Jason O'Hara

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I started the journey creating documentary photographs —a mode that was always going to have an important role during the voyage. But then, on the other side of things, I intended making work that was more interpretive. I even took a small portable studio with me onto Raoul Island so I could take close-up details of different objects and things that I came across. When I was done with documenting and contemplating vast expanses of sea, I started to explore the vessel’s interior and go into the less literal, interpretive realm. HMNZS Otago has no windows and is a rabbit warren of signs and colours and things we should not touch.

I started to use different lenses, some of which I had made myself, to alter the way that things appeared. When you look at a documentary photo, you take it at face value—the photo tells you what is happening—however, when you start to play with the image and take it out of that realm, the viewer has to interpret what is going on. Then, all of a sudden, we were snapped back into reality. We hit Raoul Island at six o’clock in the morning and I was once again in documentary mode, recording our arrival.

On the island, I used an old lens which I had made using the glass from my grandfather’s camera and fitting it into a modern camera body. I walked with Robin and Bronwen over to Denham Bay, along a track that Tom Bell would have cut in the 19th century. And I started to find inspiration in the track markers that he, and subsequent residents, would have placed there. Upon arrival at Denham Bay, I was struck by the similarities between the place and my home in Breaker Bay, Wellington. I also started making connections between my own family and the Bells on Raoul Island.

The ‘Kermadec’ project is now well past its documentary phase; moving forward I find myself playing more and more with what’s in my head and finding ways of getting that out.


Bells Track #1 (Detail) 2011
Jason O'Hara