Mō Te Upoko-o-te-ika/For Wellington (press release)

Source: City Gallery Wellington

© Viggo Mortensen.

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Photographs by Viggo Mortensen
29 November 2003 - 25 January 2004
The Michael Hirschfield Gallery

'Any type of artistic expression,' Viggo Mortensen says, 'is for me at heart a way to see and ask, a way to react and answer.' Well known to us as the sword wielding Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortensen's creative expression in fact ranges far wider than his successful acting career. He is also an accomplished photographer, painter and poet, with an exhibition history that includes galleries in the United States, Cuba and, most recently, Denmark.

Although demanding film schedules and the transient lifestyle that accompanies working on location has in recent years left Mortensen little time for painting, they have provided the impetus for him to evolve as a photographer, to continue to 'paint with the camera'.

Wellington, where Mortensen lived for long stretches of time over the past four years to film Lord of the Rings, has had a profound impact on his photographic practice. The streets of the central city, the hills and coasts of this region became his subject matter. The strong clear light and the constant movement of winds and tides that characterise our coastal city shaped Mortensen's account of his new environment - and have given him new ways of responding to other environments in his travels throughout Europe, America and Asia.

It is appropriate, then, that this body of photographs taken in the Wellington region is exhibited in City Gallery Wellington's Michael Hirschfield Gallery - a space devoted to exhibiting work by Wellington-based artists and designers, as well as work that has an emphatic connection with this place.

In Mo Te Upoko-o-te-ika/For Wellington's partner exhibition at Massey University, the artist's fascination with colour, light and movement can be seen in his photographs made elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas.

Engaged by small moments of everyday wonder, Mortensen allows the coincidences and randomness of everyday life to play a part in the making of his photographs. When a roll of film is damaged by his camera malfunctioning, producing flashes across images, he doesn't discard the film or repair the camera, but instead continues shooting to see what else can be created by 'using the accident'.

Mortensen's sensibility as a painter is visible in his recent work as he experiments with the camera - sweeping or circling it while making increasingly longer exposures. In Pukerua Bay, for instance, the colours of land and sky swirl like paint on a canvas, while in Plimmerton threads of light look like silver pencil marks or a sparkler drawing across the night sky.

Ironically many of the recent and more abstract photographs in this exhibition are titled precisely and concretely - Mt Victoria, Adelaide Road, Courtenay Place. But the images are not so much documents of the physical characteristics of a place, although sometimes we can make out recognisable details or the blurred contours of land and sea.

Mortensen's true interest lies in the qualities of light, the depths and variations in colour, the effect of movement on the moment in which an impression of place is captured through the camera lens. He says about his recent work: '...there is movement, there are layers, unexpected reflections, a liquid and often transparent quality to my images - things I don't see but have come to know exist, that will probably show up if I do things in a certain way.' Mortensen uses a camera much as he uses a paintbrush or language when he writes poetry: they are the creative tools with which he responds intuitively to the world around him.

Rebecca Wilson
Exhibition Curator
Last edited: 24 June 2006 13:48:17
© City Gallery.