Murray Cammick

Murray Cammick: Suzanne, Shoana and beer cans, Auckland University 1978.
Murray Cammick: 1957 Chevrolet BR6082 arrow.

Cammick studied photography at Elam School of Fine Arts 1973 to 1975 with lecturers John B. Turner and Tom Hutchins who encouraged him to take socio-political photos for the student newspaper Craccum. Through his love for soul music and Americana, Cammick was drawn to a nocturnal and youthful urban demimonde of Auckland’s Queen Street. Between 1974-1981, he documented an early manifestation of boy racer culture: the young men (and a few women), mainly out of West Auckland, who paraded their restored classic American V8 cars up Queen Street on a Saturday night, and the entourages that followed them. These shots contributed to the series Flash Cars, which Murray showed at Black Asterisk in 2016

While he documented the V8s, his mode of transport was a diminutive Morris Minor that he hid in a side street. Cammick was a shy and naïve 20 year old when he started this series and revellers would see his SLR camera and hassle him to – “take our photo!” – unaware that they were giving the quiet photographer the opportunity (and images) he was looking for.

When Cammick co-founded the seminal music magazine RipItUp in 1977, he was not aware of how radical the changes in New Zealand music culture would over the next decade. Foreign punk/new wave acts like The Ramones, Iggy Pop and Blondie visited and locals like The Suburban Reptiles, The Scavengers and Toy Love put visceral energy into the scene. In a time of cultural change, Cammick documented important cultural events such as Bob Marley’s 1979 visit to New Zealand and suburban cultural events like The Screaming Meemees playing in a packed suburban hall. Seedy local venues were the place to worship raw music and Zwines and Mainstreet were where alienated youth gathered to enjoy the company of kindred-souls. Cammick’s camera captures the tribal audience and sweaty musicians who commanded the scene. His showAK•75-85 (2017) shone a light on a seminal ten years of popular cultural history - while our music scene was growing up in the backyard of Muldoon, the Springbok tour and much other political tumult, New Zealand was becoming firmly established on the international touring map.

Reflecting on his work for the Capture blog, Cammick wrote:

“I tried to document the music and the scene as a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary photographer. You either contribute to the myths/bullshit of rock n roll or you try and show some of the reality of the grind of touring and promotion…. Shooting un-rock ‘n’ roll photos became something to aspire to, so I was pleased to get Iggy Pop in his clunky reading glasses laughing … I sneaked a shot but he heard the camera and made it clear, “No photos in my pyjamas.””

When he ended his involvement with RipItUp magazine in 1998, he set out to do a series of photographic exhibitions but was thwarted by the digital takeover of photography and the realisation that key images from his Flash Cars series were missing – last seen in the 1980s. In mid-2014, the missing negatives were found, allowing a comprehensive exhibition to be undertaken.

Another series of images appeared out of the same negatives of the V8 series, Queens Street. The images are of drag queens and their friends in Queen St, circa 1975. The photographer met Keri and Violet Pratt and friends, on their nightly walk from a Customs St cafe to Mojo’s nightclub, opposite the Town Hall.

After each curb side encounter, Cammick would print up postcard-size prints and mail them to Keri and Violet’s home address in Glen Innes. They liked the results and on their next photo-stop, they would once again pose like fashion models with Cammick as their David Bailey.

“Some nights the city was buy and the girls were as high as kites,” recalls Cammick. “To avoid making a scene we’d disappear down a more private arcade or lane to take photos. One impressed onlooker, a US Marine asking me: ‘Where do you get these girls?’ I don’t think I replied. Keri, Violet and I left him standing there, as we headed in different directions.”

“In the late 70s there was a mix of subcultures in inner city Auckland. I recall having to run the gauntlet, past Babe’s disco to get to the punk club Zwines in Durham Lane and teen punks have claimed they were harassed by V8 guys. For young guys in drag, some nights, Queen Street must have been like running the gauntlet.”

Sadly, one of Cammick’s Queen Street photos of Violet appeared in the Sunday News (27 July 1980) under the heading: “Violet Should Not have Died.”

She had died after being arrested at a nightclub for “not being able to walk without assistance.” Violet died from a drug overdose, when left unattended and semi-conscious in the charging room at Auckland Central Police station. She was 27 and the Sunday News wrote, “Violet had been a transvestite for 11 years and was the most beautiful ‘queen’ in Auckland her friends say.”

Cammick’s portraits of Violet and Keri documented the good times. The photographer is unapologetic: “I am pleased that I captured their dream of being fabulous models. Their beauty was a street reality.”

Cammick’s photographs are part of the Te Papa Collection and his work appeared in their 2009 publication, “Art at Te Papa.”