Weathering the Wait

Photographer Jeremy Senior prays that his days off are overcast so he can capture images that are hauntingly still, he tells Claire McCall

Photographer Jeremy Senior. Picture / Babiche Martens.

Jeremy Senior is a self-confessed control freak. When the fine art of photography reached out and grabbed his soul, this boy from Feilding was not swayed by some “arty-farty theory” but by the hands-in-a-chemical-bath nature of the darkroom. “I liken the process to woodworking. The way you cut and sand an object defines how it will turn out.”

When film turned digital and the computer mouse replaced the liquid ritual, it only played into his hands. “There was even more control since you could instantly see what you were getting.”

In Senior’s grasp the camera transforms the everyday action of nature — the ebb and flow of the tide, the scud of clouds and the changing haze of the horizon — into evocative, peaceful portraits of time. In these black-and-white tableaus, there may be recognisable landmarks such as Lion Rock at Piha or the Bean Rock Lighthouse, while the overlooked and insignificant also catch his eye.

The underbelly of the Harbour Bridge and a single wharf pole protruding from the sea are given equal weight.

It’s a style that Elliot Alexander, the curator at Endemic World, says will stop you in your tracks. “Cloudy monotones and the time-lapse feel make you pause and look.”

His work certainly gained the attention of the judges at last year’s Black and White Spider Awards, a US-based annual photography competition that is celebrating its 10th year. Open to international entrants, Senior’s Cathedral Cove image was selected from more than 8500 entrants from 73 countries as the best photograph in the nature category by an amateur photographer.

Such acclaim gives him the impetus to keep pursuing his craft, which has only recently been acknowledged commercially. Like most artists, a fulltime, professional role is his aim but, in the meantime, most days of the week he can be found knocking up fences for his father-in-law’s business.

The young man who studied a Bachelor of Media Arts at Wintec in Hamilton has taken a circuitous route to reach this stage. His father was a farmer/accountant who enlisted the help of his seven children to build his own house on their 100-acre property.

“I was a typical boy, playing war games, hanging out in the forest and making things in Dad’s shed.”

With earth beneath his fingernails, studying the art history of photography did not come naturally. Senior preferred the practical aspects, so immersing himself in books by Professor Geoffrey Batchen to grasp his intellectual thinking, or Susan Sontag’s collection of essays on the subject, was a challenge. “But I surprised myself because I really got into it,” he laughs.

He was happier though, creating the models for his end-of-year exhibition. Building table-top sized room sets from cardboard, wood and polystyrene appealed to his tactile side. Then he took photographs of them. “The simplicity of the all-white interiors meant the emphasis was on shadows and shapes. There was also a play on the perception of reality; until you looked closer, the prints appeared like the interiors of real houses.”

Although it took a while to narrow down what he loved doing, in hindsight, his work is along the same lines as his graduation project. When it comes to creating the minimalist results that Senior specialises in, it takes perfectionism and patience in equal measure because the one component he needs control of most is, sadly, beyond his command.

“When you’re shooting long-exposure shots out in the field, it’s best to have an overcast day,” he explains.

The unpredictability of the elements means it can sometimes take hours and hundreds of shots to get the right result. This father of two young boys takes Fridays as his time out from his job to jump in his car and load up his Canon 5D Mark II. Then he prays for inclement weather.

His subjects are often objects (natural or man-made) within the frame of water and sky. “I’m drawn to being out in the landscape. It’s where I feel most creative and serene.”

Working in low-light situations usually at the beginning or end of the day, he sets up his tripod for the one-to-four minute exposure he needs to capture the movement. “I aim for simplicity with only one or two things in the frame.”

The result may seem calm and collected, but the process often isn’t. A casual observer watching Senior shoot the Watch Tower at Bethells Beach may have seen the erstwhile photographer in a scene that embodied slapstick calamity, struggling with an umbrella as the wind ripped it inside out and his equipment was drenched by a typical West Coast storm.

The result is an emotive photograph where blown black sand and a dark, moody sky sandwich a structure on stilts that looks vulnerable within the vastness.

Such experiences only serve to spur him on. “I find it relaxing and love getting out there,” he says. “I still have so many places to go.”

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New Zealand Herald

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