This gallery presents an early look at work produced for an ongoing project about Cathedral Square.
The following text is taken from the Place in Time feature originally posted HERE.
During the early 2000’s I worked in a photo-lab just off Cathedral Square. My day started at 7:30am and finished at 6:00pm, so during the middle of winter I’d unlock and lock the doors in near darkness. When I was on duty, I was the person in charge of running the film processor and photo-printing machines. My lab colleagues would insist on tuning the radio into a hard-core techno and drum ‘n bass station. It drove me nuts, although the driving beats – averaging 180bpms – were analogous to the very mechanical and repetitive nature of the work, which we had to bang out FAST.
I remember sitting in a well-worn office chair, feeding hundreds of rolls of negative film – remember that? – into the printer, frantically tapping ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ keys to adjust yellow, magenta and cyan filtration levels and applying exposure corrections. I’d stare vacantly at crude image previews on an old CRT monitor. Almost never registering actual image content, I’d only tweak general colour balance and technical abnormalities that immediately presented themselves as obvious. Zoning out in that chair, my mind wondered in and out of successive existential crises. ‘What on earth is life about’, I wondered. ‘What’s it all for?’ I realise now that these are very predictable if not universal questions for an early twenty-something, but at the time I felt very isolated in my thoughts and feelings. To sum it up, I felt I was one Shapeshifter saxophone solo away from living out my own version of the Michael Douglas film, ‘Falling Down’.
I used to drive to work. So I didn’t have to pay for parking, I’d leave my car on the edge of the CBD on Bealey Avenue. This required exiting the house very early, 6:30am at the latest, which for a notorious over-sleeper now seems an unfathomable feat. This gave me enough time to walk up Durham then Hereford Streets to grab a takeaway coffee at my favourite café / second home, Vivace (I cried when I heard a post-quake demolition crew had torn the cafe down. They apparently mistook it for another building that was painted a similar colour.) From there I’d take my coffee and head to Cathedral Square. I’d sit at the foot of the John Robert Godley statue and watch people rush past on their way to work, trudge home after nightshift at The Press office or mid-week bender at Harry’s bar.
I was not born in Christchurch. Before I took the lab job I had no memories of or ties to Cathedral Square. If I’m honest, up until then I thought it seemed like the zone that intelligent city planning and design had well and truly forgot. The sight of many long-vacant shops and empty office spaces that prominently dotted the square’s edges didn’t help, nor did the epic amount of glare that emanated from its notoriously slippery and uneven tiled surface. Despite these rather grim initial impressions, I quickly grew to relish the time I spent there. Even if I could only spare a few minutes during the morning rush, I’d sit – stand if it was wet – at Godley’s feet and try to take it all in, bracing myself for another day at the proverbial grindstone. It wasn’t long part of my routine before I became well-tuned in with the general comings and goings of the area.
In terms of a permanent troupe of characters, there was the man who played flute and belted out sea shanties at the top of his lungs; the evangelical preacher who foresaw a future of fire and brimstone at the hands of rap music and modern gadgetry (primarily cell-phones); the photographer, Tadaaki Kusaka, who setup shop at the exact same spot almost every day – just the right position to get the top of the cathedral spire in frame when composing a mid-length portrait with a 50mm lens, or so I assumed. I regret never paying him to take a portrait of me. There were other mainstay personalities, such as The Wizard and the legendary Radio Ron (check out his Facebook page,) but they were the people that mostly assumed central positions ‘on stage’ – the sea shanty call, followed by evangelical response, accompanied by photographer’s dance; an elaborate performance with hundreds of passers-by constantly and unwittingly enlisted as supporting cast. The backdrop to this eccentric play was of course Christ Church Cathedral, its steeple towering over the drama that played out in the early morning light.
To say that this was a formative time in my life would be an understatement. It’s when I began to develop a real sense of myself in relation to the city I called home, as well as the people on the peripheral of my everyday life. It’s also when I became enamoured with the potential of photography as means and excuse to be an active participant in the world that exists beyond the tip of my nose.
On my half-hour lunch breaks from work, I began to grab my camera and head to cathedral square to take photos and talk to people. By now I was beginning to conceive of a project that would later become Red Bus Diary, but those ideas would take a good many more chance encounters and experiences to solidify. On my break I’d talk to people and sometimes take their portrait, but mainly just try listen to whatever it was they deemed interesting enough to share with me. Sometimes I’d photograph candid moments as they unfolded in front of the cathedral, trying my best to channel my inner Robert Frank but never quite rousing his presence. I’d then head back to work with a modest sense of accomplishment, looking forward to seeing what would reveal itself on a developed roll of film. If nothing else, it would serve as evidence to jog memories: On that day I stood there, saw this and spoke to them.
This is a very longwinded way of saying I see this new project as something of a physical and spiritual homecoming; a return to the place in which I managed to start carving something of a path in my life. It's about a place I was witness to many wonderful, comedic and sometimes tragic stories and moments. A place where I began to understand what it is that makes my surrounding community and city so special, not only to me but also to others.
I have no idea how this project will develop over time – I'm in it for the long haul. In the meantime, if you happen to see me standing under a darkcloth wrangling my camera, please say hello.
Tim J. Veling