Friday, May 15, 2015

Getting it all arranged

I was grateful to receive the first Auckland Mayoral Literary Award last night, during a ceremony at the Town Hall timed to coincide with the Auckland Writers Festival. In his speech at the Town Hall Auckland mayor Len Brown noted the city's absurdly rich literary heritage, observed that its writers deserve more support, and hoped that the prize he had established would be offered annually for at least a century.

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.
A few months ago Paul and I worked out a reasonably tight structure for a film about the Great South Road, complete with recurring scenes and phrases and a complicated historical argument, but he had become concerned that we were proceeding too intellectually, and not letting our images associate with one another freely, without the rules imposed by narrative and logic. It wasn't a matter of abandoning order, Paul explained, but of giving intuition its due. We needed intutition if we were to finish the film.

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,
devastating.
                  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]

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Len Brown got caught with his pants down.

3:22 pm  
Blogger Dr Jack Ross said...

Congratulations, Scott -- that's brilliant news. Well deserved.

10:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well deserved. Congratulations and I look forward to seeing what you all come up with. Ryan.

9:58 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Thanks guys. Jack has of course been a long-time mythographer of another part of the Shore:
http://readingthemaps.blogspot.co.nz/2006/12/more-on-shore.html

Ryan, I saw your name recently, next to the words 'rugby league', in the guest book of the Auckland Museum research library! You must been in only a few minutes before me. Good to know you're keeping busy!

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