The work of Solomon Mortimer can be found in some of the country’s top collections and has garnered an impressive number or accolades. Here, he shares a chronological, visual essay about his career so far.
(Above) This feels like a lifetime ago. I met a group of kids who appeared to be heavy-metal fans, offering free hugs in Aotea Square, Auckland. They had wildly long fingernails, and I can’t remember if I took them up on the offer of a hug or not. These days it feels hard to imagine such openness, and masks have made portraiture on the
street a lot harder. I had only recently started using the Mamiya RZ67 camera that I’ve kept with me since, and often backgrounds were slightly crooked.
This was taken on Rangitoto Island, as a memento of my first date with my Zahra. I have been living with her for 10 years, and we have two wonderful daughters. The scoria rock makes a wonderful walking experience and backdrop. It also prints very well, as the contrast balance seems to be just right
I was hitchhiking around the northern half of the North Island in 2011–2012, and on a rather wet and dreary day I was dropped off on the edge of Kaikohe. I was rather hungry so I headed to the fruit shop. This wonderful woman was just emerging with her purchases, and had paused for a moment to wait for a break in the rain. She told me she was a proud grandmother and worked and lived nearby. A couple of years later I met one of her granddaughters, and she was very pleased to have this image for the family.
During this time I was doing a lot of skateboarding around my Auckland neighbourhood as a way of moving through the streets looking for things to photograph. These two dudes were really interested in my skateboard, which was hand cut and painted, and had unusual wheels. They were following me through the Sandringham shops asking for a go. I said that of course they could, if I could take a photo of them against one of the fabric shop covers we were passing.
This was from my first overseas solo adventure. I travelled through France, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Poland. It was late November and snowing on some days. I caught a cold and spent two weeks in Gdańsk eating mandarins and salami. These two gentlemen were on a smoko, presumably from painting something. The work from this journey — and one the following year with Zahra — was compiled into a book in 2014, titled Solomon’s Travels Volume Two. I had the intention of doing a set of volumes much like Gulliver’s Travels; however, there is yet to be a Volume Three.
In 2013 I was fortunate to receive a commission from Auckland Libraries to photograph businesses and individuals with connections to Dominion Road in Auckland. This image of a foreman was taken outside the Roskill Sheetmetal Works building. I also made a set of images inside the building that I really like. It was a very cool project to work on, and resulted in a series of prints now held in the Sir George Grey Special Collections, which is housed at Auckland Central Library.
I had grown up frequenting the shops on Dominion Road, as I lived just around the corner from the Mount Roskill shops. Just prior to making this work, I had been working at a French bakery on the road.
In 2014 my partner, Zahra, was invited by White Fungus magazine to do a performance tour of Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau. I went along for the adventure and had a fantastic time, meeting members of the local underground performance and noise art scene, and watching Zahra perform in some cool and bizarre venues. The image here was from a very early morning visit to a large park in Beijing, where people go to walk and join group exercise. This man was warming up for Tai Chi and hung from the branch for the duration of our conversation.
This is from the same adventure as the previous image. We stayed in the ‘old city’ area in Beijing, and would walk around the block each day — as tourists do. This man was sitting on a stool in the street outside a hairdresser, hoping to catch a breeze while waiting for his hair dye to set in.
At this point I was finishing my Master of Fine Arts at the Elam School of Fine Arts, and was graduate teaching both there and at Whitecliffe in the design department. This somewhat satirical self-portrait was taken in my flat above the Point Chevalier shops, showing myself as an arts lecturer, complete with a velvet backdrop poorly tucked into the bookshelf of my lounge.
Zahra’s family have a bach on Auckland’s west coast, where we often spend our holidays throughout the year. It has remained largely untouched since its renovations some 40 years ago, and the medicine cabinet is a perfect example of this, with products such as Nighttime Strength and plenty of absorbent lint.
During my masters research project, I began to explore the potential of portraiture without the inclusion of the face, instead looking at other defining features. In this example, it’s a dirty knee poking through a ripped jean leg. I’m pretty sure I have a lovely large print of this somewhere.
Adopting the same approach as the top image, this is from my time doing my masters degree. It formed a set of nine images and eventually a small book called Interrogations of the Suited Figure — studies of businessmen on Shortland Street. I have not been back to Shortland Street much since 2016, however I have heard there are fewer men in suits these days, and the professional wardrobe look is shifting.
Images of Zahra have been constantly added to over the years, as photographs of family usually are. I have a great collection of her now, and I expect I will try to fit them into a book one day. This was one of the first portraits of her as a closely framed fragment that I did. It was around 9am, with the very harsh morning sun cutting across.
Images of nature have cropped up fairly regularly over the years. I really enjoy walking in the bush and generally being among the elements. This was a particularly appealing composition of kareao on Auckland’s west coast. It is rather rare for me to make images with my 35mm Olympus OM2n, but when out tramping it is a useful light alternative to my main Mamiya RZ67 workhorse.
My interest in photography has always been within a fine arts context. So, with the exception of the occasional commission, and print and book sales, the bulk of my income comes from my work as a landscape gardener, primarily focused on high-end garden maintenance of established gardens. This is wonderful work, I enjoy being outside and the physical aspect of it. Over the years I have sporadically taken my camera along. This is an image of my co-worker, Ratema, rather intensely pruning an unruly willow on Lake Pupuke.
My latest sustained period of production was last year, when Zahra, our daughter Frieda and I spent five months in Whanganui at the Tylee Cottage Residency. It was a fantastic adventure, and we both created a lot of new work which we look forward to exhibiting in the near future. This is an image from a new dance work that Zahra has developed using elements of the local environment, in this case some pumice from the beach by the North Mole.
The work of Solomon Mortimer can be found in some of the country’s top collections. In 2019 he was named an Arts Laureate by The Arts Foundation of New Zealand, and his latest photo book A Room in Whanganui — in collaboration with partner Zahra Killeen-Chance — won the 2022 Aotearoa Photobook Award. Visit solomonmortimer.com for more of his work.