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The state of us: Simon Devitt

Highly regarded architectural photographer Simon Devitt launched a collaborative book looking at state housing in New Zealand, from both a historical and modern perspective. He chats with D-Photo about the project and previews some of its luscious visuals

12 February 2014


Highly regarded architectural photographer Simon Devitt next month launches a new collaborative book looking at state housing in New Zealand, from both a historical and modern perspective.  He chats with D-Photo‘s Point-Shoot blog about the project and previews some of its luscious visuals.

Can you briefly tell us a little about yourself and your work?

I am a photographer born in Hamilton, and based in Auckland, with a  focus on architecture.

As part of my photography practice I travel extensively throughout Australasia and further afield. My work is published in numerous national and international magazines including Elle Decor (Italia), Architectural Digest (Germany), Dwell (USA), Habitus, InDesign (Australia), Architecture NZ, Urbis, and Interior (NZ).

In 2011 I collaborated on a book with Andrea Stevens, and published by Penguin, Summer Houses, and in 2013 I launched my first self-published book on the Athfield residence in Wellington, Portrait of a House.

I also lecture in photography of architecture at the University of Auckland. I have exhibited in both group and solo shows and am currently represented in New Zealand by McNamara Gallery, Whanganui.

What is Beyond the State all about?

Beyond the Stateexplores a lesser well-documented period of our architectural history and is divided into two parts, each authored by an architectural writer.

In part one, academic and architectural historian Bill McKay introduces the book and tells the story of the state house, placing it in historical context and revealing fascinating, often little-known, facts about one of New Zealand’s most prevalent architectural styles.

In part two, architectural writer Andrea Stevens assesses the state house today by looking at 14 state houses and how their owners have adapted to modern-day living within them.

Beyond the Statepays tribute to the New Zealand state house — and explores what it still offers us today — in words and photographs.

How did you come to be involved on the book?

Penguin approached Andrea Stevens and myself after we’d successfully worked on Summer Houses together.

What’s the attraction of state houses as a subject?

I’m personally fascinated with the history of social architecture in New Zealand and the opportunity to photograph 14 state houses with the owners was a very exciting prospect.

How does the process work collaborating with a writer on a project like this?

Penguin, Andrea, and myself agreed very early on that Bill McKay would be the perfect fit for the history of the state house section of the book, and his knowledge of the current state house scene was also very useful. The three of us (Stevens, McKay, and myself) spent many months looking for the right mix of houses that reflect the geographic diversity and varying amounts of intervention from original (untouched) to heavily-renovated.

Were you free to shoot things as you wished, or were their certain restrictions for the project?

I was free to photograph the houses in the manner my work is known.

What elements of the homes did you most focus on, and why?

The entire house including context views.

What sort of gear were you shooting with?

My Canon 35mm DSLR kit including 24-80mm, 24mm tilt-shift, 17mm tilt-shift, and 70-200mm lenses.

How long did you tend to spend at each location?

With most houses I photograph, I like to visit in the morning, afternoon, and dusk.

What was the biggest challenge you dealt with while shooting for Beyond the State?

Finding the appropriate mix of houses to sit together in a meaningful way in the book.

Do you have a favourite house from the project?

They all have qualities that made them equally enjoyable to photograph.

What do you hope readers get from the book?

I hope readers get a comprehensive view of the state house as it is now in New Zealand, and its very rich history. I hope the readers get a real sense of what it feels like to be in one of these houses.

What are you working on currently?

I’m about to start on a new book with Julia Gatley and Andrew Barry. This will be the fourth I’ve worked on with Julia and Auckland University Press. The first three titles are: Group Architects, Long Live the Modern and Athfield Architects.

What’s another recent  local photography book you were impressed by?

I was impressed and inspired by the photo books my students made last year for the course I teach at Auckland University. The standard of work by the third year architecture students was outstanding.

Beyond the State will be available from March 28 for $75, be sure to pick up D-Photo 59, on sale March 17, for our review. You can view more of Simon’s work at his website, and check out the recent D-Photo 57 for an in-depth feature of getting started in architecture photography, in which Simon contributes his considerable knowledge.