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Matinee: 'Ans Westra: In Her Own Words' Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

20 March 2021

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 297th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Ans Westra: In Her Own Words.

This 12:04 video by Anastasia Photo presents New Zealand photographer Ans Westra who begins the story of her life behind the lens with the simplest of introductions. "My name is Ans Westra," she says.

Born in the Netherlands in 1936, she visited Edward Steichen's The Family of Man exhibit when it came to Amsterdam in 1956. Inspired by the photographs in the exhibit, she saved up her money until she could afford a Rolleiflex.

It's the only camera we see her with through six decades of work, by the way.

The next year she went to New Zealand where her father had immigrated and, after failing to find work at with a photographer, got a job at a pottery in Auckland. When she moved to Wellington, she joined the Wellington Camera Club, finally getting jobs in various studios there.

She traveled around the country in a Volkswagen bug that she slept in after cooking dinner on an open fire on the side of the road.

At the same time, she pursued the documentary work the Steichen exhibit had inspired her to shoot, traveling around the country in a Volkswagen bug that she slept in after cooking dinner on an open fire at the side of the road.

She eventually photographed the Maori and won a photography magazine award that led to work with the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education.

Her photography was acknowledged with a Certificate of Excellence from the New York World's Fair photographic exhibition in 1964–1965.

In 1982, her negatives were archived at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, which digitized her collection in 2014. Two years later, a museum was dedicated to her work, housing over 55 years of images and 200 books in which her work appears.

But not much of that makes it into her story.

Instead, she talks of how using the twin reflex camera makes you look down and, consequently, put your subject on a pedestal. And what a privilege it is to share a moment of someone's life. To tell a part of their story.

The video is interspersed with her black-and-white stills, video of her shooting with the Rolleiflex and printing in the darkroom.

One video segment shows her lining up a shot when a young girl, oblivious to what is going on, walks right in front of her camera. But that doesn't disturb Westra in the least. It's as if the girl had passed by as Westra was blinking her eyes.

Talking about those days as an unknown photographer living out of her Volkswagen, she says she did everything "on a small budget." But what she created on that small budget has turned out to be priceless.


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