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Without having to interact

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

For years Catherine Russ has used her photography to show her surroundings in a light that many people don't get to see. Her latest exhibition In The Quiet presents this idea, with spaces photographed in the early hours of the day, just before the world wakes.

Catherine started taking photos that she thought would resonate with friends and family overseas. These were posted to social media on the same day so that people could have a sense that they were looking at the image in real time. The intention was to channel a little bit of home to Kiwis living abroad.

She talks to us about magic mornings, naming birds, and how plans can change for the better.

Fire Station, Hunterville, 2021

What does a typical day look like?

I’m generally woken up by the sound of a kingfisher or pheasant and go to sleep with the sound of a morepork. I’ve given them names (Keith, Victor, Nelson) as they’re now so familiar they’re part of the family. I’m always juggling a handful of projects at any one time, so a typical day involves a lot of computer time, unfortunately. I work either from home or from my places of work in town. I’m a list maker. That’s how I get my work done.

What are the inspirations behind your latest exhibition, In The Quiet?

Until recently, I had lived for twenty years in Palmerston North’s CBD and one way that I could get some exercise (without having to interact with anyone on the street) was by heading out of the building early in the morning. I made a discovery that only early morning people know … this time of the day is magic! Central cities or public places with no cars or people are so much more enjoyable. The light and a quiet time to think inspired me to photograph the buildings I walked past. In 2020 I received a grant from the Earle Creativity and Development Trust to produce this series of photographs which mostly originate from small towns in the Manawatu and Rangitikei regions.

If you weren’t doing what you currently do, what would you be doing?

Well, in my dreams, I’d be making short films and music videos. I’ve also always had an interest in advertising.

Describe your creative process.

I often visualise what I want to achieve, and then set about figuring out how to make it happen. That’s how I begin. Often the plan changes along the way, but always for the better. Having the ability and courage to keep working with an idea and follow it through to its end is a challenge I enjoy – every session with the camera is an adventure. Diane Arbus once said, "The important thing to know is that you never know. You’re always feeling your way.”

Who are your biggest influences?

Tracey Moffatt, Diane Arbus, Robin Morrison, Kathryn McCool, and filmmaker Andrea Arnold.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

Christine and the Queens’ music video ‘La marcheuse’. The light, colour, style and intensity are very moving to me.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

I have a lot more time being alone in my car now that I’ve recently moved to the country. I like to play music, which tends to send me on a path of thinking about the people, times, or places that it reminds me of. For example, New Order always makes me think of my time living in Golden Bay … driving in the Holden HR Special with my daughter in the back seat and Simon at the wheel. We ran into Peter McLeavey at the Mussel Inn at Onekaka one year and he held my hand when he talked to me … and so on goes this type of thinking.

In 2020 I completed a series called ‘Park Up’ which was exhibited at Te Manawa (Palmerston North) and Aratoi (Masterton) soon after. Spending time at Pork Chop Hill (the park-up where the series was made) involved a lot of thinking while alone in my car!

Image credit: Catherine Russ

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Catherine's exhibition In The Quiet will be showing at Photospace Gallery in Wellington, 3 March – 6 April.


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