Peter Black has been a consistently active, if under-sung member of the New Zealand photographic community since the early 1980s. His work has encompassed landscape, documentary, and (in a way) still life, but he is most well-known for his street photography—a type of documentary photography that features subjects in candid situations in public places, and a genre not much practiced by New Zealand art photographers.
In 2003 City Gallery Wellington put on Real Fiction, a survey show covering Black’s career to date. In a way that show, helped by changes in photographic technology, signalled a change in Black’s approach. Up until the mid-2000s most of his work was black and white, with the occasional work being made in colour. Since that time he has taken to colour and digital photography with a newfound vigour.
The first shows of his recent colour work, broadly speaking, tended toward the landscape. There was his first show at Photospace, New Colour, which seemed to suggest someone (re)discovering photographing in colour; Outskirts at McNamara Gallery was strongly influenced by the likes of Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz (American photographers at the forefront of the 1970s colour revolution); and At Home, which was Black’s individualistic celebration of Kiwi-ness.
Looking around that show I thought, “there’s a book here,” and so it was with some brief disappointment to discover that I Loved You The Moment I Saw You (VUP, NZ$60) is not that book. It is, instead, a return to his street photography roots. But it’s different from his earlier work, not least because colour plays a significant part in the image. Where his black and white works concentrated the viewing on the subject, Black now manages to combine the wit and depth of his earlier works with the potentially conflicting addition of colour to produce works of great visual complexity.
There are a number of narratives running through the image, but two ideas stick: the Haves and the Have-nots, and the perpetually bored (or perpetual boredom of modern life). I’m not sure how important it is to the narrative(s), but all bar two of the photos were taken in central Wellington. Black’s Moving Pictures series has been described as catching the essence of ‘Rogernomics’ New Zealand. I Loved You The Moment I Saw You can be seen as a response to John Key’s New Zealand.
The accompanying essay by Ian Wedde unnecessarily intertwines his own artist endeavours with Black’s, but does make some insightful comments. Sitting at the back of the book only emphasises that the important essay—the real narrative—are the preceding photos.
The publicity material describes the book as a “one of the great photo-portraits of our time.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, though given the distance of time, it may be seen as such. However, it is pleasing that a local publisher feels there is a market for lavish, well-produced books based on a single body of work, rather than producing yet another survey book.
I Loved You The Moment I Saw You is a book to mull over, to read rather than look at. It is full of wit and wonder, it asks questions but doesn’t give answers, and more than anything it confirms Peter Black possesses a unique talent and is indeed one of our greatest photographers.