Bruce Connew: Muttonbirds - Part of a Story

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Media Release: November, 2005. 

Born in Auckland in 1949, Bruce Connew began photographing at an early age, documenting his extended family with a ferrania Duplex Z2 Italian box camera, which he used at age 13 to capture Queen Elizabeth's 1963 visit to New Zealand.

Connew made his first documentary series in 1976, focused on an Aboriginal community in northwest Australia. Over the past three decades, Connew has travelled extensively, undertaking documentary photography projects all over the world, in locations including New Caledonia, South Africa, New Zealand, eastern Burma, immediate post-war Kosovo, Bhutan, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, Vanuatu and Fiji.

In 2001, a mutual friend introduced Connew to Kati Mamoe beneficial owner Dean Tiemi Te Au, a muttonbirder who was struggling to assert his ancestral rights to the remote muttonbird island Taukihepa, off the southwest coast of Stewart Island. The pair formed a firm friendship, and undertook a joint project in 2004, that has resulted in the exhibition and book Muttonbirds - Part of a Story.

Te Au facilitated Connew’s access to the muttonbirding sites, and shared his history and experiences of muttonbirding. In a sequence of 30 photographs, Connew documented the yearly migration of the muttonbirds to their nesting sites, and the muttonbirders who follow them there.

Connew’s photo-essay is acknowledged as a classic of the genre. Not only is the series a meditation on food-gathering customs and the natural world, it is also a stridently political work, touching upon ancestral rights and competing claims. Connew captures the harshness of the environment as well as the persistence of the muttonbirders in gritty, often haunting images.

This is the first time that this impressive body of work will be shown in Wellington.

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ARTIST BIOGRAPHY

Bruce Connew was born in Auckland in 1949. He studied photography at the West Surrey College of Art and Design in Guildford, England. Since 1976, he has travelled widely, undertaking documentary photography projects around the world. Connew’s work is characterised by a driving interest in social issues, particularly conflict, dissent, emancipation and struggle. Connew currently lives and works in Wellington.