There is the haunting 1966 image of King Korokī being carried up the sacred Mt Taupiri in his cloak-covered coffin as the mist descends; Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay doing a shopping spot in Wellington in 1971; another showing the hole ripped in the side of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985.
They are some of the country’s most storied photographs, depicting influential moments and people in the past 50 years of New Zealand history – and for the first time, a large collection has been pulled together in the name of charity.
The Photojournalism New Zealand charity auction was conjured up by Taranaki-based Rob Tucker, a photojournalist for 52 years, and the former illustrations editor at the NZ Herald. Hoping to raise money for Hospice Taranaki, he also enabled a rare coming-together of photojournalists and their work.
Tucker was diagnosed with terminal cancer two years ago, and has been under Hospice Taranaki’s care. “I call them angels in the night,” Tucker said of the staff, who have attended him at all hours. When he learned of the hospice’s financial difficulties, he decided to act.
Tucker called all the photographers he knew to see if they would provide their best shots. “The whole thing took off,” he said. “For the first time ever in New Zealand, it brought all of our journalists together.”
“They tend to be very competitive. On the job [they] wouldn’t speak to each other, or would try and outdo each other… nothing ever glued us all together.
But the “brotherhood” of photojournalists, as they have billed themselves, contributed 123 photographs to the auction.
“In the end, it was getting out of hand,” he said. The auction, on 24 September, raised more than $175,000, but orders for the copies of the catalog are still rolling in.
“As the hospice said, in its 30-year history, it was the most that has ever been raised for them in one auction.”
Some buyers bought works for personal or cultural reasons, including representatives of the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) who won the bid on Wayne Harman’s photograph of King Korokī.
The unexpected star of the show was Mark Dwyer’s 2006 picture Surfin Bros, which sold for $10,500 – the highest bid on the night. The photograph shows the late Te Kauhoe and his twin brother Wharehoka Wano heading into the Taranaki waves with their surfboards while completely naked, revealing the intricate tā moko (traditional Māori tattoo) on the lower half of their bodies.
The art of photojournalism is often overlooked and increasingly under threat as newspapers look to cut costs, Tucker said. “The prestige of the photojournalist is waning… we disagree with that, by saying it is a career and there is a lot to it.
The level of interest in the auction exceeded Tucker’s expectations. “It proved that there are collectors out there that are prepared to look at photojournalism photographs as works of art.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism