Southern scenes and landscapes reframed in a new, fascinating light

One of Bruce Hunt’s photos from his new book Tussock. PHOTO: BRUCE HUNT/SUPPLIED
One of Bruce Hunt’s photos from his new book Tussock. PHOTO: BRUCE HUNT/SUPPLIED

TUSSOCK
Bruce Hunt
Bateman Books

REVIEWED BY JIM SULLIVAN

You possibly know of Bruce Hunt as a painter. Tussock brings his artist’s eye to a stunning collection of black-and-white photographs, with a sprinkling in colour.

Pictures in monochrome have a certain magic; an air of mystery not present in the more common big books of coloured pictures. You may well spend longer looking at each black-and-white, large-format landscape in Tussock as you unpick the stories half-hidden in the darker backgrounds.

Taken almost entirely in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Country, the hundred or so photographs will have Southern readers seeing their own backyard in quite a new light.

For those living in Maniototo, already aficionados of Grahame Sydney’s paintings of their region, the photographs will add a new dimension and provide intriguing interpretations of what they see every day.

The snow-covered Hawkduns look just as good in black and white as the skills of the photographer provide a new take on the familiar. The photos of the workaday Waipiata saleyards are a good example. No stock, no auctioneer or bidders. Instead, the white of an old bath used for watering stock shines under a grey sky and the traditional corrugated iron toilet takes on a touch of grandeur with the low-lying hills as a backdrop. An old homestead near Naseby which you’ve driven past countless times now becomes a scene to be explored next trip.

There are some superbly imaginative shots of musterers’ huts and old buildings, both interior and exterior, and the old line about good photographers “painting with light” springs to mind.

Tussocks, of course, are almost always there. Sometimes in the foreground, and sometimes as a blanket over the hills in the aerial shots.

Some pictures simply make you want you to go there to find out more, like the grave high on the hills. The captions are short and simple, leaving you to find out more and adding to the air of mystery.

The story of the tussock, and its place in our ecology, is well told in the introduction by Sir Alan Mark, who has been a “tussock man” for 60 years. He explains the importance of the tussock as a conservation tool, but in the context of this book he also touches on the spiritual significance of these grasses.

“There remains a unique and intangible quality to these grasslands that cannot be measured scientifically or economically, and that is the ability of these landscapes to hold us in their thrall.”

Tussock may show you the country in startling and awesome new ways and it will certainly leave you enthralled.

Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.

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