Following on from Thx 4 The Memories and the ongoing project Vestiges, Rewilding is a continuation of Tim J. Veling’s efforts to document the post-earthquake evolution of one Christchurch red-zoned suburb.
After photographing Avonside intensely for six years and feeling increasingly over-encumbered with his large format cameras–not to mention fatigued by a project with no foreseeable end–Veling made a conscious decision to change the way he navigated and photographed the area.
Once a week between July 2017 and February 2018, with only a handheld camera and single roll of black and white film, Veling parked his car near the Swann’s Road bridge and tried simply to enjoy a series of leisurely walks along the banks of the Ōtākaro River. Free of heavy equipment, he’d often deviate off the stop banks and into cordoned off fields; cleared sections where houses once stood that have become something of an unofficial public park and sometimes dumping ground for Christchurch residents.
Tired of attempting to capture highly detailed, colour-saturated images that pictured day-to-day and season-to-season change, on these walks Veling felt compelled to loosen up, move into more intimate spaces and point his lens at things that in a very basic sense caught his eye for aesthetic or symbolic reasons; clumps of Old Man’s Beard, thistles growing out of cracks in unmaintained concrete, the detritus of past occupation and piles of rubbish dropped in bushes by people too lazy to visit the city’s refuse stations.
The title Rewildingis something of a misnomer in terms of what the body of work actually depicts. While some images might appear to show nature at its unruly best, the reality is the area is often more tightly maintained and regulated than parts of Christchurch’s Hagley Park. In Avonside–and the same is true for other residential red zone areas–grass is regularly mowed, bushes are pruned and most invasive or fast growing species of plants have been removed in an effort to reduce ongoing maintenance costs, not to mention lessen the likelihood of anti-social spaces developing. In this sense, the project title is more a self-conscious reference to Veling’s desire to ditch his tripod and push for a looser, more spontaneous way of picture making.
The shift to using black and white film for this project was born out of Veling’s somewhat nostalgic desire to reengage with the basic photographic processes from which his practice grew; to concentrate more on light and abstract form and the production of physical things by hand, in the meditative space of the darkroom.