Washday at the Pa
Ans Westra & Mark Amery, Suite Publishing ($25)
Washday at the Pa is a central text of New Zealand photographic history and one whose reputation has altered greatly over its long history.
It is a book that is vivid with energy. Westra’s photographic record of whanau life sits within a contested tradition of cultural representation and depicts a family at a crossroads between the urban and the rural, during a moment of great social upheaval. Mark Amery’s contextual essay in this volume is an excellent way-in to the work’s charged history and changing reputation, making a case for Washday at the Pa as a text of continuing political, as well as art-historical importance.
The images in this reprint include many which were removed from its initial publication for schools and present a broader view of the family’s life at work and play, alongside new photos of the book’s subjects taken in 1998. Westra’s eye for composition and gentle photographic presence allow many unguarded and startling moments to shine through, with some photos reaching out in a spirit of humour and tenderness that is rarely achieved.
This book is one of those rare texts whose artistic and cultural importance cannot be overstated, a body alive to continuous reinterpretation, appreciation and critique. Our responses to Washday at the Pa tell us as much about ourselves as the people and history it depicts.
Alex Mitcalfe Wilson, Unity Wellington