to tell the kind of story in pictures that people respond to. People who might share also the photographer’s fundamental vision — that something important was being rescued here, from the madness.

But what if we were to open these big board covers — tentatively, in a sidelong way — and find that what was rescued from the madness was itself a kind of madness? The original book had some severe critics, after all. Where were the mountains? The mobs of sheep? The big hydro-electric dams? The signs of progress? And why did we think, back then, we needed something more?

It comes back, probably, to trust in the photographer. Morrison was talented, but he was also an entrepreneur who developed his particular vision of New Zealand in very practical ways. From the Road didn’t spring fully formed out of the ether, and it’s worth tracing how he did it.’

Read on here.