Driving

Updated: Nov 23

A new book and exhibition, both titled Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists, bring together portraits by the late photographer Marti Friendlander, including some that have never been seen.


Back in 2016 Kathlene Fogarty, Director of FHE Galleries and long time friend of Marti, wrote an informative and affectionate obituary.


We thought it was worth revisiting.


Marti Friedlander

19 February 1928 –14 November 2016


Still Light: The Photography of Marti Friedlander. Photo: Marti Friedlander

Beach Road

Standing on the footpath, I felt the whish of warm air and heard the window slide down. I put my head through the passenger window and said “Hello Marti.” – “Kathlene,” said Marti with mixed bewilderment and horror, “what are you doing out of the gallery?” “I do walk a little from time to time,” I replied – I was going to collect my car. “Hop in” Marti instructed, “I’ll take you there.” Clambering in, it occurred to me that over the nearly 30 years I had known Marti I’d never driven with her.


Beach Road – Customs Street East

We shot across the four lanes heading east. Marti took my hand and looked deep into my eyes. “Don’t worry – I’m a very good driver. Do tell me how you are.”

When you were with Marti there was always a moment of being completely there – the focus, the enquiry – and of honest truth. You don’t get to take the photographs she has by evading a situation, so there is very little chance of the chosen evading themselves. These photographs of artists, writers, Maoridom, the bloke down the road, reveal a psychology – they have a mystery that demands repeat viewing.

“It’s so lovely to see you,” she said, taking a moment to give me that big warm smile. There you are, centre of the world, and it was obvious that even driving was given no concession.

We sailed through the red on the intersection of Anzac and Customs in mutual contemplation.


Customs Street East – Fanshawe Street

Marti was extremely good company − honest, forthright (sometimes to a fault) and a wonderful conversationalist. We began discussing the proposed reprint of “The Moko Suite” which Marti and Gerrard – with their renowned generosity – had earlier gifted in its entirety. Conservation issues meant that if a second set were available there would be more extensive viewing. Michael King and Marti had travelled the country recording kuia known to have the traditional moko. These kuia – many of whom had never allowed their photographs to be taken – stood on their land and looked Marti straight in the eye. Their immense grandeur, spirit and knowledge rose palpably from their ancestral land to their eyes.

An old Maori man explained to me that while some wore their moko on the outside, others wore it on the inside.

I wanted a third large-scale set made so they could travel internationally. I said dealing with Te Papa was like knocking your head against a brick wall. How often had she encountered the brick wall?

“Ever since I can remember,” replied Marti, “but I have tried to do it with graciousness – and I have been enormously lucky.”

Really?

From poverty, being raised in an orthodox Jewish orphanage in London, hospitalised many times; marriage – and moving from a cultured London to this bewildering, isolated country. Losing her child in still-birth – creating a life with depth and meaning – teaching – lecturing – publications – videos. Always Projects.

And all accomplished with determined grit.

I watched in the rear vision mirror, as the bright orange cones leapt back into life as we ran an unerringly straight line over them.


An image from the Māori series by Marti Friedlander. Photograph: Marti Friedlander, Image courtesy of FHE Galleries.

Victoria Street West – Up Franklin

Is indicating over-rated these days? Probably.

We galloped up Franklin – the mid-day sun casting beautiful black shadows from the trees. We discussed the forthcoming unveiling of Ralph Hotere’s gravestone up in Mitimiti. “I would love to photograph him one more time,” said Marti. To a small group it was known that Marti’s time was short – I thought it unlikely she could manage the journey. Ralph would understand.

Marti had photographed Ralph over 28 years. Ralph had rarely spoken publicly about his work, but the photographs – taken in and about his studios, by his work, on his land – speak more eloquently than words ever could.

Marti was no shrinking violet. I observed her photographing Ralph in the Auckland City Art Gallery. Instructions were directed often and fast– left / right / forward … Marti was tough.

I later asked Ralph – how did he put up with that?

Ralph sat in the chair, quiet for a few moments. “Because she gets it.” A master-class in four words.

"Should I go left?" said Marti – turning to the right.

Ponsonby Road – Great North Road

We sped down the central island of busy Ponsonby Road – there was much honking of horns and people giving vent.

“There must be a carnival up here today as well – there was one when I was passing through Parnell last week,” said Marti.

A few years ago Marti was reading Conversations with God: an unusual dialogue. She asked me what the two fundamental things in life were. I thought tea and people – but apparently it was “Love and Fear”. Marti was delighted, because she said it was “so true”.

At the intersection of Great North Road a Hazard Vehicle, lights flashing, foretold the length of a Large Truck with the two-storied Victorian House perched atop it.

We took it on at considerable speed.

“I didn’t know there was a house still there – I must come back and photograph it.”


King Street

We turned down King Street. I kissed the ground outside Barry Clark Motors, thanking Marti for the catch-up. “Hell of a driver,” said the chaps.

Driving to the funeral – a group of us telling our favourite Marti stories, watching the Marti Catalogue shimmer past us – Vistas / Road workers / Suburban fields next to 1960’s houses.

Talking so much I missed the turn-off. I threw a U-turn across three lanes – the back seat gave a cry of horror. "Don’t worry," I said – "I’m a good driver."

There you are Marti, one of the things I so loved about you – always the last word.

Marti was a great force of nature. I will miss her beyond words – 25 years of being bossed around, I’m not sure what I am going to do.

Maybe heaven is a place

In the hearts of those

Who respected and honestly

Liked you a lot,

An earthly place

With brightness behind you,

Surreal skies above

Lighting the best way home.

Brian Turner

(From Heaven)


Tim and Neil Finn, musicians, 2003. Courtesy of the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust

Marti Friedlander: Portraits of the Artists

New Zealand Portrait Gallery, Wellington

Until 8 November.


First published ArtZone #67

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