Singular vision: New film highlights queer New Zealand photographer who broke the mold | New Zealand
Wwhether documenting the raw crackling energy of Auckland’s burgeoning punk rock scene in the 1970s or the hedonistic glamor of queer culture of Karangahape Road, the vibrant photos of acclaimed New Zealand photographer Fiona Clark evocatively capture people and personalities in subcultures that many people don’t even know exist.
Deemed too confrontational and radical by the New Zealand art world in the 1970s, Clark’s work met resistance from major art dealers who told him “we don’t manage your work”, and some of his images have mysteriously disappeared from Auckland art. Gallery. But Clark never let that distract her from her singular vision.
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland director Lula Cucchiara was fascinated by Clark’s beautifully produced photo book, Living with Aids, which documents the devastating and silent journey of four of her friends, and wondered, “Why isn’t Fiona not famous for his pictures? Why do not many people know his photos? She decided to make a documentary examining Clark’s remarkable life and work and the result, Fiona Clark: Unafraid, screened as part of this year’s New Zealand Whānau Mārama International Film Festival.
Using photography to capture his friends and community in lovely colors, Clark’s images capture Auckland’s burgeoning gay liberation movement and the vibrant queer, gay and transgender scene. The common thread of his work is the documentation of hidden cultures. There is a strong feeling, however, that instead of photographing her subjects from a distance, she documents from within. Clark maintained close friendships with her subjects decades after photographing them, and in Unafraid some of them claim how an ally she was during a time of hostility, when men were still arrested for gay men.
Born in 1954, Clark grew up in a farming family in the small rural town of Taranaki, Inglewood. She says her time there taught her how to survive as a young woman. “It was very violent. We had two murders in high school when I was there. It is not a pleasant place.
“But it taught me to survive. I learned to run pretty fast!
At the Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland in the early 1970s, Clark discovered that color photography was frowned upon and associated with commercial studio and wedding photography, not contemporary art. “But I didn’t see the world in black and white. We were fiery creatures who needed to be seen in color, ”she says.
“Showing a color image in 1975, people were outraged and thought they were screaming.”
Clark learned how to develop her own color film after friends who had summer jobs at Kodak informed her that in a form of censorship, the company secretly destroyed any footage they considered subversive. “We knew that if we sent color film [to be developed] it would be very rare to get it back.
In 1977, when Clarke was 23, she was involved in a horrific car accident. All the bones in her face were shattered and her jaw was shattered. In Unafraid, a friend bluntly describes the facial impact as “like a teaspoon hitting an egg.” One of Clark’s eyes was completely inverted and she had to have her arteries and brain bypassed.
“I don’t underestimate this. I’m lucky to be alive, ”she said. “When people in the hospital spend so much time caring for you and you realize the amount of resources that are being used to keep you alive, it’s amazing. “
But with his fervor, it was not unusual for Clark to take the train immediately after treatment to the plastic surgery unit at Middlemore Hospital to take photos that capture the nervous energy of the legendary nightclub in the center of the city. ‘Auckland Zwines, the heady hotbed of Auckland’s punk scene, where bands like the Idle Idols (led by another Elam student and Clark’s friend, Paul Gibbs) performed.
Since 1975, Clark has lived in a former dairy factory in the small town of Tikorangi in Taranaki.
Inviting the viewer into his home in Unafraid, we see Clark surrounded by boxes and piles of ephemeral and archival documents that must have been a gold mine for Cucchiara as a documentary maker. While she says the documentary only took her eight days to shoot, the editing took two and a half years. She was meticulous in finding the right images and sequences, until she made sure the colors were correct. Cucchiara navigates the perfect balance between showing off Clark’s imagery, home and personality in a low-key way that still gives an intimate sense of the woman behind the work.
Cucchiara says she feared the film was too “archival”. “I just wanted to make it very serious. It’s about showing a part of New Zealand history that has been erased.
Clark says the only thing frustrating her is the increasingly failing sight of her one good eye, in which she developed a macular hole five years ago. Despite this, she never stopped taking pictures.
“It kind of changes your depth of field, you don’t have straight lines anymore. But that’s okay, I know they’re there. It just means that I see it a little differently now.