The Little Red Writing Book and discovering a wonderful Self-portrait by Sunil Azariah

Article Detail

Wednesday 25 August 2010
Ron Brownson

I have been reading Mark Tredinnick's succint publication The Little Red Writing Book (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2006). It has a memorable Preface quoted from Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote:

Do but take care to express yourself in a plain, easy Manner, in well-chosen, significant and decent Terms, and to give an harmonious and pleasing Turn to your Periods: Study to explain your Thoughts, and set them in their truest Light, labouring as much as possible, not to leave 'em dark nor intricate, but clear and intelligible: Let your diverting Stories be express'd in diverting terms...

What a good invocation for clarity and insight.

I was visited a few days ago by the mother of Sunil Azariah, a young New Zealand photographer who died tragically at 21 years old in August 1979. She asked me if anyone would be interested in his photographs. I was immediately interested when she showed me a reproduction of the innovative Self-portrait that he made during the last year of his life.

Mrs Azariah is currently trying to find the original transparency so that it can be reproduced on this blog. Sunil periodically assisted with the printing of Brian Brake's cibachrome prints at Viko, a local photographic printing specialist company. Brian wrote a moving valedictory comment that accompanies the four reproductions of Sunil's photographs published in the March 1980 issue of Photo + Audio (volume 1, number 10, page 26-27).

From the Self-portrait included there, it is obvious to me that Sunil created a striking and close-up image of himself by using coloured lights as in-fill. I remembered theSelf-portraits that Lucas Samaras was then making with the novel Polaroid SX70material. I tried to think of any local camera artist who was involved in such self-portraiture using expressive colour - the work that Christine Webster made a few years later comes to mind.

Sunil Azariah was only beginning to discover what his talent for photography was. His Self-portrait reminded me what his early death really means - a promising photographer whose life as an artist ended much too soon. When we track down the transparency I will be able to show you the significance of this one image. I have quoted before that saying of Vladimir Nabokov: Speak Memory.