Greymouth 150th Celebrations

This month Greymouth celebrates 150 years since Reuben Waite, a Collingwood storekeeper, arrived to set up the first store here where the town now stands. There are a whole load of events going on, as well as pop-up art installations around town. It’s great to see the town vibrant and bubbling with community activities. Things kicked off with a fireworks display, launched from just across the river from town. It was a lovely evening for the occasion and a huge crowd lined the floodwall to get a good view. I decided to head up the King Park walkway behind town to get an overview of Greymouth, the river, and the fireworks. I thought for sure that others would have the same idea, but when I got there ahead of the scheduled start time I found only one chap sitting enjoying the evening from the vantage I had chosen. He was a French tourist, and had no idea that there was a show planned for which he had an outstanding seat! I think, were it not for my friend and I arriving, he would have wandered back to town after sunset and before the show. As it happened he decided to stay and enjoy the display with us, and what a show it was! Very impressive indeed. I managed to capture the image I had in mind, which is always a bonus!

Fireworks

The Remus

This is a series of images I captured a few nights ago. It has generated quite a lot of interest on Facebook so I thought it would be good to post it here with a fuller version of events.

Fishing boat Remus hit by a large wave.

The fishing boat Remus takes a blow as it lines up a run across the Grey River bar.

There was drama in the sky on the evening of Wednesday the 6th of August. Billowing clouds crowded the sky, and the sun broke though the gaps in triumphant rays. I had been chatting with my fellow photographer and good friend Stewart Nimmo about the potential for a good sunset in the afternoon, and we thought it better to be out in case than miss it and curse ourselves. So even as it looked 50/50 with cloud banking on the horizon, we shot down to the Blaketown Breakwater to see what was happening.

The sun put on a bit of a show, but things fizzled pretty quickly as the heavy cloud to the west stifled the light and the evening went dull. While we shot a few frames of the large swells crashing into the rocks we noticed a fishing boat steaming back and forth a few hundred metres out. There were a number of people gathering on each breakwater, apparently to watch the bar crossing. A fairly morbid past-time, indeed, but apparently a tradition. I’ve happened down to the river mouth on several occasions when a sizeable crowd has been there to witness a rough crossing. Conditions, to my inexperienced eye, looked unpleasant at best. With high tide occurring just after sunset, and worse weather in the forecast, the pressure was obviously on the skipper to give it a go. As the boat chugged about and waited for a chance more people arrived and much speculation ensued. Some suggested it wasn’t as bad as they’d seen, others were stony faced and silent, but generally many unqualified opinions were advanced and tossed about.

Soon enough, with the light fading quickly, the skipper started creeping in and testing the conditions. At one point the boat snuck in quite close between sets, and appeared to second guess the timing. They hovered, and another set sprang up behind them. My gut lurched at the first swell of the set reared up and broke right behind the boat. I clicked off a series of frames, as the stern was lifted and pushed to port, the boat swung broadside to the wave, and collected the force of the blow to the middle of their starboard side. As the vessel pitched and then listed violently I thought we were witnessing calamity. Fortunately the skipper, or perhaps luck, kept the vessel from broaching completely and they got away with a thorough rinse (and I’m sure a moment of terror on board!). Luckily there wasn’t much more in the set, and they managed to get clear of the breakers without another incident.

It was crunch time, by this point, as darkness fell and the tide approached its peak. Go or no go. They decided to make their run on the back of a set, and caught one more good wave on the stern while finding the right position. Then, between sets, the Remus steamed across the bar quite calmly and smoothly, much to my relief and I’m sure that of my fellow observers.

The Grey River bar has seen more than its share of mishaps over the years. Seeing these events unfold gave me a lot to think about. Fishing crews risking their lives under a combination of pressures: fuel limitations, fish on board, commercial pressure, bad weather with worse to come, personal commitments, and much more. If the Remus had come to grief that night it would have been a dangerous rescue in rough conditions and poor light. Finding a person in the water would have been extremely difficult, let alone pulling them to safety.

I’ve since been in touch with the skipper and sold him a couple of prints – not that he’ll need any help remembering that crossing in a hurry! And I had to give him a special price. After all, he did the hard part!

Haystacks

Photographing the same subject over and over, in many different lighting conditions, weather, seasons, and moods is a wonderfully illuminating exercise. I’ve been photographing Sewell Peak, a hill near Dobson, where I live, for a year and a half now. Since moving out here, I’ve been pretty fascinated by it’s changing demeanour in various conditions. I’m not sure if it’s the radio and other equipment installed on the summit, giving it a little hint of other-worldly, sci-fi, feeling, or the way it silhouettes against the changing skies, or just the fact that I see it every day out the window, as I drive up the valley, from the garden, and many more times besides. It quietly dominates the skyline. Add to this the fact that I love to scurry all over it – there is a track to the summit which I walk, run, and mountain bike on a fairly regular basis. I get a kick out of looking up at the peak from my house, and a few hours (or less) later, looking down on my house from the top. It’s a geographic feature with a rich history of mining. There was once an aerial rope-way to bring coal down from a mine part way up the hill. There are relics of miners past scattered along the track, and it begins from Greymouth’s most significant historic site – the beautifully preserved and interpreted Brunner Mine Site. I think mostly, though, it doesn’t actually matter much what the subject is in this type of project. It needs to be easy enough to access so that you can shoot it regularly, but beyond that almost anything is worthy of long term observation. It helps to hone your attention to the light, gives you a reason to keep your eyes open and aware, a reason to carry your camera at all times, and an appreciation for how a small change in angle, or conditions, or lens, or any number of other factors can make a very different image. Here are a selection of images I’ve made of my dear friend, Sewell Peak.

