Wonderful, Crazy, Subversive: The John B Turner Archive


exhibition Details

Described as ‘the father of modern New Zealand photography’ John B Turner (born 1943) has played a central role in the Aotearoa New Zealand photographic scene as critic, teacher, researcher, camera artist and collector. He was a lecturer of long standing at Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland (1971–2011) and is a founder of the photographers’ cooperative, PhotoForum, established in 1973. Turner generously gifted his archive to Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in 2015. It is an unparalleled collection that reflects his close to 60-year involvement in photography. In sheer volume this is the largest archive by far that the Gallery holds. The accessioning process is still underway as a life that necessitated maintaining many networks and the need for information at his fingertips has resulted in the accumulation of a large amount of material. There are over 1000 files on individual photographers alone that date from his time as a newspaper photographer in 1965.

Some of the gems unearthed while working on the archive reflect Turner’s mentoring, advocacy and social conscience. He encouraged many beginning practitioners, wrote letters to editors on behalf of fellow photographers and actively protested for liberal causes. He collected widely on both the history of photography and on contemporary photographic practice. Now domiciled in China, Turner is still involved in projects in New Zealand both publishing and exhibiting on a Te Atatu project last year and collaborating with Auckland Museum for the current exhibition, Being Chinese in Aotearoa: A Photographic Journey.

In an interview in 2015 for the exhibition History in the Taking: 40 Years of PhotoForum Turner commented: 'In retrospect, I can see that making photographs allowed me to say things that a shy young man could not put into words. To express desire and approval, or disapproval, of the things I liked and disliked. Photography gave a sense of empowerment and ownership in an uncertain environment . . . [it] is such a wonderful, crazy, subversive medium.'

Curated by
Caroline McBride and Catherine Hammond
Research Library Display Case

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