Silent Observations

Exhibition 2015

Following on from my 2011 exhibition A Rugged Paradise, I was invited to hang a two months exhibition at Dunedin Airport as part of their ‘Artist in the Terminal’ programme in early 2015. The initial planning for this exhibition began in late 2012 with shooting taking place in locations around Otago during 2013 and 2014. After the two month run at the airport ended in March, 2015, the art works went on to be displayed in numerous locations around Dunedin before finding permanent homes across Otago. What follows is a rerelease of my 2015 exhibition, Silent Observations.

Exhibition Introduction:
I was 12 when I first started using my parent’s camera on family outings. I’ll never forget going to a four wheel drive rally and finding just the right spot to photograph the vehicles as they made their way through all sorts of mud puddles and then waiting excitedly for the local pharmacy to have the prints ready. Since then it’s been a constant search, looking for moments of beauty or action to capture for people to view and enjoy.  I’ll also never forget going on summer holidays to all corners of the Otago region, and some of the sights still last in the back of my mind – recalled as I revisit some locations all these years later.

The only time I’ve really put the camera down is when I embarked on my teaching career that has seen me teach primary school both here and in the United Kingdom. These days I try and balance the life of a primary school teacher with the life of a photographer

Once I was well into my teaching career a shift happened between photography growing into a passion and the desire and aspiration to be more creative. Hidden within the cracks and spaces that separate passion, desire and creativity, a transition started to happen – a transition from Photographer to Artist.

At the moment, I’m increasingly viewing the world through an arrangement of shape, colour, angle, perspective and light. For some reason, I’m drawn to the notion of annotating and transcribing the world around me, not as a passive bystander but as an active participant who alternates between participant and observer, exploring and experiencing new places, sights and sounds. I also find that the notion of telling a story in a single frame, making the viewer feel something and documenting through images and words is highly intriguing to me. Rather than chasing the perfect shot, I’m interested in journeys, voyages and stories.

Silent Observations

This collection of images is based on the notion of Silent Observations. These Silent Observations happen in slow brain time, where looking is more important than doing. It’s a story, a moment, a time, a place, a feeling, a state of mind and a sense that time can stand still. This is my own wee corner of the world, where I share the stories behind my images while trying to seeking out and capture the still, silent and timeless places in New Zealand’s South Island. In a way all these images are my observations and annotations, the things I’ve noticed or will try to explain by way of viewing, watching and looking. My notes aren’t taken with a pen, they’re taken with a camera as I quietly watch the world go by for a while.

My images are about the human experience; the curiosity and inquisitiveness to explore; to feel and to hear.  These are my stories, my Silent Observations of this life as I journey from place to place.

I hope you enjoy

John Caswell

There Grows The Human SpiritThere Grows The Human Spirit (2014).
White Island and Saint Clair Beach, St Clair – Dunedin.

Continue reading Silent Observations
Please follow and like us:

A Walk On The Beach

A Big Adventure In Familiar Surroundings

We’ve been told constantly that exercise is good for us and to walk in your local area. With this in mind and a clear sky above me, I set out for the beach. 

Whenever I go to the beach I can always be assured of one underlying fact. A fact and event so simple it hardly seems worth mentioning. Yet, each time this event happens, my annoyance with myself for letting it occur is only ever matched by my surprise that it has happened at all. No matter how careful I am, no matter how much pre-thought and planning I put in, it always eventuates. And, to make matters worse, the severity of the event will proceed anything else that has happened. I once became so fixated at a local beach trying to avoid this event that I almost stepped onto a fur seal. I can tell you that having a close encounter with an angry fur seal is not a pleasant experience and one that makes you check your underwear afterwards! This cruel and seemingly unavoidable event is of course, getting my shoe and sock wet. Not both, that I could handle. One. It’s only ever a single shoe and sock that gets completely submerged before requiring two days drying time. It’s my beach affliction. 

Knowing that I wanted to keep my feet dry for as long as possible, my planned route would be to take the local streets to the St Clair Esplanade, then venture back via St Clair, Middle and St Kilda Beaches. The grand total of this walk I calculated afterwards was just over 9 kilometres. With the prospect of spending most of the walk with a wet shoe and sock not too enticing, I elected for a return path along the beach, thus ensuring I would have at least half the distance with dry foot wear.  