Oh, and the title of this post is a reference. 10 points to anyone who can tell me to what it refers.

Dramatic cloud silhouettes are a favourite, in case you couldn't tell...

Dramatic cloud silhouettes are a favourite, in case you couldn’t tell…

Some foreground for once! I'm not sure why but I tent to prefer the 80/20 or even 90/10 split, and in this case the sky usually becomes the dominant feature. Who can resist a mirror calm river, though?

Some foreground for once! I’m not sure why but I tent to prefer the 80/20 or even 90/10 split, and in this case the sky usually becomes the dominant feature. Who can resist a mirror calm river, though?

Moonlight, meaning a long exposure, plus high moving cloud, creates an eerie backdrop.

Moonlight, meaning a long exposure, plus high moving cloud, creates an eerie backdrop.

Sunrise paints the high cirrus beautiful colours, and tinges the valley fog with warmth that belies the frigid wind pushing it down-valley.

Sunrise paints the high cirrus beautiful colours, and tinges the valley fog with warmth that belies the frigid wind pushing it down-valley.

Late evening afterglow - it's always worth waiting for a while after sunset.

Late evening afterglow – it’s always worth waiting for a while after sunset.

Billowing cloud against blue sky, and strong light, add drama.

Billowing cloud against blue sky, and strong light, add drama.

Star trails, and wisps of cloud lit with moonlight.

Star trails, and wisps of cloud lit with moonlight.

High cloud lends a moody feeling.

High cloud lends a moody feeling.

Dobson Wave

I live in a wee town called Dobson, just up the Grey River from Greymouth. It’s a lovely little place, and it’s got a neat, hidden gem. The Dobson Wave. It’s a standing wave which forms off a large rock when the Grey fills up after a decent dump of rain. It’s a whole lot of fun to play on, and kayakers (and sometimes surfers) in the know are glued to the flow telemetry on the regional council website whenever the river starts to rise. My buddy Damo is almost certainly it’s most avid user, living locally as well, and he’s pretty persuasive at getting everyone else out to enjoy it as well. Recently the wave came in on a weekend, and a whole crew got in on the action.

Dobbo Wave from Jason Blair on Vimeo.

Next time I’ll have to get the CineStar out and get some aerial footage. It’s a bit of a tricky one though, as the weather is almost always going to be rubbish when the wave is in. It’s heavy rain that sets it up in the first place, after all!

ANZAC Day

Gun on display outside the Greymouth RSA

Gun on display outside the Greymouth RSA

ANZAC Day services are a significant and powerful part of New Zealand culture. Until today, I hadn’t been to a dawn parade for around 10 years. I guess it isn’t something I feel a strong personal connection to. It doesn’t usually seem particularly relevant to me, and I imagine that I would feel out of place being present at such an emotional ceremony that doesn’t feel like part of my own story. This year the NZIPP organised a national project collaborating with the RSA with the aim of photographing all remaining WW2 servicemen and women. The object was to photograph as many as possible on ANZAC day.

The ANZAC dawn parade approaches the Greymouth Cenotaph.

The ANZAC dawn parade approaches the Greymouth Cenotaph.

I volunteered to participate, because although the day’s commemoration and ceremony feels a little unfamiliar or distant to me, I understand the value of remembrance. I understand that documenting our history and heritage is important. In the case of war, though I don’t appreciate glorification I do believe in honouring those who had little choice but to participate and suffered great personal loss in the course of serving in the armed forces. I also believe that the road to a peaceful world involves much reflection on the past. And I wanted to use my skills and resources toward a project that I could see had huge value from many perspectives. Since I was going to be photographing vets on ANZAC Day, it seemed appropriate to attend the dawn service beforehand. Both because I had never attended a Greymouth service before, and to add to the documentary value of the project by photographing the ceremony.

Crowds at the Greymouth for the ANZAC dawn service.

Crowds at the Greymouth for the ANZAC dawn service.

I’m really glad that I did participate. I’m especially glad that I went to the dawn service. It was moving to see a large crown gather in spite of inclement weather conditions to pay their respects. It was great to spend time talking with gentlemen who served in World War Two so long ago. And it was fantastic to be able to be part of such a huge and meaningful project documenting a disappearing part of New Zealand’s history.

Here are some images from the service. The portraits will be released as a full collection by the NZIPP and the RSA down the track, in time for the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, ANZAC Day next year.

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