Essay by Dr. Ann McEwan;
Photography by Anne Challinor
Ramp Press/Wintec, NZ$48 | Reviewed by Andy Palmer

ONE NICE THING about photography books is that, often, there is little text. This leaves the photos – generally the reason the book exists – to be read without too much interference. A good introduction will give us a context in which to read the work in the book, and hint at what the photographer was trying to achieve. The photos can then, hopefully, be enjoyed/devoured/whatever with little distraction.

The Houses of Hayes Paddock is an interesting book; interesting more because I’m not sure of its purpose than because of the work in it. Primarily it’s a photography book about, as the title suggests, a very specific place – in this case the Hamilton suburb of Hayes Paddock. But rather than documenting its history and/or the current residents as with Baches of Raglan (published by Ramp Press/Wintec in 2008), this seems to be more interested in the architecture of the place.

But the introduction, written by architecture historian Ann McEwan, only hints at this. It’s a short easy read, giving a history of the New Zealand State House, a brief history of Hayes Paddock, and reference to some of the architectural styles in the houses. However, there is no real in-depth discussion of anything – history, architecture, development, suburbanisation, inhabitants past or present.

Then there’s Anne Challinor’s photography. This makes up the majority of the book. And it is nice photography; it doesn’t wow me, but it is more than adequate. What does leap out at me though is that most of the shots seem to have been taken in winter, and there are hardly any photos with people in them. This latter point hints at the architectural bias of the book, but then the photos don’t really emphasise the architecture either.

Also there are only exterior shots, we don’t get to go inside any of these houses, when surely that is at least as interesting as the outside, probably more so. Oddly, there is no implicit connection between the introduction and the photography – no captions drawing attention to the particular architecture.

Baches of Raglan worked for me because it told the personal stories of the bach owners. That Hayes Paddock almost studiously avoids people seems odd to me. I get the impression that this was a hurried publication, and while the contents may make perfect sense to those involved in the publication, I feel that they have neglected the fact that the book is made for a wider audience, and that audience isn’t really catered for. In and of itself it’s a nice publication. But it could have been so much more.