I set off from the top of Tahuna Road and walked at a brisk pace down a hill that leads past many typical New Zealand quarter-acre sections that were filled with all the sights and sounds of Kiwi’s doing a bit of DIY on a long weekend. Things like water blasting, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, painting the fence, trimming trees. Possibly everything I should have been doing rather than being out walking. 

At this point, at the bottom of the hill, Tahuna Road changes to Victoria Road. I can’t be too sure this applies to all areas of New Zealand or even Dunedin for that matter, but the one aspect of my local area that I often lament over are the street names. Titles such as Tanui, Tahuna, Aotea and Tomahawk have an interesting appeal but the area is also surrounded by streets with names such as Royal Crescent, Queens Drive, King Edward Street and Prince Albert Road. All good names that reflect our colonial heritage but all fairly unimaginative. I often wish that town planners had put a bit more creativity into their street names, like in Sioux City, Iowa which has a street called ‘One Fun Place’ that leads directly to the Jolly Time Popcorn factory or ‘Chicken Dinner Road’ in Idaho. 

As the street started to flatten out, more pondering over local government decisions greeted me with the curious town planning of locating a bowls club, a golf course and an A & P Showgrounds encircling a waste water sewage treatment plant. Many of these decisions had of course been made at the turn of the 1900 century (or thereabouts) and weren’t made with modern day hindsight. Further to this curiosity is the fact that Tahuna Park (formally the A & P show grounds) has the distinction of being an international test rugby venue.

You wouldn’t give it a second glance heading past, but on the 27th August 1905, New Zealand hosted Australia there. The fact the match was played at all was a miracle. The test was originally scheduled to be played across town at Carisbrook but so heavy was the rain and atrocious the weather leading up to match day the test was about to be scrapped when a city wide hunt for a playable surface was found at Tahuna Park. Reportedly around 3000 people flocked to the ground to see New Zealand win their 3rd ever test match 14 to 7. It must surely be one of the unlikeliest international test rugby venues in history. There can’t be too many right beside a poo-plant either I would imagine.

Now continuing on and leaving the area of Tainui and St Kilda behind I headed for St Clair and the Esplanade. The one thing I can say is that Dunedinites are an amazingly friendly lot. As I walked through neighbourhoods decorated in bears, chocolate easter eggs and colouring competitions in the window, every person I met gave me a friendly wave and hello. It really is a pleasant feeling to be out walking on a sunny day being passed by people who are as friendly to you, as you are to them. Just as I received another friendly ‘good morning’ I crossed a roundabout that signals that end of Victoria Road, and turned left, through a traffic-less round about and headed for a few steps towards the social hub of the Esplanade of St Clair.

There are few sadder sights than beachfront bars and restaurants closed when they are drenched in warm sunlight on a long weekend. Having arrived at St Clair, it was hard not to notice the emptiness of the place.  Usually on a day like this establishments placed on the Esplanade such as Salt, Starfish, The Esplanade and The Spirit House would be full of customers from dusk to dawn. Today however, I slowly ambled past the shut signs, the Covid 19 enforced closure clearly having an effect on the local economy. Continuing on past signs the advertisements for Steinlager Pure Beer, Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, Shared Platters, Asahi Dry Beer, Kapiti Ice Cream and A Winter Wetsuit Sale. I shook off the sudden urge for a swim, a beer and a bite to eat and continued along the Esplanade.  

As biased as I am, I must confess that I think St Clair beach is a delightful place. At low tide you can walk from the Salt Water Pool and the rocks on the point all the way to Lawyers Head. A distance of some 3.5 kilometers of white, sandy beach. On this day, there was only a very gentle and light onshore breeze, the clear water reflecting the sun and footprints in the sand seemingly going on forever. It was what locals call a dunnerstuner. As I took in the smell of the salt air and the sound of a child asking for an ice cream while determinedly announcing they weren’t walking any further by sitting down, I viewed where my journey home would take me, along the beach. With the rolling rhythmic tone of the waves being drowned out by a child who was no longer sitting but being carried and now more sure than ever that they did indeed want an ice cream, I headed down to the beach. 

