Annie Get Your Gun

Barbara Smith
Sep 29 to Oct 12
Barbara Smith: Man on a Hill.

Photographer Stuart Broughton browses the work of amateur photographer Barbara Smith discovering the art of life within her albums. Hard work, fun and cocksfooting - iconic images of 1950s rural life are revealed, just part of Barbara’s story, and ours.

It was at the exhibition opening of Stuart Broughton’s foreland: the Coromandel at Hauraki House Gallery that Barbara Smith, a small elderly woman, barely showing her age approached the photographer and introduced herself. In the conversation that transpired Smith revealed that she was something of an amateur photographer, having as a young woman worked in the darkroom of an aerial mapping company for several years, and had been encouraged to take photographs. As a result she had a large collection of images from around rural North Island, including the Coromandel, from the '50s and '60s, which she thought, may be of particular interest to Broughton bearing in mind his own images of the area. Within a few weeks Broughton and Smith were meeting on a park bench in Thames and a box of albums were handed over. Broughton was immediately struck by Smith’s quirky eye.

These black and white images of small town New Zealand, lifted directly from the family album had a point of difference, a sense of unexpected documentary about them, not unlike Ans Westra or even Walker Evans. These were observations from within the daily fabric of life at that time, with Barbara bringing a softer view than perhaps an outsider with a more socially critical eye or taste for sensationalism might have bought. “I chose these images”, Broughton says, “because of their ability to narrate, for unusualness for the time, or peculiar expectations of the taker, the idea they step outside the standards of the time. For the swagger, spirit, coolness and, what I guess I’m summing up, for ‘an attitude’. I found there were certain things going on with her photography, for example, taking pictures – or at least going on to print and keep them – of people with backs to camera, and this documentary style, her obvious desire to ‘say something’ that, to me, give them an insightfulness that lends itself to a modern look in a photographic kind of way. She also uncovers – through vehicles and fashions – a sense of modernity, although with fashion and vehicles both somewhat patched together, these are at times post-dated, even scrambled in time. Perhaps as a photographer, I appreciate the motivations for these photos and not least the spirit and excitement that must have gone into them, spirit and excitement that I find is revealed within the images.”

The family photograph album is a means, by which we reconstruct the past, loved ones and even ourselves. Memories are indelibly lodged in each, mostly ordinary,occasionally extraordinary, image. This is Barbara Smith’s story. Family, friends, cars, walks in the country, ski trips, Christmas parades, high-jinx, autumn harvests: mnemonics of a gentler time and place, where people are, as Broughton puts it, ‘getting on with the hard work, having a good time where possible’. Hard work and simple good fun, Annie Get Your Gun reveals images of mid-century New Zealand rural life, just part of Barbara’s story, and perhaps even our own.