John Fields

Article Detail

Thursday 7 February 2013
Ron Brownson

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I was sad to learn that John Fields has passed away In Australia. I have always considered John as one of the most committed camera artists to work in New Zealand. Trained as a scientific photographer, he was employed at The University of Auckland Medical School, where he was responsible for many innovations in forensic photography.

Using both a large format camera and the miniature 35mm, he was equally gifted in uber-detailed set-up imagery as he was with candid photography. An artist of acute intelligence and perception, his architectural documentation of Auckland and the Coromandel regions is without parallel.
I wrote about John for our publication Art Toi and I include that commentary this here:

John Fields made his portrait John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland on a summer day when both men were swimming off North Shore’s Milford Beach. Fields saw a mesmerising combination of four elements: the dark sea, a low-slung and puffy cumulus cloud, the distant volcanic silhouette of Rangitoto Island and John Allen’s bobbing head. With these he constructed a haunting image. While the photographer was standing in the water off Milford Beach, his camera angle makes it appear as if he was floating above the sea.

Many of Fields’s portraits from the 1970s have this surreal impact, with people observed in disjunctive and surprising oppositions to their physical location. This photograph’s composition draws its tension from the way that the scale of the cloud and volcano juxtapose strangely with Allen’s head. Fields has manipulated the printing of the photograph to emphasise the face, making Allen look glowing and radiant. His long black hair, moustache and self-absorbed expression contribute to the odd, dreamlike impression that the photograph conveys. 

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Allen looks not only like a quintessential hippie but also like a man from the distant past. By concentrating on his head, Fields creates a figure who seems less like a swimmer than a strange sea creature. This carefully planned image is suffused with an air of mystery. Fields immigrated to New Zealand from America in 1966, after studying photography and filmmaking in Boston. From October 1969 he started using a 5 x 7 inch view camera to document the landscape and architecture of the Auckland region. At the same time, he used his 35mm Leica camera to make photographs of people, always using available light rather than artificial lighting. John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland is a unique vintage print. No further prints were ever made and the negative was destroyed in an accident.

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For my earlier blogs about John
http://aucklandartgallery.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/john-fields-part-1.html
http://aucklandartgallery.blogspot.co.nz/2009/03/john-fields-part-2.html 

CREDITS
John Fields (1938-2013)
Brian Boru Hotel, Thames, 2nd floor with music room June 1973
gelatin silver print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the artist 1976

John Allen, Rangitoto, Auckland 1974
gelatin silver print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, purchased 2009

Lands and Deeds Office, High Street, Auckland circa 1970
gelatin silver print
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of John Stacpoole and John Fields, 1983