To get to the beach I needed to navigate down a short flight of stairs and step on the beach via a small set of rocks. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, I carefully took stock of the situation, picked the easiest and safest path from the stairs, to the rock, to the beach and sprang forward. My first step went as planned, I landed on my right foot and quickly continued my momentum forward, pushing off again from the rock as soon as I had landed and stretched out my left foot, preparing for a safe beach landing. No! Instead my left foot went straight into an unseen puddle of water that the tide had left behind, engulfing my shoe, sock, ankle – the lot. I stood looking at the dripping mess that was now my left foot. Then up at the long stretch of beach ahead of me. I sighed and set off. The child’s screams for ice cream having been replaced with the squelching of my left foot. 

One of the fascinating aspects of Dunedin beaches is the increasing wildlife population that can be seen. A walk on the beach at any time can result in fur seals, penguins and all sorts of other bird life being spotted. Only a few weeks ago dolphins were spotted from this very beach and in 2016 a grouping of rare Shepherd’s Beaked Whales was also spotted just off the coast, causally drifting past. On this occasion I wasn’t so fortunate to spot any of the aforementioned species, I did spot something that is nevertheless as intriguing. A former rubbish dump being exposed from erosion. When the decision was made to create this landfill over a hundred twenty years ago it seems that everything washing into the sea can’t have been high on the agenda. 

Now, some 100 years later after the dump was capped and turned into playing fields known as Kettle Park, parts of it appear to be one good storm away from collapsing and crumbling onto the beach. In 2007, when parts of the landfill became exposed, tests found traces of arsenic, asbestos and other industrial chemicals in nearby sand dunes. An ongoing tribute to the genius idea of putting a landfill beside a beach, what could possibly go wrong! 

My beach walk eventually came to an end at Lawyers Head, my squelching foot now having collected what seemed like half the sand on the beach. It’s called Lawyers Head because the profile of this large land promontory is meant to look like a lawyer in traditional legal wig. I’m not sure where the person was standing when they came up with this idea, but it certainly isn’t anywhere close to a vantage point I’ve had. The last leg of my walk took me over the fairways of Chisholm Park and into the local cemetery. 

As home came into sight at the top of the hill, I passed timeworn headstones with names such as Reginald, Ferdinand, Gertrude, Linford, Ike, Desmond and Fanny on them. It was then that I noted that the noise of DIY jobs like water blasting, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, painting the fence and trimming trees had ended. I thought about my own list of jobs, most of which had been started but not finished. I then remembered the unwritten Kiwi male law that states I’m allowed to finish these jobs, when I get around to it. 

St Kilda, Middle and St Clair Beach from Lawyers Head.

Continue reading A Walk On The Beach
Please follow and like us:

Keep 2 Metre’s Away From This Blog – It Need’s Safety Too!

The Socially Distant Shopper

It’s not often I’m allowed to go grocery shopping for our household these days, you see, I have history with Supermarkets. It’s not that I’ve been completely banned by my family from stepping foot on the premises, it’s just that it’s better for all concerned if I don’t go. To be clear, I am entrusted to pick-up small amounts of items that are essential to the evening’s meal, and beer. But nothing more beyond that. 

Kiwi chef Simon Gault often speaks about adding 5% magic to dishes to really elevate it and give it WOW factor. My banishment from the weekly shop started with this very premise, adding 5% magic. Originally, some years back during the regular weekly shop I added a few extra, carefully chosen items to the trolley to add that 5% magic to one of the weekly meals. I then repeated this the next time I went grocery shopping, once again adding a few extra, carefully chosen items to the trundler to elevate one of the nightly dishes. This process then continued for some time, with me adjusting the list accordingly as I went and occasionally coming home with more items that weren’t on the list than were. 

The second to last straw came one day when I arrived home and started unpacking the grocery bags out of the car.
“Where are the rest?” my wife said.
To which I responded “what do you mean? This is it”. 

