Document: North Island new Zealand Road Works "Go Men"


Often in my story-telling/art-making, I’ve documented road trips. More often than not, the footage doesn’t get anywhere, but the process helps me move somewhere mentally and emotionally, as I associate so much with landscapes and activity in it. Some years back, I photographed all the roadworks we passed on a trip from my hometown in New Zealand (Palmerston North) to Auckland and some of these images made their way to be paintings. The Go men (and women) always took time to acknowledge us and the trucks. I love trucks.

Resurfacing State Highway One Oil on canvas, Emma Louise Pratt

Resurfacing State Highway One

I’ve begun to focus more on the video work I do to collect information for paintings and realised it’s place not only in process, but as a finished work itself. I’m currently working on a video and painting project based on a village and it’s water sources. A multi-media work on canvas is developing as another way of telling the story within the video story. Confused? I’ll get it finished and uploaded soon and I’ll leave it to do the talking!

What I really want to talk about in this post is documenting. 

I got this post today – being shared around Facebook. It’s a call for video footage about a week of protests in my homeland New Zealand. This call for footage isn’t new. Since videos have been in the hands of more and more people via their phones, we’ve become used to seeing our own, albeit shaky, footage used in news reports. We’ve become reporters of our own histories. BBC is constantly making use of people on the ground tweeting what they’re witnessing, posting images and video. Image and footage work their way effectively around social platforms, moved by us, the people on the ground, to the envy of any news platform.

In recent floods in New Zealand, in which our own family farm was submerged, I went to news sites to get a handle on things, but quickly found the collaborative efforts of facebook pages and twitter hashtags set up by locals on the fly far closer to what was happening to my community. I got disaster relief info, flood updates and shared images and footage from people’s own windows, front gates, or while out walking the dog.

When I was a kid, we all typed with two fingers and through use became more adept at typing. Now we are becoming more adept at filming and visual aspects of storytelling through the possibilities given us of participating socially. people are even becoming adept at giving soundbites and short statements. We adapt. We learn.

What’s interesting about this latest call for footage and imagery is that it isn’t reactive. To get good footage at a later date, journalist Bryan Bruce would, as he explained, be restricted to the archived footage taken by news crews, and would have to pay for it.

A call for footage after the act would give him some good footage, but this documentarian is asking in advance for people to get out on the streets and carefully, MINDFULLY document the protests from their vantage point. He isn’t looking for that “quick, get the phone out and film that” reactive documenting. He’s given a list of things he’s looking for. Bruce wants good footage.

From the Facebook post:

“Try to get good images of protest signs, groups marching (from the front and the side) and show the diversity of age groups and ethnicities protesting  and catch some speakers in various centres…

If you interview people, which I hope you will, please remember to ask first “Do you mind if I ask why you are protesting today?”

(Don’t forget the odd shot of police of GCSB filming the demos 🙂

Our team of volunteers film makers will then edit the footage together to make what will not only be a historical piece but an ongoing social media protest. We will make teh footage available on social media adb it will eventually be stored in the New Zealand Film Archive under a creative commons licence.”

If you send me a personal message I will give you information about how to send the footage to me.

This is learning with a facilitator/catalyst. Bruce is encouraging people to consider what they cover, to effectively cover all aspects of the events and consciously consider what those aspects might be. This is an environment for reflection on their overall performance as participators and collaborators in recording history and telling a story. The project continues improving their filming skills through being asked to considering a variety of shots, and become interviewers and journalists. All on the fly.
Bryan Bruce’s Post here:



My mother was born with the Pacific stretching out around her in all directions. She lived her childhood looking out over the sea from a bungalow on a hill. When the north wind blew, it rattled the windows and howled down the nook between the house and the hill. The sea would constantly change colour as the clouds raced over it and the wind whipped it.

When she got married she left the coast and went to live in a little house as far inland and far away from her home as she had ever been. The drive was long, the roads windy. Letters and infrequent toll calls were all that kept her in touch with home. This was where I was born. I remember this when I feel isolated here on a peninsular of a continent far, far away. My mother had travelled as far away as I had.

Perhaps because it’s where I was born and my first memories are there, I’ve always been drawn to the centre of the North Island. I’ve explored so much of it, on foot, by river and car. I feel such excitement to be able to pass through it whenever I return home as if it were a pilgrimage necessary for my soul. I’ve spilt my blood there, shed tears. I’ve laughed and felt pure joy. I’ve seen the most glorious sights of my life and beheld the silence that causes the sensation that you’ve physically disappeared and joined it. In the hinterland, the spirits have passed over my head and lifted me in their wake and gently dropped me down with the heavy sadness of people’s passing.

Quick anecdote: My Great-Great Grandfather passed by there in the 1880’s trying to find a village in order to discuss a school. He was a rather large man apparently and no spring chicken, so one can’t quite imagine how he managed through such rugged country on a horse. He never found that village, getting himself quite lost and unable to cross a river, so had to turn around and go back to the coast.

In Spain , the first time I entered Extremadura, in the Spanish hinterland, I felt almost at home. It was the first time that a Spanish landscape spoke to me as if I had come from it. This vast expanse of isolated, stony, barren cattle country, is hot in summer, freezing in winter and its name means what it is: extremely hard . It can simultaneously uplift and oppress.

“Annihilation is an existential fear: the common – and sharply overdrawn –fear that some part of you dies when you stop making art. And it’s true. Non-artists may not understand that, but artists themselves (especially artists who are stuck) understand it too well.” *

As I said, the hinterland can lift you up or oppress. I’m stuck. I’m blocked, distracted. I can’t make work. I can’t find a thread. The more that happens, the more I read, the more knowledge I have, the more I live, the more life lives ME, the more I feel weighed down in the immensity of everything. I’m lost in vast a hinterland, lost in the chaos and calculation of life. It’s too hard and too much and leaves me en blanco (in white). It’s a white that roars in my head and stops me making art.

So here I am, lost. With a hinterland that calls and challenges me to go on into the bareness, get scrapped by the rocks and feel the hardness. It is a long solitary passing under an unending sky, thinking all those thoughts, countering all that weight. And while I’m in there, when I can, in the very brief spells of seeing sense in that thunderous whiteness, I try and make art, any art, anything, just to keep me going.

Though sometimes , I prefer to turn back on the inland and face the other way. I forget “art” and enjoy how my two year old daughter jumps on the bed. My life isn’t about “art”. No, art is about my life, which needs to be lived as interestingly as I can, and not alone.

Clara is re-enacting for me with expressions, toddler talk and gestures, how she waited for the waves to come in to her feet before she jumped over them at the beach on the weekend. It was the world’s greatest, most joyful discovery – we had driven to the coast to see the sea.

*Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) or artmaking. David Bayles and Ted Orland

Post Note: I have since discovered that “Extremamdura” actually comes from the land at the extreme end of the river Duero, but I like my ill-founded translation anyway.

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