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A long awakening: Becky Nunes

A project years in incubation, the Co-orbital exhibition is an intuitive photographic examination of Auckland's Grafton Gully area by photographer Becky Nunes. She talks with D-Photo about the ideas underpinning the singular exhibition

26 May 2014

A project years in incubation, the Co-orbital exhibition is an intuitive photographic examination of Auckland’s Grafton Gully area by photographer Becky Nunes. By way of her own distinct fine art and documentary practice, the photographer becomes a visual archaeologist of the territory’s storied past and fluctuating present.
The Co-orbital exhibition features in this year’s Auckland Festival of Photography, June 4-24 at Mount Eden’s NBK Gallery. Becky talks with D-Photo‘s Point-Shoot blog about the ideas underpinning the singular exhibition.

Note: the images presented here come from Becky’s Graveyard Snail series (2013), an onlineaccompaniment to the Co-orbital exhibition. For the Co-orbital image you’ll have to get along to the show.

D-Photo: Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself and your photography practice?

Becky Nunes: For many years I had what I would describe as an eclectic commercial and editorial practice, working from a large studio at the edge of the CBD. Over the past five or so years I have been increasingly immersed in education, and in the development of my own personal projects.

How did the idea for Co-orbital come about?

I can only describe it really as a long awakening. Certain events and instances that happened to me while I was engaged with other projects just stayed with me, and really fermented away inside my head for ages before I started out to try and realise them as a photographic project. When I had the opportunity to enter into post-graduate study a year ago I finally was able to devote the time and focus to those ideas.

In your exhibition description you talk about the concepts of tapu and noa; how do you see your images engaging with these ideas?

The large rock forms in the show set up a sort of meditative space for the viewer; I intend for them to have an equilibrium, a mass that pushes back against the sharper edges of the man-made forms. This  probably sounds a bit vague, but I don’t want to over-explain it… hopefully there is a sense of two somewhat oppositional or fluctuating states operating between the images.

How did you come to Grafton Gully as the space to explore those ideas – did you have much personal experience with the area, before you started exploring it for this work?

Initially I spent time working in the central North Island, with Ngati Rangi, and though some of those experiences are at the heart of the project it became clear that I had to ground the work in a territory that was closer to home; literally as well as metaphorically.

I have lived and worked at the point where Grafton Gully meets the old waterfront for over 15 years, and, like many of my peers, roamed that area quite a bit in slightly misspent younger years.

I had heard anecdotal tales of the area, seen it transform over that time and had my own pre-suppositions about its past; really it seemed the perfect place to become, as Fiona Jack puts it, a “guerilla historian”.

What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of creating the Co-orbital images?

I think the real breakthrough for me came when I worked out a way to visually move beyond the traditional tropes of the photographic documentary project. Up until then I had struggled with various forms of visual language to try and communicate the ideas.

You also have also created a website, – how does this fit in with the Co-orbital exhibition?

I wanted some of the ideas and images from the project to be discoverable by an audience that might not ever visit a gallery or come across the work in that fine art context. I made giant posters of one of the rock images and had them pasted up at billboard sites around the area, with the website address on them. I love the idea that someone might just stumble across this fairly enigmatic communication online; it’s really just a channel of communication for the gully itself.

This isn’t the first time the exhibition has been shown, will the Auckland Festival showing differ in any way?

I am still tussling with this one; in the original show a piece of moving image was a key element, and this may not be present in the NKB iteration; the space is very different to the original exhibtion site so I’m thinking about how to work with that at the moment.

What is the key thought or feeling you hope viewers will leave the exhibition with?

That is beyond my control! I simply hope to have created a set of conditions for the place and the objects to have their own communication with the viewer.


What exhibition are you most looking forward to at this year’s Auckland Festival of Photography?

Another tough one; the programme has a lot to offer this year. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Kate Wood’s work at Two Rooms; I am intrigued by her beautiful and strange constructions. I am a big Christine Webster fan also, and the collaborations of Tanya Eccleston and Monique Redmond are top of my must-see list too.

You can experience Co-orbital yourself from June 4-24 at Mount Eden’s NBK gallery – drop by on Saturday, June 7 at 3pm for Becky’s artist talk and a glass of wine