Articles: Harold Mason: Fiordland – a photographic project from the heart – TPM 163

Andris Apse

Andris Apse is a New Zealand landscape photographer with an international reputation. His first major publication, New Zealand Landscapes, was published in 1994 and with several reprints, sales have exceeded 130,000 copies. Seven or so other quality books have followed including ANDRIS APSE Odyssey & Images an Illustrated Biography, published last year. When I wrote about Andris in TPM twelve years ago his reputation and commercial success as a landscape photographer was already established as was his love of New Zealand’s Fiordland. He was particularly noted as a pioneer of panorama photography. He told me then of the project, encouraged by Jim Clayden of Rangiora Print, to produce the ultimate quality book of Fiordland photographs. The project had been conceived eighteen years before by Andris, who wanted to show the world his favourite part of the world and by Jim, as his future swansong to the printing industry. Neither wanted to be restrained by the politics and cost restraints associated with the conventional publishing process, a true ˜project from the heart’. With design by Guy Pask the project is now completed and available in a boxed, superb, three volume set.

In the mid 1970s, with the basic idea in place, Andris started hitching rides in helicopters around Fiordland to create a shot list. It was not however until the end of that decade that he started to photograph, completing the photography 25 years later in 2004. “Panoramic cameras are the only cameras that I feel are capable of conveying the true grandeur of Fiordland scenery,” Andris says in an essay introducing volume one. “With some exceptions, the photographs in these books are printed from transparencies that measure 6×12 or 6x17cms. Compared to these, images from conventional format cameras seem
to me to lack the scale that is breathtaking to the senses when you are actually there but is so very difficult to portray as a two-dimensional image.”

Andris experimented with many films but settled on mainly Kodak E100G transparency. In particularly difficult conditions he used Fuji 400 negative pushed to 800 ISO. His ability to pull the high contrast ratio of sky and land back with neutral density filters to suit film is outstanding. In the same essay Andris writes about his self-imposed aesthetic disciplines, the logistics of access and the weather in an area where the average annual rainfall at Milford Sound is 7200mm. “Keeping camera gear dry and in working order becomes a constant preoccupation during long periods of rain. Clambering in and out of a small tent in wet clothes means that nothing much stays dry in such a confined space, so I usually have a separate tent for storing cameras and film. Often this camera tent ends up being the only dry place left in my camps — and even then, cameras need to be wrapped in towels and plastic and kept off the sodden floor of the tent on raised platforms to keep them from getting as wet as everything else. Since electronic cameras would give up the ghost fairly quickly in these extremely wet conditions, I have continued to use cameras with mechanical shutters for most of my Fiordland photography. But even though the shutters and other key components of these cameras will go on operating in very wet weather, I have been frustrated countless times in my attempts to take photographs in stormy conditions by simply not being able to keep lenses dry enough to take a useable photograph. Once every towel, tissue, lens cleaning cloth and suitable item of clothing are wet through, all that can really be done is to return to my tent, crawl into my sleeping bag and doze out the bad weather.” Andris acknowledges that Jim Claydon was a driving force throughout and with Jim’s health deteriorating Andris increased the duration of his Fiordland visits to complete the photography. Jim supervised the printing of the pages but died before they were bound. The quality of the printing is however a lasting tribute to his printing ability. One thousand sets of photographs have been printed on cotton rag uncoated Strathmore 236gsm acid-free, dioxin and chlorine-free paper.Text is printed on smoke grey 216gsm textured Strathmore paper. Covers are quarter bound leather and linen as is the presentation black velvet lined box.

Andris Apse Sutherland Sound

All materials were chosen for archival as well as aesthetic qualities. Volume 1, Sounds of  Silence, contains 22 moody images and Andris’s personal views and experiences of Fiordland. Volume 2 features the essay Te Rua o Te Moko, a Maori Perspective by Booker Prize  winner Keri Hulme and contains 22 images of rich verdant native forests, enveloping panoramas that evoke a special timelessness. Volume 3, entitled Light on the Fiords, is vibrant in its 20 images of sunrises and sunsets, the subtleties of a soft dawn, amber tones and filtered cast sunlight. It features an essay by publishing executive Andy Dennis. As a matter of policy, purchase prices will not be lowered. As more books are sold, the price will rise from editions 1 to 100 which are priced at NZ$4,000.00, to 101 — 200 NZ$4500.00 and 201 — NZ$5000.00.

It was a privilege to handle and examine such a superb set of books, without question the ultimate coffeetable adornment. The photography with only one exception is timeless and all are magnificently executed. Andris’ unique ability as a landscape photographer is well summarised by Andy Dennis in his Volume 3 essay. “While a string of other highly talented photographers have helped to create
a magnificent archive of New Zealand wilderness landscapes over the past 20 or so years, I know of no other contemporary photographer — or, for that matter, artist or writer — who, in seeking a deeper understanding of the landscapes from which their inspiration and images have been drawn, has spent a solitary month alone in the wilds, let alone done this on a regular basis for the best part of two decades.”

I have been looking forward to this collection of photographs for a long time and I have a definite hunch that the set of books, Andris Apse/Fiordland, will set many new photography and publishing records.

Posted by D-Photo on April 14th, 2008 in Articles
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