Friday, August 14, 2015

Face to Face Paul Moon & Jane Ussher - Penguin

Historian Paul Moon is a regular at Groove, having written two fantastic books about early contact: Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand. A History. Auckland and The Voyagers: Remarkable European Explorations of New Zealand.
However, if you Wiki him, you'd learn that he's produced about 22 books coving topics as varied as Aussies Fitzroy and that tyrant bastard Rob Muldoon.  So for a photo biography book on prominent Kiwis he's the perfect person to take on the challenge.  In Face to Face, Moon accompanied by award-winning photographer Jane Ussher who takes very simple but iconic images.

The result is a stimulating, humorous and sometimes controversial, sometimes revealing set of portraits of twelve remarkable Kiwis.  Recently, I asked Paul why he chose these twelve instead of others.  No politicians currently in the House, he replied.  And no one who's already been covered - like Colin Meads - no disrespect.  The cover has Brian Timothy Finn staring vacantly out to space, a white top of his tousled trade mark locks trickling down his forehead.  It's any easy image to feature because it's so photogenic, and a little obvious.  More down to earth is Hone Harawira in his Warriors kit, or Michael Houston in his performance tux, or looking older but definitely in possession of a Lear Jet, Bob Jones smoking his pipe in defiance to his nay-sayers. 
Sir Richard Hadlee provides plenty of insides as an icon himself, on his life and where cricket is going.  Hone gives us a softer, more surprising view to his Warrior presence.  The Mother of our nation is really Alison Holst and she gives us what is perhaps her last candid interview,, to leaders in their fields such as public law specialist Mai Chen, concert pianist Michael Houston given her on setting Alzheimer's.  It's a gentle but fascinating reconstruction of a life in food and her ambitions to teach Kiwis to cook and appreciate food.  Sir Miles Warren has always been presented in architectural films as an underachiever but finally he gets to really expound his ideas and his visions - he is quite a visionary. 
Perhaps the best interview is of or most over achiever - Mae Chen, who is now all over the media, advocating for the Chinese Community and challenging constitutional law at all levels.  Her Taiwanese upbringing and Southern location was a real revelation, at least to me.  but a definite explanation to why she is who she is today.  And that is the lesson from this book.  in the context of these portraits, away from the one eyed spin of our daily assassinations we can learn what others have learned and why they are who they are.  That is the real taonga of this book.
Dr Paul Moon is Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology. Among his
twenty-five published books are This Horrid Practice: The Myth and Reality of Traditional
Maori Cannibalism, New Zealand in the Twentieth Century: The Nation, The People,
biographies of Governors Hobson and FitzRoy, and the Ngapuhi chief Hone Heke, and
Encounters: The Creation of New Zealand, which was shortlisted for the 2014 Ernest Scott
Prize in History.

Jane Ussher is one of New Zealand’s foremost portrait photographers. For 29 years she
was the chief photographer at the New Zealand Listener, after which she took up a career as a freelance photographer. Her work has featured in many books, including collections of her own photographs. Her landmark book Still Life, which documented Scott and Shackleton’s historic huts in Antarctica, was a finalist in the 2011 New Zealand Post Book Awards. Coast: A New Zealand Journey, which she co-produced with writer Bruce Ansley, won the Illustrated Non-fiction category of the same awards in 2014. In 2009 Ussher was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to photography.

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