The next short while was spent with myself having to explain how in fact it is humanly possible to spend such a large amount on so few items and still manage to forget essentials like toilet paper, bread, milk or 95% of the other items I went out to get.

The final straw in my banishment from the weekly shop came after my invention of the sport ‘grocery item tower-building’. After a lengthy absence from the shop floor, I was once again entrusted with the food gathering task. Off I went, list in hand, my wife accompanying me and acting as chaperone to ensure I brought something that was edible for all and stuck somewhat closely to a budget. Having successfully negotiated all the aisles, I added a few last minute items (that would definitely add 5% magic) before proceeding to the checkout. Upon arrival at the checkout, I then proceeded to build a tower with our grocery items on the conveyor belt. The object here being to build the highest possible tower without it falling over when the conveyor belt is moved.  My tower, having reached ten items high, unfortunately proceeded to crash to the ground and all over the counter when forward movement was applied. The imploding tower resulted in two things. Firstly, my grocery item tower-building personal best of nine items still stood, and my banishment from the weekly grocery shop. 

Here, many years later on a windy Saturday morning, my first trip anywhere in a week, I found myself standing in line outside Countdown. List in hand, once again being entrusted with the weekly shop. I can thank PM Jacinda Ardern for this turn of events. “Shop normally,” she said.” I was also told that it would do my mental health the world of good to venture out. So off I was sent with the mission of doing the weekly shop. 

The line to gain access to Countdown stretched all the way through the carpark and almost out to the footpath. Maybe it was it an early morning for us all, maybe it was the cold wind, maybe there was a sign saying ‘no talking or smiling while in line’ that I had missed or maybe everyone else wasn’t as excited as me. Upon joining the end of the queue, I copied what was clearly the expected protocol and stood in silence. The hushed stillness was deafening. Once and a while we’d all take two steps forward, inching closer to the main door yet keeping a good 2 metre gap. The somber and bleak line continued to inch forward at regular 2 metre intervals with the occasional break in silence coming from the sound of a car heading past or someone questioning if we were allowed to bring our own bags, if we had to wear face masks or if they were handling cash? For the greatest time, I couldn’t put my finger on what the mournful feeling reminded me of when the answer suddenly appeared in the wind. It was like being back at school. Everyone lined up waiting to be told off by the principal. I found myself imagining an irate Cabinet Minister stomping up and down the line, telling everyone off for not shopping properly and stating that this is what it’s going to be like until we prove we could shop properly. Again we stepped forward, one person entering as one person exited, eagerly waiting our turn, list tightly gripped. 

The next 40 minutes was one of the most unique shopping experiences I will encounter. Everyone walked around in silence, some with gloves and mask, some taking their time soaking up every ounce of time allowed out, others racing around the aisles like Lewis Hamilton through the chicanes at Monte Carlo. My second stop, after the beer, was the fruit and vegetable section. It seems that the 2 metre rule doesn’t apply when you’re choosing your capsicums, lettuce, cauliflower or beans! My first listed item was cauliflower. Having scanned the surrounding area and establishing a healthy 2 metre gap between myself and one other person, I went for it. With only four left I was quite delighted to be able to add one to my trolley when suddenly a hand appeared. Out of nowhere my trolley collected a heavy bump, shifting me sideways a bit and a wrinkled old hand, covered in rings and bracelets suddenly grabbed two of the four and disappeared. Before I could gather my senses, another one disappeared, from my left hand side this time. I quickly grabbed the single remaining cauliflower and retreated. What I proceeded to watch was people applying the ‘dive in out out quickly’ method to grab their chilled vegetables. No patience, no 2 metre gap, similar to a six kid lolly scramble that had got slightly out of control.

