In early 2013 I was working as a photographer for the Department of Conservation on Stewart Island taking photos for publicity of the Rakiura Great Walk (see brochure here) and other conservation activities that were going on. When I got back from that trip and began the huge job of processing and editing photographs taken over three solid weeks I found that there were some images to which I’d keep coming back. It’s usual for me to be excited about images I’ve taken recently – the adrenaline from being in such wild places is still buzzing through my bloodstream – so I usually leave it until later before trying to critique them objectively. Photos must stand the three-months-in-a-drawer test: if I can leave them alone, not think of them for a while, come back later and still be intrigued or moved by them (or even just quietly proud of getting some tricky technical bits right!), then those are the images to keep.
So I finished processing the images that were useful for DOC, and put the rest away in said drawer, but coming back a few months later I found one image in particular caught my attention. From a technical photography point of view it’s not really one of the stunners: it’s a fairly simple picture of windblown footprints amongst some sand dunes.
From a philosophical point of view it was something of a revelation. There were seeds in the footprints, seeds from the native grasses that were struggling against the vigorously invasive marram grass planted decades earlier by farmers wanting to reclaim the land beyond the dunes. It occurred to me then that there was something special here.
There was something special about the idea of life being able to repair itself, that healing comes from the original inherent design and structure rather than the intervention. Just as, when a surgeon operates on a patient the incision will not heal if the patient has died, our human interventions on a land via conservation efforts cannot bring healing unless there is something about the land that is alive too. It’s for this idea that my photography company – Signs of Life – was named in 2007, and it’s this idea that I find most exciting about the story of Rakiura.
I hope something of the magic of this place will find its way to you too.