Bob Maysmor

Malcolm Somerville talked to Bob Maysmor and checked out his kit – TPM 167

Malcolm Somerville talked to Bob Maysmor

I am a bit of a museum fanatic and over the last few years have been to most in New Zealand – from the small collections on Stewart Island, the big city and national collections to the furthest north. Pataka is a regular for me: its constant changes, its class of presentations and its local and New Zealand focus. Pataka is the ˜cultural heart’ of Porirua City and in one complex is the museum and art gallery, library, cafe and performing arts centre.

In 2004 Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt visited Pataka to see his exhibition Personal Exposures and launch three new books: Friends, Lovers, and Dogs. “I think it’s an extraordinary place ¦ I wish we had it in the States.”

One of the reasons Pataka is such an extraordinary space is because of Bob Maysmor – officially introduced as ˜Palinesque adventurer and consummate photographer. Bob is also the museum’s official proofreader and curator of all things historical.

Palinesque because in the spirit of Michael Palin he travels extensively every year, observing and recording in photographs and words. He brings together a wonderful set of skills and knowledge – the hands-on engineer, the artist, the researcher and the interpreter to present ideas and experiences.

We spoke about his photography but covered a lot more. As I mentioned to others about Bob I heard a lot more too. His creative beginnings were behind the scenes in stage and performance – the NZ Ballet, theatre and drama. Lindsay Yeo remembers Bob for the construction of his ˜Buzz o bumble’ sets and costumes. Simon Woolf praises Bob’s efforts in PSNZ presentations and local and national judging. Bob acknowledges his early days in set and staging construction as “¦ Wellington’s early predecessor to Weta Workshop”.

Mostly it has been museum and gallery curating that has been his profession but photography has been there for over 30 years. Finishing as Director of the Dowse Art Museum in Hutt City  “¦ after a punishing few years”, he took time out and with his wife began extensive travels. “I had been doing a little bit of contract work at Pataka and then the museum head, Darcy Nicholas, asked me to join the team, which I did on the condition I got two months off a year to travel.”

With over 140 countries visited already and a number of favourites that he keeps going back too – the Middle East, Cuba, the ˜stans – Central Asia Republics.

These are a constant source of stories and photographs. Bob is a prolific generator of travel articles, a member of Travcom and a steady finalist in their annual travel communications awards. In 2006 Bob won the Best Overseas Photo category with his image of a scene in Irkutsk in Siberia.
Going to such a wide range of locations, rugged climates, many with limited access to power has meant his camera of choice is a very solid, very mechanical Canon. “I’m still one of the old school – shooting trannies on mainly my dear old trusty 30 year old Canon FT, veteran of Antarctica, Turkmenistan deserts, Mt Everest base camp etc etc (it just keeps on going and going and going where others fall by the wayside!) ¦ but I do have a few other cameras as well, including a rather unique panorama that I built ¦”

He keeps everything simple – Canon FD Lenses, a 28mm f2.8, a 50mm f1.8 and a 135mm f 3.5. Bob also carries a Horizon 35mm Panorama camera but his unique piece of engineering is the camera he is holding in the photo. An old Canon FT that he has ˜gutted’, taking out the shutter and widening the film plane aperture so it now exposes an XPan-like frame. Then building on an extension tube that takes a fixed shutter incorporated lens. Simple!

He has digital, a Canon EOS D30 with a Sigma 24-135 lens and a Canon Powershot 80, but so far it is convenient rather than the main toolkit.
Kite flying was also part of Bob’s wide interests and led to his involvement to jointly found the NZ Kite Flyers’ Association in the mid 1980s. This involved a lot of construction, festivals both in New Zealand and internationally, and an association with the late James White – another great New Zealand photographer. Many questions about traditional Maori kite flying meant Bob used his historic and Maori interests to delve deeply and this resulted in a book he researched, wrote, illustrated and photographed Te Manu Tukutuku – the Maori Kite. More recently a project of a similar scope has been completed – this time published by Pataka, Wai Rakau – essence of the forest. Maori herbal remedies.

Bob has reviewed books for Radio New Zealand and for Wellington’s metropolitan newspapers including ongoing reviews of travel guidebooks for the Dominion Post. His travel stories are published in magazines as diverse as NZ Listener, NZ House & Garden, Destinations, AA Directions, Wilderness, onHoliday and in The Dominion Post. Bob has a library of over 15,000 images from over 140 countries available to publishers.

Another side to Bob is as curator in bringing exhibitions together, being involved in commissioning work that recognises photographers and the role of photography in illustrating ideas and as artistic statements in an exhibition context or by themselves.

˜Palinesque adventurer’ is probably right, but maybe ˜renaissance man’ fits as well ¦ and he is having fun too!