Grahame Sydney’s Central Otago

D-Photo. December Edition.  Vicki Jayne.

Review ‘Grahame Sydney’s Central Otago’: More meditation than pictorial essay, Grahame Sydney’s photographs reflect his long love affair with the Central Otago landscapes he has been capturing on canvas for the past three decades. 
This is Sydney’s heartland and, in recent years, his permanent home.  Several shots have been taken from his front yard in the Cambrian Valley where “no streetlights glow”, the “earth is silent” and only the odd torchlight beam of a distant car suggests solitude is not total.

Favourite places feature over and again – displaying different moods and colouration, from monochromatic winter to bleached brown summer, from the starkness of midday to the soft pink and purple hues of early morning.  It is, Sydney says, a daily theatre – sometimes melodrama, sometimes subtle beauty – a never-ending privilege to watch and record.  His drive to capture these moments and these places is not just to provide visual aids for Sydney the painter, but to create a memory bank both for himself and as a hedge against the future.  That’s because he fears the special nature of these landscapes is already being diluted and that is something he deeply regrets. 

As he says in the foreword to this book: “My belief is that my generation is needlessly squandering the very qualities that make this region stand so separately, so distinctly from every other part of New Zealand”.

That distinct quality is very much in evidence throughout the collection – the deceptively soft folds of the Hawkdun Range clear-cut against vaulted blue skies; the clarity of the light that edges historic buildings; the endless brown rug of tussock, the sculpted roundness of lenticular clouds weighing the air like so many alien spacecraft.  It couldn’t be any other place than Central.

So, about here I have to own that I grew up in this part of the world and the visceral effect of these photos – I can almost smell the air’s sharp clarity, hear my feet crunching the frosted tussock – finds a very receptive audience.

That said there is no doubt that the painter’s eye has influenced framing, colour tones, and subject choice.  These photos are a pleasure to the eye. 

Sydney doesn’t limit himself to pure landscape – the area’s history and some of the characters that people his remote valley also feature.  The eight page foreword reveals more of Grahame Sydney the person, how his own history has been tied up with that of the area and the nature of his relationship with it.  The language is as lyrical as his artwork.
While other photographic essays of the area might pall, I believe the emotional depth of this one will ensure it a long shelf life.