Aramoana – “What sort of photos do you take?”

It was a family day trip to Aramoana. I’d left the rest of the family playing on the beach while I took off and stalked around the spit in search of images. Of course I’ve done this walk plenty of times before, but the weather was good, with a clear winter’s sun, and I’m an advocate of visiting and revisiting an area.

Walking along the dirt road to the pilot houses I looked up and saw this image.



A little further along, as I passed the Pilot houses, I heard a shout from one of them. Joseph, who lives in one of them, was giving me a pleasant hello. Seeing the camera he asked “What sort of photos do you take?” and that stumped me. What sort of photos do I take. What sort of photo was the shot above? Should I say “I take photos of random bits of industrial stuff against blue skies”?

I told him I took photos of whatever was there, and walked on not really satisfied with my own answer.

A little further around I came across one of the resident sea-lions, and also caught a glimpse of a gigantic leopard seal, but neither of these were happy to model for me. However at the old wharf the sun was striking the aged timbers at a good angle so I caught this shot.


It’s a little too Adams/Weston to count as one of my better images – those guys have already been there and caught this sort images before me, but it is pleasant nonetheless.

At the tip of the spit the view out to the opposite headland was working well. As is often the case, the good shot was one where the camera was low, and the rocks and waves lead your eye towards the distant headland.


This is working better. I like the quality of the light on the distant grassy hills.

Then walking back along the beach I found a rock pool, which made a great foreground object to set against the distant headland.


The close up rocks sort of echo the shape of the distant headland, and the transparent water adds interest to the foreground. The beach at Aramoana Spit is an enchanting place, but often resistant to being photographed. The place is wonderful, and you have this great sense of the ocean framed by the mole on the left and Taeri Heads on the right. but usually the experience of being there disappears when you raise the camera to your eye. This shot is probably the closest I’ve got to it.

So how can I answer Joseph’s question now? What sort of photographs have I taken? “A mix of landscapes and found objects” doesn’t seem to be the right answer. I certainly did not set out to take photos of landscapes and found objects, even though that is what I came home with. I don’t think Joseph was intending to engage me in a philosophical discussion when he asked his question, but nonetheless, that’s what has happened.

I think the answer is that I photograph as an aid to seeing.

I could take a pleasant walk around the spit, and it would be a good experience. But when I take the camera my eyes are more open. I’m more engaged in what is there. Would I have noticed the light falling on the timbers of the wharf if I did not have the camera? What about looking up to see the power transformer or noticing the leading lines and rocks-as-a-foreground elements to the landscape shots? Perhaps I might have, but I don’t think they would have registered with me the same way.

So I think this was really about process. The important question is not “What sort of photos do you take?” but rather “Why are you taking photos?”

And the answer is: to help me be present in the world better.


About Phil Davison

Photographer, musician and filmmaker.

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