Fortunately, the rest of the shop was calmer. Casually being able to amble through the isles adjusting the list accordingly as I went. The empty shelves meaning my family didn’t have to worry about extra items being added for that 5% magic. The biscuit aisle seemed to be another hotspot where large groups of people had obviously decided to risk it and break the 2 metre rule. Fortunately my list didn’t have them on it and on I went to the baking aisle where a barren shelf greeted me, only an empty space left where the High Grade Flour used to be. With that being the only item on my list not to be crossed off, I paid and headed out the door. 
Feeling very impressed with my ability to stick to a list and stick to a budget without adding extra items, my mind turned towards packing. I was suddenly drawn to a halt by the lady in front. In one motion she had instantly frozen and clicked her fingers.
“Oh shoot” she said, the jingling sound of her bracelets catching my ear and eye as her wrinkled old hand covered in rings clicked her fingers.
“I forgot high grade flour” she added to no-one in particular. I smiled to myself, recognising her from the Cauliflower invasion. I paused, thought for a second, looked at my Cauliflower then watched her join the end of the queue via a detour to her car. It seems being kind and patient has its rewards I thought, my shopping trip having been made a little better.

Song of the Autumn LightQueens Drive, The Town Belt, Dunedin (2013).

Continue reading Keep 2 Metre’s Away From This Blog – It Need’s Safety Too!
Please follow and like us:

Dunedin’s Signs of Summer

Dunedin’s Mixed Bag

Sixteen days into Dunedin’s summer and it’s been a mixed bag of weather so far for those that call Dunedin home.

When the calendar switched from November to December and the seasons changed from spring to summer, the daylight hours got suddenly longer. The sun got a wee bit warmer and a renewed energy sprung into people’s step. While the change in season brought with it an optimistic energy, a hangover from spring’s traditional changeable weather remained.

In recent weeks, Dunedin has been bathed in deliciously hot sunshine, it has been wrapped in settled warm and calm weather, hit with high winds, heavy rain, hail and intense thunder and lightning storms. While the temperature has dropped as low as 10 degrees and risen to over 30 degrees, depending on where you are.

Dunedin’s Signs of Summer

The sign of Dunedin’s summer is ever present at the Botanical Gardens where the paths and gardens twist and turn through it’s 30 hectares of wonder and beauty. Every where you look there’s seasonal flowers in bloom showing off the bright freshness of summer.

The cafe’s and bars around the city have also taken on new life. In the early morning sunshine locals get into their morning exercise and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee. As the lunch time crowds extend into the afternoon, tables are full and bustling with life well into the evening hours.

St Clair esplanade takes on a fresh look in the change of seasons. The sea temperature rises, meaning the thicker winter wet suits are put aside for thinner summer suits. The local surf school also takes on a busier trade as visitors and locals try their hand in surf. Finally, the local surf living saving clubs have begun their daily patrols between the hours of 11am and 7pm.

Dunedin's Botanic GardensDunedin’s Botanical Gardens Buy

Continue reading Dunedin’s Signs of Summer

Please follow and like us:

Old Fence Post in Long Grass.

Exploring

I’m really enjoying exploring images that represent a place and time and hint at a human presence at the moment. Personally, I think that by capturing representations of human life that show the passing of time, it gives me a stronger inner connection to my own memories but it also allows me to connect and make sense of the world around me.

Description:
Limited Edition Framed of 20 .
Titled, numbered and signed.

Limited Edition Print of 20
Titled, numbered and signed.

Contact me for pricing and further details: [email protected]

Old Fence Post in Long Grass.
Otago Peninsula – 2019 

Please follow and like us:

Dunedin Railway Station

For A Gentle Light Does Move The Heart

The Dunedin Railway Station was built in 1903 and remains one of New Zealands most photographed buildings. It stands in an elegant  and grand location in ANZAC Square at the end of Stuart Street.

There are many views, scenes, moments and situations when I’ve photographed the Dunedin Railway Station. By far, my favourite view is looking across ANZAC Square to the front of the building when the flowers are in bloom, the sun is shining and the sky is a brilliant blue.


For a gentle light does move the heart – Buy

Please follow and like us:

Into The Mystic Show

In This Room The Light Flickers After A While.

I try and seperate what I’m posting on different social media streams so people don’t end up seeing the same thing too many times. Over on instagram I post from my Peak Directions gallery which is based on my shots from the beach and ocean. Here’s a selection of recent posts to show you what you’ve been missing if you haven’t found me yet. If you want to find me on instagram: @johncaswellnz

Continue reading Into The Mystic Show

Please follow and like us: