James Bragge & Christopher Aubrey


James Bragge : Eighty Mile Bush (1878) Wairarapa re-Views
James Bragge: Eighty Mile Bush (1878)


Christopher Aubrey: View of Eketahuna (1891/2) Wairarapa re-Views www.wairarapareviews.kiwi.nz
Christopher Aubrey: View of Eketahuna (1891/2)

James Bragge’s Wairarapa 1876 – 1878/ Christopher Aubrey: Three Views of EketahunaAratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History October 2010

Currently showing at Aratoi is a set of exquisite photographs printed from the original glass plate negatives which nineteenth century photographer James Bragge used to capture the Wairarapa at the moment of its modern genesis in two journey’s he made to the region from Wellington in 1876 and 1878.
For those journeys Bragge, who originally came from Durham, England and had a photography business in Wellington, hitched up a horse to a mobile darkroom and made what would must have been a challenging journey as far as Masterton, in 1876 and Eketahuna in 1878.
The photographs would be invaluable as an historic record alone, but it seems that Bragge was a bohemian at heart with an artistic eye who has delivered for posterity an extremely rare insight into the lives of the Wairarapa’s early settlers.
While his subjects are posed, there remains an air of informality which allows the viewer to read deeper into the personalities of the sitters, as they go about their daily business of felling the forests and establishing the towns.
The exhibition is also fascinating in providing some inkling of what the landscape of the Wairarapa was like before it was massively transformed in just a matter of years.
Some things remain the same to this day – the moods and energies one might experience looking south from Masterton’s Lansdowne hill are still the same, even if the views themselves have changed completely.
The words of praise heaped on Bragge by the reviewer of the Evening Argyle when these images were first exhibited remain as true now as they were then.
Recently purchased by Aratoi, this collection is undoubtedly one of its most valuable possessions.
The Bragge exhibition raises interesting questions (by comparison) about the three watercolours by Christopher Aubrey, owned by Tararua District Council and on longterm loan at Aratoi, which have been on display in the gallery.
Where Bragge’s life is well-recorded, little is known about Aubrey who seems to have lived an itinerant life.
Where Bragge was using state-of-the-art technology (not withstanding the fact that he could only manage a few photographs a day) – Aubrey paints his watercolours in a naïve style typical of surveyors, explorers and military men (often all one and the same) decades earlier, who painted not primarily to capture the picturesque but for more practical purposes. Indeed, it is speculated that Aubrey had an engineering background.
Beyond employing simple painting skills, Aubrey seems to have added a touch of English bucolic romanticism as exemplified by the swift stagecoach making its way into Eketahuna.
While Eketahuna was probably slower to develop than towns on the plains, by the time these works were completed in the early 1890s it would have been a reasonably well-established colonial town rather than in the process of being settled, which is not the impression you get, due to this somewhat dated painting style.
I’d speculate that Aubrey was a journeyman painter, who made a modest living painting landscapes aimed to please conservative middle class tastes, not so different to some modern day painters who might exhibit at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, for instance.
The point of this is not to consign Aubrey to the dustbin of history but to note how a painting’s style can influence how we read it, and paintings which appear to be an accurate description of their time may not necessarily be so, after all.

Paul Melser – 45 Pictures of the Body

Paul Melser - 45 Pictures of the Body at Aratoi Museum of Art & History Masterton July 2010 reviewed at www.wairarapareviews.kiwi.nz

Aratoi Wairarapa Museum of Art & History July 2010

By David Famularo

This exhibition follows hard on the heels of rugby photographer Peter Bush’s exhibition Hard on the Heels.
The two shows are complementary but not necessarily complimentary, given that some of the images in Melser’s montage of paintings, which cover most of one wall of the gallery, have been taken directly from rugby matches and virtually all the images in Melser’s show depict violence.
Then again, Bush would probably admit that rugby is mostly built upon controlled violence, intimidation and aggression.
But it would be a mistake to assume that Melser is making any sort of political statement.
In fact, by choosing an almost Pop Art ethos – one of the characteristics of which was to remove almost all meaning from any image it appropriated by repetition (Warhol’s car accident prints being echoed in this show) – Melser has removed almost all the original context and meaning out of what will be faintly recognisable media images to most viewers.
However, I would not put 45 Pictures of the Body in the same category as Pop Art as its concerns are quite different to that movement’s reduction of any image to nothing more than consumerist iconography.
This one work, made out of many, is more like a meditation.
I love the title, but what is the “body” Melser is referring to?
Is it the individuals in the images (and the cars they die in and the weapons they kill with)?
Rather, perhaps, the body in question is “an aggregate of persons, things or substance” (Oxford Dictionary).
In other words, it’s the corporate “forming one body of many individuals” which interestingly, is a near neighbour in the dictionary of “corpse” which is, of course, a dead body.
Perhaps these images depict the individual body’s relationship to the dysfunctional corporate entities of which they are a part – these images being violent tears in the corporate whole which strives to maintain itself as a living entity, but which is permanently shadowed by the threat of disintegration and death.

Wairarapa re-Views is an editorial based reviews and views site. You can contact its editor David Famularo at mazzolajewellery@gmail.com. You can receive notifications of new reviews by liking Wairarapa re-Views on Facebook.