Based on countless journeys Veling made over a three year period on the Christchurch Bus System, Red Bus Diary documents through photographs and text a series of interactions and observations, both public and personal.
The book – produced between 2003 and 2005 while Veling studied towards an MFA – comes from his intersest in travel and the experiences afforded by it. More specifically, it was born from his recognition that an individual's perspective of place tends to be shaped by their personal circumstance and routine. Experiencing some of the world's largest cities helped Veling realize how little he knew about the lives and neighbourhoods that surrounded his own home. This realization motivated him to make work that promoted a more active engagement with place and people in order to better understand the diverse communities and culture that informed his sense of the world.
The work Veling produced for Red Bus Diary has taken on new significance in the wake of the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, when the built fabric of the city was irreparably changed forever.
Book published by Hazard Press and the University of Canterbury College of Arts in conjunction with Place in Time: The Christchurch Documentary Project.
Exhibited at Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, New Zealand, as part of Platform Arts Festival, 2006.
Red Bus Diary
Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch, 2007.
Reviewed by Gina Irish
Originally published in New Zealand Journal of Photography #63, 2007, pg. 26-27.
Not long after returning to New Zealand from overseas travel, Tim Veling embarked on yet another journey, this time closer to home. Realising that he knew very little about his hometown, Veling boarded Christchurch's red buses and for three years visited the city's neighbourhoods, photographing people in urban and suburban landscapes. A tourist in his own city, Veling familiarised himself with Christchurch, his bus trips building an impression of place while affirming aspects of self through the experience of others.
Previously not fond of public transport, Veling's dislike of it changed when he met a cancer survivor who, while sitting next to the photographer on the bus to Riccarton, gifted Veling a bus pass. This humble ticket was a generous gift, the riches of this stranger's kindness revealed in a collection of thoughtful images exhibited at CoCA as part of the University of Canterbury's Platform Arts Festival. Red Bus Diary, a series of forty-one photographs presented alongside a publication written by Veling of the same title, is a compelling and memorable account of his encounters on his travels.
Now stored in the University of Canterbury's Place in Time: The Christchurch Documentary Project archive, Red Bus Diary seeks to convey a sense of place, namely Christchurch and the people who live in the city. Veling's project sits comfortably alongside other A Place in Time collections: My Place, The Aranui Project, Caring for the Dead and others share Veling's objectives.
Completed in 2006, while Veling was a Masters student at the University of Canterbury's School of Fine Arts, Red Bus Diary acknowledges the lifestyles of many Christchurch people. Diverse communities are represented and while some people are oblivious to, or avoid the lens, others boldly confront the camera. Images are candid and alluring, others bleak and grim, the stories attached to these photographs equally poignant. On and off the bus life is full of sorrow, hope and humour.
From Riccarton, Veling travelled to Fendalton, Bishopdale, Linwood, Lyttelton and the Central City, among other places. Never knowing quite where he would end up, Veling's photographs continually surprise, indulging the viewer with snapshots of neighbourhoods seen for the very first time. Images are captured in haste, caught in motion as the bus races through Christchurch's backstreets and main roads. Few sites are taken for granted, and those ordinary landmarks we quickly forget, are awarded new meaning.
Children on the street look back at Veling, curious as to why he takes their photograph as the bus leaves the stop. Some share the children's surprise, puzzled as to why they would be the focus of Veling's attention. Other bystanders are oblivious to his gaze, waiting and watching for the next bus. They pass their time by smoking, texting, or sitting quietly.
The spray-painted words 'Just Married' scrawled across a fence, a man gardening, or a suburban mall beg discovery. Once off the bus, Veling is open to introductions. In Bishopdale he meets old folk who dance and flirt like they were twenty. In Papanui, he meets a racist shopkeeper who fears that Asians have 'taken over' and in Lyttelton, Veling encounters a group of seemingly tough thugs who, while rough around the edges prove to be friendly, albeit slightly misguided youth. In Cathedral Square, Veling finds himself immersed in Crusader fanfare, while outside the Police Kiosk a squad of Maori kids perform a spontaneous haka. We share Veling's curiosity, as he and the viewer step outside the comfort zone to consider the lives of others.
As the bus draws near the City's Bus Exchange, busy retail centres, tagged billboards and window shoppers are the backdrop for this leg of Veling's journey. Conversations from inside the bus, some documented in Veling's book, are almost heard. Likewise, the chatter of school children is deafening against the silence of deadpan commuters who guard their personal space on their peak hour journey across town. We think about where these people work, study and live, where they have come from and at what stop they will get off.
In one of the most profound and haunting images in Red Bus Diary, a woman sits alone, on an empty bus, across from the photographer. Veling's photograph of this passenger is simply unforgettable. Her empty gaze pre-empts her next action. Her hands clasped around a handkerchief, she is photographed moments before she puts her fingers in her ears, screams and begins to rock backwards and forwards. Here on the bus–a public space–private worlds and the stigma of mental illness are witnessed.
The words spoken by the man who gifted the bus ticket to Veling are echoed in all images and text included in Red Bus Diary: ' ... you could drive a car around town and it might be more comfortable, but who you gonna talk to and what are ya gonna learn that you don't already know? Think about that, boy ... Take a different bus every day. Keep your eyes open.' And he did.
Red Bus Diary is as much a profile of Veling and all that he was experiencing at the time, as it is of the people and place he photographed while riding buses. In assessing the lives of the people who share this city, Veling has acknowledged many 'home' truths: life's complexities are considered, as is heartbreak, loneliness and one's sense of belonging.
For Veling, and for the viewer, Red Bus Diary promotes travel, not only to the suburbs, the streets and the far comers of Christchurch, but exploration of self and the discovery of our own unique impression of place. Not far from the barbershops, cafes, malls and alleyways Veling skilfully pictures, the bus stop is never far away. What are you waiting for? Hop on.