Marti Friedlander: Her Archive Online
‘Caroline, darling, it’s the one of the children on the beach, you know, the best one, they’re all in a row, you know, the one with the flute’. Down the phone line came that familiar deep, husky voice – Marti Friedlander (1928–2016) desperately trying to locate a single photo from her massive archive of over 4000 prints. She knew which she wanted, but did I?
Marti would have loved the fact that now she could simply go onto Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki’s website and find digital versions of her works, with a Gallery number that easily identifies each print.
In the years leading up to the Gallery’s 2001 exhibition, Marti Friedlander Photographs, curator Ron Brownson worked alongside Marti, no doubt casting his eye over the full collection, to make a careful selection of those photographs that would eventually be shown. Exhibition prints were made and subsequently donated to the Gallery’s art collection by Marti with assistance from the Elise Mourant Bequest. Brownson, once Research Librarian, suggested to the Friedlanders that they may like to consider depositing the full print archive at the E H McCormick Research Library. And so in 2002, accompanied by a spreadsheet with its own numbering system, Marti’s 4405 photographs and proof sheets came to the Gallery and became known as the Marti Friedlander Archive.
As well as the mostly black and white prints, in various sizes, and proof sheets the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Charitable Trust have placed with us on long-term loan negatives, correspondence, exhibition ephemera, press clippings, catalogues and publications. When the final deposit comes to us it will be as complete an archive as any in our collection.
Before her use of colour film, Marti printed her own works, cropping the negatives frequently to produce her photographs. Trustee Dr Leonard Bell, an expert on Marti’s practice, quoted her in his book Marti Friedlander, ‘For me the image was part photo, part creating the final image in the enlarger … I just loved being able to make several images from one negative.’ Working from proof sheets, Marti was confident in her selection of which negative to base her print or prints on, referring to the frame as ‘best’ from then on. This delight in the potential of each negative may explain why every film over so many decades was meticulously listed and saved.
Regarding subject matter, Marti delighted in her status as a freelancer, ‘I have had a tremendous amount of freedom … I wasn’t expected to photograph the obvious, and I didn’t.’ The archive came to us organised under headings: ‘artists’, ‘children’, ‘Tokelau’ and so on. Regardless of the subject matter Marti’s personal, interactive rather than objective, journalistic approach is evident.
Marti was always keen for her works to be accessible, and the Trust supported this by funding the digitisation of the archival prints in 2018. In consultation with the Gallery’s photographer, Jennifer French, the project was carried out by New Zealand Micrographic Services and led to the production of small and large-sized digital images.
In 2019 we began the process of making the prints’ records and digital versions ready to load onto the Gallery’s collection database and then our website.
Each of the over 4000 prints had to be checked against a spreadsheet and renumbered in the listing and on the back of the photograph. This work was carried out by Linda Yang, who had been Marti’s long-time valued assistant and who knows the collection well (the Trust continues to fund her work on the subsequent deposits). Covid lockdowns gave me, as the Gallery’s archivist, the chance to go through the works twice: once to review each title and a second time to match these with the images as I double-checked for accuracy. I had questions regarding some of the titles and needed to discuss whether to include some material in the online offering – for example, duplicates and proof sheets, both typically found in photographic archives. Final decisions were made in discussion with Bell.
With the prints rehoused in 19 boxes, 19 separate spreadsheets were then created and Gallery colleagues Jennifer French and Julie Koke, Senior Registrar, brought their expertise to the project, storing the digital images appropriately and uploading the data for each print onto the Gallery’s database. The Marti Friedlander Archive was now ready to be launched on the website.
It is a privilege to constantly be reviewing Marti’s photographic output and I made several discoveries over the course of the digitisation project. I knew less of her international subjects and relished seeing early photographs taken in Israel in the 1950s, prints of renowned cellist Jacqueline du Pré and conductor Daniel Barenboim, and a proof sheet covering a walk-about by Queen Elizabeth II, presumably in New Zealand in the 1960s, which was mislabelled in ‘Marti’s’ spreadsheet as ‘Giselle, Jenny, Marti’.
I was aware of the many local protests that Marti photographed, such as the anti-Vietnam War demonstration in 1967, but I was interested to see her coverage of the marches against the Soviet occupation of former Czechoslovakia that took place in Auckland in 1968. Also pictured in Auckland was a one-of-a-kind event in which A Good Keen Man (1960) author Barry Crump compèred a fashion parade in the quad at the University of Auckland.
Marti was a liberal, however among her digitised prints are at least five New Zealand prime ministers from both sides of the political spectrum, either caught on camera at social events or posed more formally.
Her photographs of artists, writers and poets are well loved and published widely, however there were some surprises for me: Sam Hunt at Marti’s home in Herne Bay and the Limbs contemporary dance group, for example.
So many people and places over six decades.
The significance of Marti Friedlander Archive has been recognised by its inclusion on the UNESCO Aotearoa/ New Zealand Memory of the World Register. The inscription mentions the ‘irreplaceable portraits of many of the major political and artistic figures in post-war New Zealand’ as well as Marti’s 1970 series documenting the moko of Māori kuia. It labels her documentation of protests and demonstrations as ‘cultural touchstone(s)’ and describes the archive as ‘an indelible record on New Zealand life in the second half of the 20th century’.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and the Friedlander Trust hopes that by providing accessible images, dedicated researchers and the public will enjoy engaging with the remarkable legacy of a lifetime spent photographing. Students of social history will reflect on our changing preoccupations, homes, cities and, more personally, our clothing and hairstyles. Photographers will look closely at technique and consider why that image was selected to be printed from a proof sheet of many and why it was cropped in a certain way. Historians may simply be grateful that a significant figure was photographed at a particular time and place.
In summing up, Marti once said, ‘my work is … of the moment… When I take a photograph of an instant I want to hold that moment.’  Here, for the first time, are thousands of such moments, held for posterity.
 Leonard Bell, Marti Friedlander, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2009, p 6.
 Marti Friedlander with Hugo Manson, Self-Portrait, Auckland University Press, Auckland, 2013, p 241.
 As above, p 250.