Still waters: a chat with Anton Maurer

 
Mareea Vegas talks with emerging art photographer Anton Maurer about slowing down to create thoughtful landscape works

There is an undeniable sense of presence and truth resonating from the photography of Anton Maurer. Though his images are meticulously planned, they appear in no way contrived. They are instead intriguing, insightful, and thought-provoking, encouraging the viewer to attach their own narrative to his whispering landscapes of rural New Zealand.

A finalist in the 2014 National Contemporary Art Awards, at just 24 Maurer shows an artistic maturity which has resulted in his work featuring in D-Photo, Excerpt and Incandescent magazines — and should see him embraced by the New Zealand fine art community. All this is a far cry from his archetypal North Shore upbringing, one which he admits did not prominently feature visits to the art gallery or the museum.

D-Photo caught up with Maurer recently to delve a little deeper into what propels this quietly-driven Unitec graduate’s projects.

Anton Maurer

D-Photo: Your Endeavour series makes a bold statement about New Zealand’s evolving landscape, and leaves us wondering about our own personal relationship with it. Was this narrative foremost in your mind when starting these works, and is this an ongoing project?

Anton Maurer: Not initially. I started photographing like this in mid 2012 (at the time I was being taught by Allan McDonald and Edith Amituanai), and those pictures were made purely exploring rural New Zealand, photographing whatever took my interest. I travelled from Auckland to Mangakino, Taupo, Rotorua, through the Te Urewera to Gisborne, then home via SH35 around the East Cape. I came away with predominantly landscape photographs, and after some reflection I began to pursue that idea with more intention, seeking out locations to photograph I felt were important. During 2013 that literally took me from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and over to Stewart Island for a night to make a picture. I’m currently only photographing within the Auckland Super City boundaries, but I am making plans for 2015, so I don’t think it’s something I will ever stop.

There is a real state of perceived tranquillity in your images, did the locations evoke this, or did you mindfully construct the stillness within the work?

Making the photographs tranquil wasn’t intentional, it’s a by-product of how I shoot. With one or two exceptions the pictures are never made in a hurry, I’ve generally been standing there for at least half an hour before I press the shutter. I also like to freeze everything that is moving, always using a tripod and release, so that helps.

Anton Maurer

You tend to shoot on medium-format film: how does this contribute to your process?

It slows me down, and the camera I use is relatively cumbersome, so it forces me to think about what I’m going to make a picture of. Neil Findlay was the person who actually put a light meter, a 90s Japanese brick (RZ67), in my hand and sent me on my way, teaching me to develop the black-and-white film when I came back.

The juxtaposition between the beautiful and the industrial, or not so organically beautiful — has this concept also been a theme in your previous works?

This theme has been the main driver behind my work since 2013, but it isn’t achieved randomly. I seek out locations based on historic, cultural, and industrial significance to New Zealand and travel there with my camera.

Aesthetically, your composition is classical. How much planning goes into it?

More and more. When I was travelling around the country I was on a fairly tight timeframe, so I didn’t have the luxury of going back to locations. Now, though, living and photographing in Auckland, I can go back. It gets frustrating — I can go out photographing for days without taking a picture, but when everything falls into place you end up with a much more pleasing result.

Anton Maurer

How important is post-production in your work?

I’m not trying to deceive people who look at my pictures, so my goal is to have the prints look as close to what I saw on the day as possible. This generally involves pretty straightforward curves and levels adjustments, potentially some sharpening and spotting the negatives. I’d like to think my photographs are honest, but that’s a difficult term to use as a photographer.

What’s currently in your camera bag?

I recently added a 35mm point-and-shoot, so I can make pictures more freely, and I am borrowing a friend’s 4x5 so I can shoot with more intention.

And lastly, where would we find Anton at 8pm on a Wednesday night?

At an opening, Photo Book Club, or Tangent Collective gathering — something along those lines. More often than not, though, I’d be at home.

This article was published in D-Photo Issue No. 64. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: