Getting it all arranged
I got the Award after promising to produce an illustrated book about my journeys through space and time along Auckland's Great South Road, and to advance the documentary film about the road on which I've been working intermittently but intensely with auteur Paul Janman and cinematographer Ian Powell. The book will be ready for publication by the middle of next year, and Paul hopes to have our film on the festival circuit by then as well.
The other two finalists for the Award were Renee Liang, who proposed creating a play about a Chinese family living in Ponsonby during the 1940s and '50s, and Courtney Meredith, who promised a book-length sequence of poems that dealt with the history and present of South Auckland. Unlike the one hundred metre dash or tiddlywinks, literature is not a sport that allows the precise and definitive comparison of its competitors' performances, and it would be ridiculous for anyone to suggest that Liang's and Meredith's projects have less importance and potential than my own. My best wishes to them both.
Paul Janman and Ian Powell have already produced thousands of photographs and tens of hours of film footage during their journeys with me along the Great South Road. On the day before the Awards ceremony, Paul brought me to a huge blank room in central Auckland, and poured hundreds of images - discrete photographs, as well as film stills - onto a long table that ran down the middle of the room. For the rest of the day the two of us took turns picking an image and pinning it to one of the room's walls. Juxtapositions were made, and patterns formed and dissolved. Ian Powell and Paul's wife Echo Zeanah-Janman wandered into the room occasionally, chuckled, and wandered out again.
On the high walls of that empty room we tried to let the images wander where they wanted. I discovered the visual and emotional parralels between an abandoned railcar at the Otahuhu workshops and a drab war memorial in the lower Waikato; I realised, as well, that Paul's infrared footage of Newmarket caryards was as sinister and obscure as the primitive photographs that pretended to document the wars of the 1860s.
During my acceptance speech at the Town Hall I talked about Kendrick Smithyman, whose psychogeographic wanderings around the bleaker suburbs of Auckland and the weedier backblocks of the North Island are one of the inspirations for my travels along the Great South Road. The experiment with Paul in that big blank room reminded me of the wry poem that Smithyman called 'Peter Durey's Story':
A notable social scientist used to teach
in a boarding house not now remembered clearly.
He was brilliant at seminars, his lectures were
off the cuff, publishers sought him,
students ran scared, he was so much in command,
One day at his office
he was very proud of himself.
Sleeves rolled, glasses dazzling, he stacked
oh it must have been close on a hundred
biggish flat boxes, the kind which dress shops used.
"Look at that now, years of it! At last,
I’ve got it all arranged." Each box, labelled.
The first said Field Notes, Classified.
The second, Field Notes, Classified.
The ninety-plus others, Field Notes, Unclassified.
That’s how people think
university people work, bringing to order,
all the time collecting, finding out, systematising.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]