Some words about Ans Westra

If you are lucky, as you go through life, you have the privilege to meet people who can change you. Sometimes in small ways, sometimes leaving a more profound influence on your life.

I feel quite privileged as an artist to have met a number of creative people at the top of their profession, and shared time with them, talking about their lives and their work.

Ans Westra is one such artist, and along with Paul Caponigro & Francis Bacon also unassuming & plainly spoken about the business of making creative work.
I was lucky to spent some hours with her in her Wellington home in 1989, when I was living for a year in New Zealand. We talked about photography. And also about PhotoForum members I'd met since coming to New Zealand, Bill Maine in Wellington and John Turner in Auckland.

In the process of talking about her work and difficulties of earning a living from photography in New Zealand, she showed me some recent printed contact strips of her work.Not prepared as samples, just work proofs which were laying on a nearby table.

Then, as I think now, Ans works in medium format so the images were quite big. What impressed me, apart from her willingness to show me these (contact strips can often reveal failures or near misses as well as successful images so not all photographers are happy to share) was the virtual 100% certainty in every single one of the sheets I saw.
Certainty of her instincts.Of the 'rightness' of her choices. Every single one of the pictures. 

I've never seen from any photographer I've met or read about (and I've seen a lot of published contact sheets by famous photographers) the clarity of thought, of framing & unobtrusive mastery of vision that I saw that day.
I'm not saying Ans never has 'off' days, I'm sure she did & does, but what I saw, produced by this very modest woman, was quite staggering. And has stayed with me as a lesson in economy & directness of vision.

Forget many of the flash in the pan folk that tend to populate contemporary photography & documentary photography in particular. Especially those whose real talent is for self promotion.
Ans Westra is the real thing. And as I've said before, if she was living anywhere other than New Zealand, she'd be a photo celebrity. Though I suspect a very low key one, remembering Ans modest personality.

Fortunately, in the period since my own visit to New Zealand, the internet has helped alleviate the relative geographic & cultural isolation that was felt by many artists in that part of the world. And Ans, along with other notable NZ photographers such as Glen Jowitt and Peter Black have taken full advantage of the web to showcase their work to an outside of their native country.
One final thought. As you can see from the few examples below, Ans Westra's work is direct. And also very modern in terms of aesthetic ambition (witness the new colour work below) but still very much her own.
I know Ans spent time with Fay Godwin, when Fay visited NZ some years ago, but apart perhaps from a renewed confidence in taking landscape photographs, you'd be hard pressed to detect a direct influence.

Check out the many books with Ans work in. She is I think one of the greats.

Self Portrait at Te Kaha (1964)

Maori family on street  (1967)

Watching Miss NZ Contestants, Cuba Mall, Wellington (1971)

Lambton Quay - Wellington (1974)

Manhattan NY (1987)


Ratana Church

Ans Westra, Auckland April 2005 (photo: John B Turner)
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